I didn’t want this post to be all about Arsenal, but…
In the battle to be ‘Top Crisis Club’ Arsenal put some daylight between themselves and Chelsea over the weekend. Losing the north London derby to go five points back in the race for fourth was enough to steal back the headlines after ‘Rafa’s Meltdown’ of a few days previous.
The Arsenal narrative of expensive (for the fans) failure was given extra oomph by wide reporting of an impending bid for control by an unidentified Middle Eastern consortium, with its populist manifesto of lowering ticket prices, investment in the team and promise of silverware. I don’t recall similar takeovers being trailed in this manner, seems a bit fishy to me.
Anger over financial muscle not being flexed by American owners is something Arsenal and Manchester United fans have had in common in recent years, though the trophy drought at the Emirates has made the issue severer for the Gunners.
Arsenal’s ‘prudency’ has furnished them with a huge war chest – £123m in cash reserves – at a time when many of their peers are drowning in debt and struggling to meet Financial Fair Play criteria. They’re due to renegotiate the terms of the Emirates shirt and stadium sponsorship deals, and the new TV rights will bring in around another £20m per season (as it will for all Premier League clubs).
They are, then, set to be even better placed to compete with Europe’s top clubs. What they’re not though, is a club the size of United, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. They’re annual turnover (£235m) places them sixth in Deloitte’s Football Money League, also behind Chelsea. Neither are they owned by hydrocarbon-rich benefactors. At least not yet.
At Liverpool, an American regime which was hailed upon arrival as prudent moneyballers (who would concentrate on building a new stadium) paradoxically went on something of a spending binge. In came a swathe of big name signings – Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam (they also bought the magical Luis Suárez) – with more recent attempts to remedy the financial and personnel carnage that wrought leading to the buying yet more expensive players – Fabio Borini, Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool recently posted a financial loss of £40.5m (on top of the £49.3m in the previous set of accounts).
Clearly, spending without a decent strategy doesn’t achieve success.
In Arsene Wenger they have a manager who’s consistently delivered Champions League qualification. That cast-iron guarantee is now looking less bankable than at any time in his tenure, with many calling into question his footballing philosophy. The ultimate insult to a man who’s always defined himself as ahead of his time.
Wenger’s time at Arsenal is coming to an end. Whoever comes in next will surely be granted abundant riches in which to remodel the playing squad. If they’re not in the Champions League though, they may find themselves paying over the odds for players of the calibre similar to that which Liverpool have been signing. Better to spend while at the top.