IT SEEMS quaintly old fashioned to hear of football supporters shedding tears at a player’s departure in these cynical times.
When transfer requests are engineered to hold clubs to ransom, when those making the requests are rewarded with huge salary increases, and mercenaries care little for where they play as long as the numbers stack up.
But I spoke to a few younger Evertonians who got dusty eyes at Mikel Arteta’s late move to Arsenal with just hours of the transfer window remaining on Wednesday.
This was a player who, for two golden seasons, epitomised everything that Everton Football Club traditionally holds dear; skill, style, grace – and a will to win.
Another inspired David Moyes signing, it was Arteta who tormented full-backs regularly at Goodison Park during the 2006/07 season when he became the most fouled player in the Premier League.
That hypnotic close control when the Basque would kill the ball with a touch, slow to almost a standing point, then trick past an opponent at pace leaving them swiping at thin air drew comparisons to some of the all-time greats. The name Alan Ball, perhaps the ultimate accolade for a midfielder, was even uttered.
That serious anterior cruciate injury took its toll. Some of his short bursts of pace appeared to have left, and age ever so slightly diminished that mercurial spirit.
But Mikel Arteta was still an asset for Everton. Still one of the team’s most effective passers, and still the type of player a club with the luxury of ambition doesn’t want to sell.
So why did Everton sell? It’s obvious they needed the money, and as the extent of the club’s financial paucity becomes clearer, that overriding need to satisfy their bank, Barclays, seems to supersede ambition for now.
Arteta himself summed it up in a typically graceful interview yesterday. He felt it was the right time, he said, the club need the money, and they can’t afford to refuse such offers at risk of placing the club “in a situation where in two or three years they could be in bits”.
It seems that the crux of the dilemma Everton must contend with now is not just that they have impatient bankers, a crippling overdraft cap, and little assets other than their players.
The added kick to the club’s hope is that their problems are widely known, and clubs are acting accordingly when bidding for their players.
Spurs did it in January when they bid a derisory £500,000 for Phil Neville, the smirking logic seemed to be ‘we can afford to be cheeky because there’s always a chance you can’t afford to say no’. Arsenal did it last week when they began their pursuit of Arteta with an offer of a straight swop involving the mediocre Nicklas Bendtner for the San Sebastian magician.
It’s likely Arteta, once aware of Arsenal’s interest, indicated earlier than Wednesday that he wished to leave if a bid came in for him.
When the Gunners finally got serious and made a £10m bid by Wednesday tea-time, it was accepted.
But then Arsenal wasted time, which was crucial to Moyes’ hopes of drafting in a replacement.
They said they had changed their mind after realising the costly terms Arteta was on at Everton, and either feigned or genuine, removed their offer.
Perhaps Moyes then felt he had weathered the storm. With Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi in, and his star man staying, he may even have breathed a sigh of relief.
Arteta though was not about to let the opportunity, at 29, to play in the Champions League pass.
His agent contacted Arsenal – he would take a pay-cut they said – make it happen.
And then, with barely hours left, they agreed terms and the Best Little Spaniard We Know was gone to be a Gunner.
Even if Moyes could use some of that £10m, it was far too late to hijack a deal for somebody like Shaun Wright-Philips. Every other ship had sailed.
Moyes, as ever, would just have to make do.
Supporters can only hope that Barclays will relent its squeeze now their overdraft has been so keenly cut.
The fans? They were just left to sigh and reflect on a player that lit up their team.
As grumpy detective Jay Landsman says to Jimmy McNulty in his farewell scene from TV series The Wire: “Brother, when you were good, you were the best we had.”