Speaking as part of an exclusive interview with Get French Football News, Head of Football at RMC Sport Mohamed Bouhafsi discussed the possible transfer of St Étienne defender William Saliba to Arsenal.
“I have seen the comments from Arsenal & St Étienne fans and I don’t think they really know William Saliba. He is an U20 international defender and he is the only player in the French set-up who is in the age class two times higher than a player would typically be. He’s the first player to be in this situation since Kylian Mbappé. He is a player with incredible qualities. Everyone at St Étienne tells me he is a fantastic player, I don’t know him personally, but they say he has incredible qualities and is a very, very, very good player. Arsenal, Tottenham, Napoli and Juventus have been watching him so much because he is a player with enormous qualities, but he also needs playing time and the ability to grow more. And to succeed in having maturity and consistency.”
“Today, if you look at the transfers of De Ligt and other great defenders, €25m, €30m for Saliba is nothing, nothing at all. So, that is why Arsenal have very well understood that they should leave him at St Étienne for another year, or at least close the deal now, because if a player like Saliba is as good again in Ligue 1 this coming season, he will easily be worth €55m, €60m next summer. That’s why all the English clubs, and notably the two that are currently in the running, Arsenal & Tottenham, especially Arsenal who have an agreement with the player, know that this would be a great deal. Arsenal’s offer is €30m, but with bonuses, so €25m + €5m in bonuses, it is interesting (for St Étienne). There are other meetings that will follow, because Arsenal know that if they close a deal for the player, even if they loan him back for a year, they are signing a top, top central defender.”
Is there anyway in which St Étienne let the player leave this summer without him being loaned back?
I want to say that the Arsenal fans need to understand the position that St Étienne are in. The position of St Étienne is to have a top defender for another year and the position of the player, who wants to have another year of progression in Ligue 1. He wants to be even better in Ligue 1 and play even more games, and it is possible that he would not be starting that much in England next season. Talks aren’t finished, discussions are ongoing between the two clubs, I could be wrong, maybe if Arsenal offer another €10m, then St Étienne might drop the loan back condition, things could evolve.
What I want to say though, is that it is not necessarily a bad calculation to sign a player who is going to be fantastic for many years and loan him back for one season. And who is going to grow during that time in terms of his qualities, rather than immediately putting him in a fierce competition for places, immediately putting him under pressure. Sometimes it is better to lose 1 year to gain 5 or 6 years, rather than to gain 1 year and lose everything.
Read Part 1 here.
Read the excerpt on Nicolas Pépé here.