Ron Wolf is recognized as one of the finest personnel men in the history of the NFL. Arsenal must continue to apply his most notable recruitment philosophy.
Ron Wolf is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His principles played a crucial role in transforming the Green Bay Packers from a forgotten outpost of the National Football League into a perennial force. During his time in Wisconsin, from 1991 to 2000, the Packers won three-straight NFC Central titles, made five-straight playoff appearances, and won Super Bowl XXXI.
Although Wolf had many principles — which he discusses in The Packer Way: Nine Stepping Stones to Building a Winning Organization –– he had one overriding recruitment philosophy. It pertained to the acquisition of quarterbacks, the most valuable asset an NFL franchise can have. Speaking to Sports Illustrated, he explained:
“While there’s only room for one starter, you can never acquire too many. In Wolf’s world, it is worthwhile to draft a QB every year, no matter the current roster situation.”
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Wolf’s decision to trade a first-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for outcast Brett Favre before the 1992 season altered the course of the NFL. Favre began the campaign as a backup to Don Majkowski, but when the ‘Majik Man’ tore a ligament in his ankle during a week three clash against the Cincinnati Bengals. The rest, as they say, is history.
Favre would entrench himself as the Packers’ starting quarterback, yet Wolf drafted a signal-caller in six of the nine NFL drafts from 1993 to 2001. He knew that competent play at the quarterback position was necessary for success and having a capable deputy was equally as imperative. By consistently supplementing the position with talent, the likelihood of finding a cheap and effective second for his superstar increased.
Wolf’s rationale was simple and sound. During the aforementioned period, he drafted three notable names; Mark Brunell (’93, Round 5), Matt Hasselbeck (’98, Round 6), and Aaron Brooks (’99, Round 4), the only issue was that Favre was indestructible. The Mississippi native holds the record for the most consecutive starts in NFL history (297). Despite their limited action in Green Bay, Brunell, Brooks, and Hasselbeck were all traded away for valuable draft capital and became starters elsewhere.
The overriding importance of NFL quarterbacks certainly translates to association football. Goals win games, and as such, goalscorers will always be football’s most valuable commodities. Gabriel Martinelli, who recently signed a new long-term contract, is one of the most promising teenagers in world football. He was signed last summer for a measly £6m from Ituano Futebol Clube, who were then plying their trade in the fourth tier of Brazilian football. The 19-year-old had scored 10 goals in 34 appearances for the Sao Paulo-based club, and his eye for goal was a big reason why Arsenal worked so hard to secure his signature.
However, making prudent and economical signings makes sense regardless of position, especially given the current financial climate of world football. Provided that the player in question is of the desired quality, or that they have the potential to reach the necessary level, Arsenal should not be afraid to pull the trigger on another relative unknown.
Besides Martinelli, the signings of Mattéo Guendouzi and Konstantinos Mavropanos are further proof as to the merits of such deals. The lower the initial investment, the lesser the risk. If things do not develop as hoped, clubs can make huge profits on these investments.
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Despite their obvious talent, both Guendouzi and Mavropanos have uncertain Arsenal futures. Guendouzi joined in a £7m deal from FC Lorient in 2018 and many of Europe’s top clubs have been mentioned as reported suitors since his recent indiscretion against Brighton. Contracted until the summer of 2022, Arsenal could easily demand around €35m for the Frenchman this summer, even in the current market. Mavropanos, who has excelled on loan at Nürnberg, has been linked with a host of Bundesliga clubs in recent weeks. Sven Mislintat’s first signing reportedly cost the club a mere £1.8m. Any prospective buyer would now have to pay much more than that to secure the Greek’s services.
Arsenal certainly need to do more than sign players like Gabriel Martinelli, Mattéo Guendouzi, and Konstantinos Mavropanos. Mikel Arteta inherited a poorly assembled squad devoid of quality. Big-money signings are necessary for the club to return to the pinnacle of both English and European football. Nevertheless, the club must continue to acquire relative unknowns for small fees. Spending lavishly is a great way to make a statement, whether that statement is ultimately effective is another matter.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had – and will continue to have – a crippling effect on the finances of football clubs across the globe. Arsenal Football Club have long shown a willingness to sign talented yet inexpensive players, they must not be afraid to continue to do so.