7 The Daily Telegraph Friday 18 September 2020 *** Sport Football Oliver Brown in major finals and a worthy heir to Thierry Henry’s No14 shirt. The alternative did not bear thinking about for Arsenal fans. In the past 15 years, they have dared to invest hope and affection in Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Alexis Sanchez, Samir Nasri, Ashley Cole, only for every one of them to leave once the price was right. In Aubameyang, they have a figure who has reciprocated their trust. Such a gesture matters all the more in what could soon be a post-apocalyptic wilderness for the game. The longer supporters are shut out of stadiums, the more uncertainty breeds. Arsenal have been far from immune, shedding 55 jobs due to the pandemic. Aubameyang’s signature restores a magic over drinks as they toasted Villa’s Premier League survival. There are several ways of analysing this latest trend of club superstars realising that the grass is not always greener elsewhere. Once, the temptation would be to rebuke them for a lack of ambition, to ask what Grealish expects to win at Villa by 2025 when he could have held out for a switch to the top six. Fashions have evolved, though. In 2020, there is wisdom in clubs and players learning to value what they already have. True, Aubameyang was tempted by the blandishments of Barcelona, but Philippe Coutinho had shown how quickly you could turn from Premier League prodigy into Nou Camp pariah. At Arsenal, there is no such ambiguity, in that every facet of the club’s strategy for the next three seasons will coalesce around him. The economics of the arrangement deserve some scrutiny. Aubameyang is being paid £250,000 a week: a steal, perhaps, when team-mate Mesut Ozil receives more just to sit in the stands, but still a huge outlay given the prospect of his reduced resale value at 34. This cannot, however, be perceived solely as a monetary transaction. In their Gabonese striker, Arsenal have what they have so long lacked: an icon, a hero, a proven inspiration Chief Sports Writer Why loyalty is now such a priceless commodity When everything else is in flux, there is a premium on creating a feeling of permanence Aubameyang and Grealish signing new deals reaffirms for fans clubs’ abilities to get through uncertain times with his successor as Arsenal’s centre-forward. It was a similar story for Grealish, who looked imploringly for an approach from Old Trafford, only for manager Dean Smith to work his persuasive photograph alongside the chief executive. And yet, for all the contrasts in presentation styles, there is one crucial parallel between his announcement and that of Aubameyang, with both players ultimately deciding that their future is best served by staying loyal. For weeks, Aubameyang had been the subject of more overtures than a Rossini opera. Would it be Barcelona who prised him away, or Inter Milan? Instead, two trophies in 30 days under Mikel Arteta convinced him to remain, a moment of genuine rapture for Ian Wright, filmed indulging in plenty of “You’re the legend now” badinage E vidently, Arsenal’s deep and doleful job losses have not blunted the club’s gift for going viral. Never mind that PierreEmerick Aubameyang’s three-year contract extension had been trailed for a month: his commitment to the cause this week drew a level of hyperbolic build-up normally reserved only for Tim Cook’s iPhone launches. As the website teased a live feed of an egg-timer, pen and paper, it added a captain’s armband and a Black Panther mask before bringing final confirmation from the man himself. Even as football’s longest summer gives way to a potentially nuclear winter, there is little false modesty on the marketing front. It seems to be the same everywhere. No sooner did the enigmatic Ricardo Quaresma herald his arrival at Vitoria de Guimaraes with a video of a horse, a Ford Mustang and a map of Hogwarts than Istanbul Basaksehir, the project of Turkey’s president Erdogan, paraded their signing of Rafael da Silva trussed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. It was quite the fanfare, all told, for a largely forgotten Manchester United right-back last spotted on the bench at Lyon. How reassuring, then, to discover that Jack Grealish still prefers the old-fashioned approach, unveiling his five-year deal at Aston Villa with a standard-issue, pens-atthe-ready sense of equilibrium, offering a statement of faith in the club’s strength in a post-Covid world. Grealish, in his own parish, is producing the same effect, providing Villa fans with cause for optimism when all other certainties are crumbling. The power of his connection to a club that he has served since the age of six gives supporters a chance to catch a glimpse of themselves in Villa Park, even when they cannot be physically present. Spurs’ move for Gareth Bale may yet generate the same electricity. Forget that he has not appeared in club colours for over seven years: his mere presence, coupled with all the shirts he can shift, promises to deliver a shot of pure back-wherehe-belongs nostalgia. Such is the existential angst triggered by Covid that even the greatest clubs are grappling with questions of identity. You can see it in the shirt designs: Everton have unfurled an amber away strip redolent of the days of Alan Ball, Manchester City have gone with a jagged patterning that, according to the PR spiel, represents a “nod to the city’s Northern Quarter mosaics”. When everything else is in flux, there is a premium on creating a feeling of permanence. It is a message that has clearly filtered through to the players. Where once they would scarcely think twice about bouncing the highest bidders off against each other, they recognise today that the most potent weapon in their armoury is their loyalty. Arsenal have an icon, a hero, an inspiration in major finals Brentford reject £10m Arsenal offer for Raya move for Runar Alex Runarsson, who is to join in the next few days. Arsenal are in the process of revamping their goalkeeping department following the sale of Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa in a deal that could be worth as much as £20 million. Icelandic goalkeeper Runarsson is to sign for about £1.5million after Arsenal agreed a deal with French side Dijon. It can now be revealed that Arsenal have also stepped up their pursuit of Raya, with the Brentford keeper eager to test himself in the top flight. Brentford have been insistent that Raya will not leave the club this summer, but it is understood they would be open to selling the 25-year-old to Arsenal and then taking him back on loan for the season. Such a move would be complicated for Arsenal, who would prefer to sign the player immediately and integrate him into their squad. Matt Macey, Arsenal’s secondchoice keeper following Martinez’s departure, has one year left on his contract and wants to leave this summer. Raya would be willing to compete with Bernd Leno for the No1 shirt at Arsenal and has a strong relationship with Inaki Cana, the goalkeeping coach who joined from Brentford in December. Cana has also worked with Runarsson, during their time together at Danish side FC Nordsjaelland. Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen are interested in signing Arsenal full-back Sead Kolasinac in a move that could raise much-needed funds in the final weeks of the transfer window. Kolasinac is believed to earn about £100,000 per week but he has fallen down the pecking order following the signing of Kieran Tierney last year and the emergence of Bukayo Saka from the academy. Kolasinac has also found himself overlooked in favour of Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left wing-back in recent weeks. Lucas Torreira is another player expected to leave in the next few days, with Torino understood to be leading the race for his signature in a move that could ultimately be worth more than £20 million. Arsenal are expected to invest the proceeds of Torreira’s sale in a new midfielder, with Lyon’s Houssem Aouar an ambitious but exciting target. Exclusive By Sam Dean Brentford have rejected a bid of about £10million from Arsenal for goalkeeper David Raya, understands. Raya remains one of Mikel Arteta’s primary targets despite their The Daily Telegraph
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