Arsenal are losing 1-0, there are 30 minutes to go and the Emirates crowd are starting to turn on both the team and the manager. They look towards the bench, hoping to see the sight of a substitute stripping down and preparing for action, yet nothing happens.
That is a picture that could be applied to a number of games across Arsene Wenger's 20-year tenure in north London. The Frenchman is renowned for his reluctance to make early substitutions and never fails to be vociferous when defending his in-game decisions.
While there has never been an official explanation as to why Wenger so regularly leaves it late to make changes, fans have simply assumed it is his stubbornness coming to the fore.
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But a top football agent, who has dealt with Wenger throughout his time at Arsenal, believes he knows why he and plenty of other Premier League managers are forced to wait until the latter stages to mix it up.
Jon Smith, who is preparing to release a part-memoir, part-exposé on the inner-most workings of football life, explained that a large number of Premier League footballers now have bonus clauses in their contract that activate when they play a certain amount of minutes in any particular game.
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Confused? Then let Smith the super agent explained it properly.
He told The Times: “A lot of contracts are configured with bonuses. Bonuses for playing, bonuses for times of playing.
“You get reports saying someone’s on £100k-a-week. He probably isn’t. He’s probably on £60k and then there will be bonuses of £30k if he’s in the starting line-up, £20k if he comes on after 60 minutes.
"The interesting thing for me is to watch these games and think ‘is that a football substitution or is the manager saving himself and his club £50k by putting players on in the 75th minute rather than at the start of the second half?’
“I don’t think it’s at the forefront of the manager’s mind but I think it’s part of the equation."
So Wenger's reluctance to change the team could have nothing to do with tactics but is simply an effort to save the club another £20,000 in wages. Such a claim would go hand-in-hand with the claim that the 66-year-old spends Arsenal's money as if it was his own, which he admitted during the summer transfer window.
But Smith, who orchestrated Andrey Arshavin's move to the Emirates in 2009 along with a host of other big deals, believes it also works the other way round.
He continued: "Likewise, there might be a player he really wants to encourage, who he knows is on a bonus contract. So in the 90th minute they go on as a substitute — go on son, get on the field and earn yourself 20 grand.”
Smith is the author of the new book 'The Deal: Inside the World of a Super-Agent' to be published by Constable on Thursday.
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