There’s a reason why the Arsenal fans are incensed in general. And its’ a good one as well. It’s been over a decade since they had anything to brag about (2 FA Cups notwithstanding, but who brags about the FA Cup these days?). It’s been a tumultuous few years, with the players who should now be the bedrock of the current team, moving to far greener pastures as and when they realised that the ownership was going to focus on ‘sustainability’, a buzzword more in tune with a GE or Microsoft than a football club.
Fast forward to the present, and the scenario is much like what it has been for the last few years. If Gooners believed in the Chinese Zodiac, they would realise that they are in the era of the Groundhog. Once again the transfer window seems like a lost opportunity. Gone are stalwarts like Rosicky and Arteta and in their place, there have arrived a young Japanese striker and a defender from Bolton. In an era when Crystal Palace can buy from PSG, this feels like throwback transfer business which would’ve looked okay (just about okay) in 2005.
And now there is widespread furore. No top tier club’s fan base is as divided as that of North London. The ‘In Wenger we trust’ brigade grows smaller and quieter by the day. Fans want Kroenke to sell, some want Usmanov in charge, others believe Gazidis is a corporate ‘yes-man’ and most disturbingly, the overwhelming majority want Arsene Wenger – Mr. Arsenal himself, to abdicate his position. The keyboard warriors of the internet are out in full force as they have taken to social media get their way.
The club’s response is one that smells distinctly of apathy. Important questions like what the club is doing with its apparently hefty transfer kitty (hefty according to the English media at least) and when a striker slightly better than Giroud will come along remain unanswered yet again. Subtle hints are dropped at press conferences and the internet laps it up. When nothing comes to fruition, the faithful become disillusioned and the long-suffering fan base spits hate and vitriol all over the interweb,
This is the way things stand. It’s a grim picture and a saga that looks like it will get uglier as we move towards an era of the Premier League where the mid-table, fodder for so long for the Big 4 or the Big 6, are more cash rich and competitive than ever before. It doesn’t help when magazines and papers regularly feature Arsenal as one the biggest brands, most profitable clubs and greatest draws in club football. The most expensive stadium seats in England are but an icing on a cake baked from hellfire and Vegemite.
So where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Have we come to an impasse? Are Arsenal destined to be in Europe till February and challenging for fourth in May from now till the end of time?
Yes they are and here’s why as Gooners, you should be okay with it.
Being one of the biggest brands in the world means diddly when you exist in the economic environment that modern clubs are currently (and temporarily) thriving in. There is a bubble and it’s going to burst sooner or later. This kind of spending is reckless and unsustainable and no matter how many new and lucrative markets open up and how much new Korean and Indian fans decide to spend on merchandise and tickets, there is going to be a saturation point.
Think of it this way. A club that has won the Seria A is about to sell its best player to a club that squeaked into Europe. All rumours suggest that the figure will be around the 100 Million Euro mark. Granted Manchester United (the club that’s buying) will recoup this money in a short span of time. But as in law, world economics depends on precedent. Mid table but ambitious clubs now have a blueprint to work with. In fact, such transfers are already happening. Take a gander at the books of Newcastle FC and QPR and you will realise that the short high of being in the top tier of English football will be followed by years of burgeoning losses where the owners bleed money to salvage the finances of the club.
So what happens when all clubs with title ambitions try the same thing? And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be ambitious for even a second. Success does mean everything in football. It’s the only reason why people have even heard of Nottingham Forest. But what happens when 10 clubs per league in Europe where the local fanbase isn’t the richest, the merchandise sales and worldwide support aren’t that strong and who aren’t listed as one of the biggest brands in football decide they want the title and spend 200 million Euro of those fabulous profits and TV revenue money? Individually that’s brilliant for the club. But as a collective it creates inflation.
Players who were once valued at 5 Million Euros suddenly command 20 Million Euro fees. Agents who received 1 Million Euros for their work suddenly make 5 Million Euros for their ‘work’. These newly affluent agents spend this money seducing more footballers to sign on, promising them higher wages, attractive destinations and front page coverage in terms of transfer fees.
The player’s ability does not improve with an increase in his transfer fee and wages. An Andy Caroll will still get you 10 goals a season. Suddenly a lot of these clubs realise that, ‘we aren’t challenging for the title, and Andy is selling as many jerseys as he should be.’ The fanbase, which at the beginning of the season, was full of optimism, suddenly starts to not show up at games where the average price of a ticket ranges between 15 to 30 pounds and every seat empty is significantly decreased return on investment.
Now multiply that effect because 10 clubs along 5 leagues are doing it. Add a dash of the fact that the modern football fan is international and not local and can allegiances whenever they want and you have a system that is ready to implode. Fans stay away from an expensive final product that does not justify the price. Revenue decreases year on year as it is direcctly dependent on on-pitch success. Suddenly even the Andy Caroll’s of the word want out.
The incidents of financial mismanagement in football are not as isolated and infrequent as one is led to believe. An entire league structure in Italy is still coming to terms with how mega money brought in corruption into the sport. Germany believes that power should remain in the hands of the fans to an extent and Coventry City and Leeds United are forever used as Icarus-esque analogies.
Don’t think your club will suffer? Do you honestly believe that Abramovich’s heir will have the same interest in football? Are you aware of the fact that petroleum is a non-renewable resource and that Middle Eastern reserves will run out soon?
Just like the American, nay, world recession of 2008 was triggered by over-inflated asset prices ala sub-prime loans, today’s footballers are commanding fees and earning wages that they cannot justify. The sub-prime footballers of our time are being stacked and sold to clubs who will never gain full value. Sooner or later fans (the primary stakeholders) will forfeit the cost incurred by them when they realise that these inflated prices are being directly, and indirectly charged to them and hitch their ride to a different bandwagon.
On that day, maybe 10 years later, Arsenal will still be a top ten brand, will still be finishing fourth, still be out of Europe by February and back in Europe by May. Turns out ‘Sustainability’ is not just for GE and Microsoft then. Who’d have thunk it?
Paul Merson predicts Man City vs Man Utd, Arsenal vs Tottenham and other GW 9 matches! Click here