Normally, we don’t like contributing to the transfer rumor-industrial complex, where newspapers and websites churn out story after story about hypothetical moves backed up with the thinnest evidentiary threads that almost never actually happen. This, however, is different. This is crazy.
According to the Guardian, Leicester City forward, Premier League champion, breakout star from the humblest of beginnings, England international, banger of shit-chatters, and all-around shitbag Jamie Vardy has seen his £20 million(-ish) release clause (???) triggered by none other than Arsenal. This is wild, for about 103 reasons. Let’s get into a few of them.
For one, Jamie Vardy has a release clause? It’s apparently true, even though Vardy just signed a new contract in February that ostensibly was meant to prevent this very scenario from occurring. For those unfamiliar, a release clause is a common facet of player contracts, where club and player set a specific transfer fee threshold—in this case, £20 million(-ish)—that, if another club comes in and matches or exceeds when negotiating a player sale, the signatory club must agree to automatically. It’s basically like Ebay’s “Buy It Now” price.
In England, release clauses are not mandatory aspects of player contracts, so the presence of one generally means the player has some ambition of potentially playing for another team that the club is willing to acquiesce to, as long as the buying club comes in with the agreed to transfer fee. Because of Vardy’s age (he turned 29 in January), his connection with the club and fans (Leicester was the place where it finally all happened for him after years toiling in England’s semi-pro leagues, and because of his backstory, personality, and time spent with the team, he’s become something of an icon there), and Leicester’s promising future, it seemed like the two were a match made in heaven that would not want to sow the seeds for their own divorce. Apparently that wasn’t quite the case.
The Mirror has more information on Vardy’s contract, and though the Mirror isn’t exactly the most reputable outlet, the story does make some of this make more sense. According to the report, Arsenal floated the option of moving to North London to Vardy’s people a while ago. They responded that he’d be interested if he could get a £120,000 weekly salary (reports put his current salary at something between £60,000 and £80,000, depending on where you look).
Crucially, the Mirror’s report claims that Liverpool are also interested in the striker’s services, and have even offered to pay him £140,000 a week. However, Arsenal remain the most viable option because only they have the option of paying the £20 million(-ish) release clause by dint of their qualification for the Champions League.
If the Mirror’s story is true, it would clarify Vardy’s and Leicester’s thinking when they signed that February contract. Vardy was probably very happy to be playing and thriving with a Leicester team that wound up not only qualifying for the UCL next season, but somehow even winning the Premier League. Still, in the likely case that Leicester failed to repeat either of their big feats the following season, Vardy would find himself once again without European play and (by then) in his 30s. The odds that both his and Leicester’s 2016-17 season would be as good as this past one were low, increasing the chances that Vardy wouldn’t be able to make a once-in-a-lifetime move to one of England’s (and let’s be honest, he was only ever going to play in England) true juggernauts this time next year or beyond.
For their part, Leicester were probably loathe to see one of the critical cogs in their miracle season leave easily, especially one so beloved. However, a striker at that age is bound only to regress in the near future. While Vardy’s gifts of speed and finishing are undeniable, there is still the chance that last year was a bit flukey and that age and regression to the mean would mean Vardy never puts together a season as good as the last one going forward. Sell high on him now, find a younger and potentially even better replacement with all the Vardy and TV and league winners’ money, and set yourself up even better for the future. And if that money could allow them to lock young studs Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté into long-term deals, it would be perfect.
Here’s where a narrowly-tailored release clause potentially helps all parties. The contract itself gives Vardy and Leicester more security in the immediate term, as it locks them both in for the future. However, if another club comes in and meets Leicester’s valuation of the aging striker, and can also meet the player’s own aspirations (playing in the Champions League, lots of game time, an even bigger contract), then both parties could part ways amicably, with both side coming away (mostly) happy. So while it at seems crazy that Vardy’s contract had a release clause, there’s actually more than a little logic on both sides.
Because of all this, Arsenal are the perfect suitors. Only they offer the exact recipe that could satisfy everyone: 1) they can afford the transfer fee; 2) they can afford the salary; 3) they play in the Champions League; 4) they can promise Vardy the minutes he’d likely be after. The other two UCL teams already have must-start strikers (Harry Kane at Tottenham and Sergio Agüero at Manchester City). The other big Premier League clubs that would normally be after a player like Vardy (Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, maybe Everton) aren’t in the Champions League. Arsenal’s unique status here vis-à-vis Vardy’s release clause had to be pretty obvious for those aware of it; either Leicester really were fine with selling Vardy for about £20 million or they (wrongly) predicted that Arsenal wouldn’t go after Vardy.
If this works (maybe) for everyone else involved, though, it’s not clear exactly how it works for Arsenal. For one, it goes against nearly everything Arsenal have stood for in the transfer market over the years. This is a big-name, expensive player (Arsenal rarely get those, and while the transfer fee isn’t really big, the salary would be), at the striker position (God knows Arsenal don’t like signing those), who’s on the tail-end of his prime (Wenger likes ’em young). Arsenal’s whole mantra for forever has been about careful squad building that’s always focused on the future. Trying to get Vardy says Wenger thinks the future is now.
How does Vardy fit into this Arsenal side, though? While we believe that Vardy is indeed a really good striker whose next couple of seasons should be closer to the one we saw this year than the EPL-midtable-at-best ones of the couple seasons prior, his breakout year was undoubtedly facilitated by Leicester’s tactical decisions that were centered around maximizing his talents. And Arsenal play nothing like Leicester.
This isn’t necessarily a terrible sign, though. Arsenal are a possession-based team that looks to dominate the ball and often faces deep and compact defenses, and Vardy did feast on quick, chaotic counterattacks into open space, but that doesn’t mean Vardy couldn’t ball out for Arsenal the way he did for Leicester. The Gunners of late have pivoted away from their possession-oriented attacks to some degree, instead embracing the anarchic talents of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez and Aaron Ramsey by asking them to fly at defenses and improvise their way towards goal before the other team knows what hit them. Vardy would make what was already a deadly counterattacking team even more lethal, and his willingness to always test back lines with his speed would open up more space for the team during their more patient attacks.
All this is true in theory, anyway. What’s definitely true is that while it’s arguable just how much of an upgrade Vardy would be over Olivier Giroud (and you’d hope that Arsenal don’t see the Vardy transfer as a substitute for their reported interest in the much younger and potential-drenched Álvaro Morata), the Englishman would present a different skillset from that of his French counterpart. Vardy’s special talents could very well be what Arsenal need to get them over the hump in what will probably be yet another wide-open EPL season, and if not, well, Arsenal are used to coming up short. As risky as it may seem, it is understandable why Wenger might look at Vardy and see a guy who may or may not be the final piece he needs to finally win the league again, but at least could be.
The Guardian’s report that Arsenal have gone ahead and submitted the bid does make this deal more concrete than most that flood the silly season, but it does all remain prospective at this point. Vardy would have to decide if he really wants to leave everything he’s helped build in Leicester; Leicester would have to decide if they want to sit back and let their star go or if they want to offer him another, even more lucrative contract to fend the Gunners off; and Arsenal would have to wait all of this out and see where it goes. We’re not even a whole week past the end of last season and we’re already dealing with a potentially huge transfer. Soccer: it never sleeps, folks.