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William Saliba will not play for Saint-Etienne in cup final

Filed under: very weird situations. Or maybe not weird at all, just two clubs playing hardball.

AS Saint-Etienne v Girondins de Bordeaux - Ligue 1 Photo by Romain Biard/Icon Sport via Getty Images

William Saliba will not play for Saint-Etienne in the Coupe de France final later this month. The news comes hours after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said in a press conference that the young defender “deserves” to play in the match. Saliba’s loan deal with the French club expired on June 30th and negotiations for an extension of that loan broke down.

Both clubs released statements on the situation. Saint Etienne’s statement accuses Arsenal of making unfair financial and athletic demands to prevent the centerback from playing. Arsenal responded.

Throughout our discussions with St Etienne, our aim has been to protect the welfare of William Saliba as well as the interests of Arsenal Football Club, while honouring the terms of the loan.

Despite the loan ending on June 30, we were willing to find a way for William to play in the [French] cup final on July 24, despite having no contractual obligation to do so.

As William is returning from injury, we asked that St Etienne follow a clear training plan with William in close collaboration with us, to ensure he is fully fit for the start of next season.

To our surprise we were unable to reach agreement to this plan which was proposed by our medical experts, and we are simply not prepared to risk the welfare of an Arsenal player.

While it was not our primary concern, and ultimately not relevant as our training plan was not accepted, we also expected not to be financially disadvantaged by extending the loan. This was also not acceptable to St Etienne.

We know this is a disappointment for William but he understands we are working to protect his long-term interests and those of Arsenal.

There are two sticking points: a €2.5M payment due to Saint-Etienne should Saliba start 17 matches for the club (he’s currently on 16 starts) and Arsenal’s medical program, which reportedly included 10 days of training and rehab work at London Colney before the July 24th match.

Even taking my Arsenal-colored glasses off, it’s hard to see why the Gunners would agree to what Saint-Etienne are demanding. William Saliba is an Arsenal player. The Gunners paid nearly €30M for his transfer, and as part of that deal, agreed to immediately loan him back to France. The loan deal is over. They don’t owe Saint-Etienne anything more.

Would that 17-start bonus have been triggered without COVID-19 shutting down the football world for three months? Almost certainly. But that’s the reality with which all clubs are grappling. Money is tight. And even if it weren’t, what club would pay money for one of it’s young players, who has an injury history, to be exposed to additional risk? Especially when the club is able to involve it’s own medical staff. That’s just bad business on every level.

Look at the incentives here. Saint-Etienne get more money if Saliba starts another match for them. They don’t necessarily have to exercise the same level of care or concern for his fitness because he’s not their player. If he starts, they get paid. While you hope that they’d be responsible and would put player health and safety first, there is no way to guarantee that’s the priority, which it absolutely should be.

Who is the “bad guy” with respect to that €2.5M payment? If Saliba playing is so important to Saint-Etienne, why don’t they waive the payment? They want to have their cake and eat it too. And they are trying to hide their greed behind concern-trolling over how unfair and disappointing it is to Saliba.

Miss me with all that, thanks.

The biggest concern from an Arsenal perspective is how it affects the club’s relationship with William Saliba. Short of him releasing a statement of his own, there’s no way to know how he feels or which club’s side he takes, that is, if he takes any side other than “his own.” Arsenal probably won’t be doing much more business with Saint-Etienne going foward, which shrug. Not sure I’d want to do more business with them if this is representative of how they handle things.

On a somewhat related note, I don’t know what language and terms are standard in transfer and loan deals, but one where the parent club has to pay more money if the loaned player plays more seems...not great. Maybe that bonus was included as a way to keep the upfront cost down for the Gunners, but Saint-Etienne seems to have gotten a lot out of Arsenal in the Saliba transfer deal, which doesn’t reflect well on the club’s negotiating team.