Eyewatering Sanchez deal could become norm for ageing stars
When Arsene Wenger established the theme in September that, increasingly, the leading players would run down their contracts and it would spell the end for the rising transfer fee, he must already have known that January would be the month dominated by Alexis Sanchez.
The proposed Sanchez transfer is most lucrative for the player, on a salary of £350,000 per week, and his agent on a fee of around £12million. Less so for Arsenal, who would nonetheless bank the equivalent of £30million in the form of the great doleful Armenian playmaker, Henrik Mkhitaryan.
The value for Sanchez is nothing like that which might be realised for a player of his standing were he on a longer contract, not six months from being a free agent, although for a while now Wenger has said this will be the norm in the future.
Wenger says that players will refuse either to leave or to sign a new contract, and as a consequence take the lion's share of what would have been the transfer fee when eventually they depart in the final months of their contract.
In September, he said that ever more players would hang on to the end of their contract. "You [the club] will be in a position where you either extend for money you cannot afford or you will go into the final year.
Normal "This season, there were 107 players in the Premier League who got into the final year of their contract for the first time and you will see that more. The clubs want too much more for normal players.
"They say that if one player is worth £200million, then this player is worth £50million. But everybody knows, for that player £50million is too much and they cannot afford it. So what happens? The club cannot sell and doesn't extend the contract, so more and more players will go into the final year."
Of course, players have always held on to the end of their contracts throughout the Bosman era and mostly that has resulted in free transfers, from Steve McManaman leaving Liverpool to go to Real Madrid in 1999, or Sol Campbell walking out of Tottenham Hotspur in 2001 to join Arsenal.
Over the last two seasons at Arsenal a whole range of factors, including the club's declining form, has conferred the power in the hands of contract refuseniks, Sanchez and, to a lesser extent, Mesut Ozil.
The club also have the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere in the final six months of his deal, with Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck due to be free agents in the summer of next year. It is that contract mismanagement that prompted Arsenal to bring in a whole new structure of executives last year to take charge of the situation. But will Wenger's predictions about the death of the transfer fee come true, as they have with Sanchez?
The reality is that it may become more common with mature players in their late twenties who, like Sanchez, are still extremely effective but have a shelf life of around two to three years.
A player of his level demanding a contact worth £80million over four years is asking Arsenal to make a huge investment in an asset that will begin to fade during that period. Sanchez can afford to reject a slightly improved new contract, because he knows that he will recoup that margin when finally he does leave as a free agent or, as he is now, on a reduced price.
For younger players, coming from a lower wage base, the situation for the clubs is easier to control. The rule of thumb was once that a player should never be allowed to get within two years of his deal expiring. At Spurs, for example, they have changed that to three years.
Dele Alli and Harry Kane signed new contracts until 2022 at the end of 2016 and it would be no surprise if both agreed new deals this year. A younger player is less likely to attempt to see out a long-term contract when he is being offered a significant rise to extend his deal in the interim.
In the case of the current Spurs generation, the likes of Kane and Alli can be reasonably confident that were they to have a top-level suitor, such as Real Madrid or Manchester United, their age means the fee would be paid regardless of how long they have on their contract. Sanchez only signed one deal at Arsenal, when he arrived in 2014 - although there were many times when he indicated that he would renew. By the time it became clear he would not, it was too late to apply the principles of sell or sign that have been implemented elsewhere.
The club had come to rely on him and a confluence of factors, including Sanchez's form, and Arsenal's relative struggles led them to this point.
Wenger has predicted they will not be the only ones, but there will be those at Arsenal determined not to repeat the mistakes others have made in the past. (© Daily Telegraph, London)