Jack Hobbs

In the summer of 2005, Liverpool and Arsenal were in a tug of war over Jack Hobbs, a 16 year old English defender who played for Lincoln City. Hobbs had just become the youngest player to represent Lincoln, when he played three minutes as a substitute in a League Two match against Bristol Rovers.

Shortly after his debut, Hobbs agreed a development contract with Liam Brady, Arsenal’s Academy Director, as clubs cannot sign players on professional contracts until they are 17. However, the deal was never completed because Arsenal refused to accept a sell-on clause demanded by Lincoln as part of the six figure compensation package.

Hobbs instead signed for Liverpool in a transfer reported to be in the region of 400,000 – 750,000 pounds.

Hobbs had a good start to his Liverpool career. He was made captain of the reserves and was a member of Liverpool’s 2006 FA Youth cup winning team. However, he only made five appearences for the 1st team, three of which were as a substitute. After mixed reviews, he was loaned out to Scunthorpe where he only made nine appearences in the 2007-08 season.

Last July, Liverpool loaned Hobbs out to then League One side Leicester City, eventually selling him to The Foxes for an undisclosed fee. As part of the transfer, Lincoln gained 200,000 pounds due to the 25% sell-on clause from their deal with Liverpool.

Hobbs made the PFA League One Team of the Year, while on loan at Leicester, an accolade that Arsenal striker Jay Simpson won when he was on loan at Millwall last season. It’s an important award for the player when his agent is negotiating a new contract. For the selling club, like Liverpool, the award is useful when negotiating a transfer fee and this is my main point.

Players like Jack Hobbs are signed for two reasons:

1) They could turn out to be the next John Terry; or
2) If not, you can then sell them and make a profit.

Jay Simpson probably will not make it at Arsenal but the Gunners will make a profit if they decide to sell him. That money will then be reinvested into Arsenal’s academy and scouting network.

The buying and selling of very young players is a good source of income for the top clubs. Arsenal have sold Jeremie Aliadiere, David Bentley, Mathew Upson, Justin Hoyte for million pound sales. While, Manchester United have sold Kieran Richardson, Nicky Butt, Jonathan Spector, and Giuseppe Rossi for similar amounts. Chelsea have sold zero.

Arsenal’s forte has always been to buy young players (Vieira, Song, Toure, Ramsey, Walcott) or to pry youth players (Fabregas, Anelka, Djourou, Bendtner) from other clubs around the world. Jack Wilshire and Kieran Gibbs are the first home grown players that Arsenal have produced since Ashley Cole made his debut in 1999.

The emergence of home grown English players is not a volte-face by Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager has always stated that he would love to promote English players from the academy to the first team. English players are more likely to stay with the club and ignore the lure of more money from the top clubs abroad.

English capped players traditionally do not like moving abroad. They have a hit and miss record at foreign clubs. For every success abroad, like Kevin Keegan, David Beckham, Glen Hoddle, Chris Waddle or Ray Wilkins, there are numerous failures: Michael Owen, Ian Rush, Luther Blisset, Des Walker, Jimmy Greaves and Paul Gascoigne.

But Arsenal is not an English club. It’s a continental club that represents London that’s why players like Toure and Eduardo like playing for Arsenal. It’s why London born players fit in so well because they have grown up in a cosmopolitan culture. Northern English players like Francis Jeffers have not and thus fail at clubs like Arsenal.

Do you think that Wayne Rooney would fit in at Barcelona? Hell no.

Yes it’s true, players like Steve Bould and Lee Dixon are northerners and they were a success at Arsenal. However, they were signed in a bygone era. The late 1980’s were totally different and more English than today. It was pre-Premiership, pre-SKY, pre-Champions League, pre-Bosman etc. English clubs were still banned from European football when Dixon and Bould joined Arsenal. Comparing George Graham’s era to the Wenger era is like comparing security at airports to that of pre 9-11 and post 9-11.

Northern English players, in general, do not fare well at Arsenal.

Jack Hobbs would have been a failure at Arsenal.

Back in the summer of 2005, The Negatives moaned about Wenger’s failure to sign Hobbs. A missed opportunity they cried. I say two things:

They’d never heard of Jack Hobbs before Arsenal’s interest in him. Instead, they jumped on the media bandwagon denouncing Wenger for not signing English players.

Now they want to replace Wenger because this season was another year without winning the FA cup or Carling Cup – sorry I meant Premiership and Champions League.

Replace Wenger with who? With an English manager? Tony Adams? Alan Curbishley? Steve McClaren?

Your havin’ a laugh!

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