Deep Pockets: Short Arms Optional
It is not quite the calm before the storm but were there not a European Championships this summer, the months may be longer than the days in the tedium of the transfer window and pre-season. The dreams and desires have been brought sharply into focus with Chelsea’s victory at the weekend. Some humorous – hunger strikes chained to the doors of The Armoury – whilst others are tiresome.
Success in this country and beyond its borders has manifested in the form of clubs where Sugar Daddy investors: Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid – even Liverpool – all lifted silverware whilst the fairytale of Montepellier was the obstruction to Paris St Germain’s success. Money can’t buy you love but it can help with infatuations. Arsenal’s two billionaires do not invest in the club financially and the contrast is needling some. KSE remain silent whilst Red & White drop in the perfect PR words which like the political arena, are easy to say when you do not have power. There is nothing to prove that he would carry out the investment offered nor to be fair, is there evidence he would not.
The basis for believing him is offered as the spurious rights issue that is nothing more than a backdoor way to increase their percentage of the ownership of the club or that Alisher Usmanov is a successful businessman who knows how to make money. That conveniently ignores Kroenke’s background or interests outside of the club or that in his time of ownership, the value of the club is 50% more. OK, the last is a touch spurious since that is inflated by the premium paid by Usmanov on his recent share transactions, hardly a ringing endorsement of the American’s ownership.
We all want to see the squad strengthened, it should be every summer in order to prolong any success which is enjoyed. Arguably since the 1930s, a succession of Arsenal managers have failed to do this. The double proved to be the pinnacle and the end of the trophies for that era, a procession of away defeats undermined a title challenge the season after before defeat at Wembley. George Graham never strengthened after 1989 or 1991, paying the price each time. Arsène had an evolutionary process before arguablyThe Invincibles broke up too quickly. The youth programme is bringing results through with a balance being struck between that and experience now. That looks to be correct in terms of the squad structure and continues going forward.
But if you compare now to the turn of the century, Arsenal spent on quality players as the squads evolved; 1997 to 2004 had a core of players who straddled the periods through 2000 and the four years beyond. It allowed a seamless transition that was not possible for a number of seasons whilst the new stadium was financed. Now through that phase of the club’s history, the spending has begun again not that you would believe it. Too often the net transfer income is criticised as being parsimony. There is no doubt that the club has been prey to that but in those instances, we look at one player. Would for example, Juan Mata’s signature last season have delivered more than third place? You cannot conclusively say that this is the case and to be brutally honest, I doubt it would have made a difference.
With all of these instances, hindsight applies. The logic is that contracts were too readily available, too easily and generously given to players who have not made the grade at the club. This is to ignore that the bulk of the beneficiaries in 2007-08 were realistic title challengers until close to the season’s end. Little wonder that the manager invested in them, believing that they could make the next step. This process is just a different angle to buying in players on a frequent basis. Manchester City are champions this season because compared to the other teams yet arguably they are weak champions, only having their medals because Manchester United lost their bottle when they needed it most.
Neither path offers guarantees of success and unless either of the billionaire investors is guaranteeing the club’s future by sustained and repetitive investment, it will never be the Arsenal way. Spurs habitually spend more than Arsenal but where is their return? Aston Villa spend heavily periodically; we can all find examples to support our agendas.
It may be that we argue over the club but it is a wider contextual issue in football; the heart and the soul of the game is at stake. Money has taken over and it is not going to be about producing talent but buying it. That is manifestly different from the past; heavy investment in the 1970s did not preclude teams such as Ipswich or Forest who were compiled relatively cheaply, from challenging. That opportunity is not dead but like football radically reshaped, the definition of cheaply now probably aimed at Arsenal’s level of spend. But it is all relative to their time. The spend last summer was substantial compared to previous years, relatively speaking. That sense of perspective seems to be ignored or lost entirely.