Book Review: ARSÈNAL – The Making of a Modern Superclub by Alex Fynn and Kevin Whicher
ARSÈNAL – The Making of a Modern Superclub by Alex Fynn and Kevin Whicher
The story of Arsenal for more than a decade has been the story of how Arsène transformed the club on and off the pitch, alongside David Dein until that house of cards came crashing down with Dein’s shenanigans with Stan Kroenke and then Alisher Usmanov. The friendship between the two is highlighted in the prologue with the pair conversing following Dein’s departure. This book seeks to tell the ‘inside story’, following the growth of the club in the Premier League era.
Setting the scene by looking at the state of the club when Dein joined the Board in the early 1980s, the authors take you through a well-paced journey of the reigns of Neill, Howe, Graham and Rioch, plotting their rises and falls – alongside Dein’s rise to being the power in the Boardroom – through to the arrival of Wenger at the club, including the near miss of hiring him a season earlier following George Graham’s downfall. Rightly, at this point, they ask whether the Scot would have been sacked if his team had been winning in style. Alan Smith’s contributions shed light on the player’s thoughts in the time leading up to the demise of Graham whilst the circumstances that allowed his dubious business practices are also under the spotlight.
Wenger arrived and the positive influences that he has brought to bear are recognised, as are his faults. His meticulous nature with regard to physiology and style can be both positive and negative in the single-minded belief he has. That is however, perhaps his greatest strength.
The strategies devised on and off the pitch are given equal attention, a clear path tracked from the origins of the vast sums of money coming into the game from broadcasting deals through to the finances required to build The Emirates, from the UEFA Cup qualification to the titles and cups won and lost.
The off-the-pitch struggles in making the move to The Emirates are well documented, from the planning applications and hurdles that seemed insurmountable through cashflow problems in the early stages, finishing at the project’s completion. The authors cut no corners in an accurate assessment of the fact that the Board undervalued the deals, for naming rights and the sponsorship.
Commendably, none of the protagonists of the Arsenal story are eulogised. It is an honest assessment of their actions and no-one is beyond criticism. Yet the authors never stray into ‘mudslinging’, mistakes are analysed constructively, praise passed where due. The only people who will probably shift uncomfortably whilst reading the book are the Arsenal Press Office.
The strength of the book is allying Fynn’s knowledge of the business of football with Whicher’s passion for the club. Neither like what Arsenal has become as a ‘superclub’; both recognise that the club is not unique in losing its ties with the fans, the inevitability of the environment in which the clubs now operate. Whether you will agree with all of their interpretation of events is debatable but instead of blithely making assumptions, the authors have provided the evidence to support their views.
With some aspects such as Dein and Fiszman’s falling out, are not fully explored because it is a private matter that neither has chosen to speak of publicly and with property development likely to carry on for the next few years, there is more to be told. As a starting point, this book should definitely to be read by all Arsenal fans; it is a clear and concisely explained journey that sits comfortably alongside the best books about the club.