When the best you can do to create some hype around yourself is use Wayne Rooney as a hypothetical example of who you could sign if you really wanted to, you might not actually be in a great footballing situation. I’m talking about Arsenal. Sorry in advance. (Not really sorry.)
I always find the he trick with bigging-up your buying power is not to say you could do something, which tells everyone that it’s a potential world which might never exist, but to say that you will do something. Use strong, positive signals, not ‘maybe we’ll sign a pale English bloke. We’ll see…’ Because no matter how much you wink, that possibility isn’t going to turn anyone on—you may simply appear unhinged. Also, if you really want to impress everyone, don’t say that you might sign someone who spent last season looking a bit bloated. There is nothing romantic about a bloated striker. Or a bloated anything, in my opinion.
Which brings me to the thing about Arsenal and their potential new money (announced by the co-owner this week); they still can’t really compete, can they. Ivan Gazidis declared that Arsenal are ready to “compete with any club in the world,” but he has done a mistake. Someone tell him, quick!
It’s a rubbish world where one of the only properly profitable clubs can’t produce as much cash for players as their nouveau riche rivals, but can we all admit now that it is the world that we currently exist in? (my editor Richard Whittall aside, he told me he is an alien). You can’t just make up a different world where Arsenal are competing with Chelsea and Manchester City for big name players, which appears to have been happening this week. It’s not allowed. Read the rest of this entry »
There is a new reality in Champions League football, and that’s the best chance of qualifying for the Champions League might come from actually being knocked out of the Champions League. That seems to be the case for Arsenal, as their likely elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich—following Tuesday’s 3-1 home defeat in the first leg—might allow them to focus on finishing in the Champions League qualification places for the rest of the season.
Arsenal has four points to gain on Spurs in the race for fourth position, a spot that, if achieved, will surely keep Wenger at the Emirates for at least one more year. I happen to think he should stay, at least until his contract expires; and not just because finding a new coach after a World Cup could be easier than one year earlier.
The fans who booed the team (or was it the coach?) after Arsenal’s FA Cup defeat at the hands of Blackburn last weekend may only be a vocal minority, but they are being heard. It’s all very well, if a little tasteless, for them to chant ‘Wenger Out’ in minute eight of Saturday’s match against Aston Villa to denote eight years without a trophy, but without an obvious candidate to replace the Frenchman, their argument is weakened.
Thursday’s press reported that ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke and his board will back Wenger with more funds this summer. That only delays the inevitable, so where will they look when it eventually comes to replacing Wenger? Here are some options they might consider:
From the Premier League: Wenger may be the only French coach still in the top-flight but there is no shortage of talented pretenders who have proved themselves in the division. No, I don’t mean Harry Redknapp: Roberto Martinez and Michael Laudrup both have the potential to move to bigger clubs, while David Moyes has been linked to posts at Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City but Arsenal woud actually be a more suitable fit for the Everton boss, whose ten years at Goodison Park can be characterised by classy behaviour, spending within tight budgets, and falling short when trophies/big prizes are up for grabs. Sounds like the ideal fit.
From France: As soon as he took the job as Lyon coach 18 months ago, Garde, the first French player Wenger signed for Arsenal, has been billed as a potential successor to the job at the Emirates. French publication Chrono Foot suggested Garde is ‘the spiritual son of Pep Guardiola’ (former Lyon player, captain, and youth coach) but Garde claimed Wenger is his mentor. “He is the one who has marked me the most,” said Garde. “His personality, his vision of football deeply affected me and really influences me in my work today.” Garde is not the only Ligue 1 coach who could be considered: Christian Gourcuff, of Lorient, often takes Arsenal youngsters on loan. “I have no privieleged relationship with Arsene Wenger but for sure, we have the same football philosophy and that brings us together,” he told France Football. Rudi Garcia seems to be coming to the end of his cycle at Lille while Daniel Sanchez has impressed with his smart management and attractive style of play at Valenciennes.
From Europe’s Top Table: Every summer is billed as a potential managerial merry-go-round but this year it could really happen: Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti might be having a job-swap (claims Le Parisien) though the Portuguese has said his heart is set on a return to England. Piers Morgan has backed Jupp Heynckes to manage Arsenal next season—which would appear to kill off his chances while earlier this week, ex-Monaco chief executive Tor-Kristian Karlsen backed Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti to succeed at any club. “Spalletti easily the best coach (in the real sense of the word) I’ve ever come across,” he wrote on Twitter. “The way he sets up his teams, the way he works on the training ground, the movement and cohesion of his teams, improvement of players… He would be a great fit for most European top clubs. I wouldn’t think twice about it if I were in charge of any top club.” After the World Cup, you could probably add Jogi Loew and Louis van Gaal to that list too.
From the ‘Arsenal Family’: While appointing someone with a rich history at Arsenal might appease the fans, there is a strange anomaly you notice with Wenger’s former players. Very few have actually gone into management. Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson’s former charges at Manchester United (and yes, he has been in charge there for longer) Wenger’s ex-players rarely make the transition to the dug-out. David Platt tried, and seems happier as a number two (to Roberto Mancini); Paul Merson and Tony Adams were flops; Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp are part of coaching set-ups, and at the beginning of their journeys, as is Oleg Luzhny, in his first season in charge of Tavriya Simferopol.
From Left-Field: This one always seemed more likely when David Dein was around, as you imagine he would be happier to back his instinct even if it flies in the face of the majority. Back in February 2011, Wenger admitted that he would like the current coach of Grampus Eight, Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojkovic, to replace him at the Emirates Stadium. “I’d love Piksi to be my successor,” he told Vecernje Novosti newspaper. “There are a hundred reasons for that. His football philosophy is almost identical to mine. Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football. I knew he was going to have his teams playing attacking football with many passes. He has done that, showing he will be a great coach. I told him that if he could transmit his football imagination to his players he would fly high.” If that move does happen, then Wenger’s successor will have followed the same unlikely path that he did.
Amy Lawrence as written a kind of personal, open-letter thing to Arsenal’s American majority shareholder Stan Kroenke this morning over at Fox Soccer. She writes:
This week Arsenal are expected to announce another set of rock solid financial results. Whoopee! But the trouble is, results on the field are worryingly shaky.
Mr. Kroenke, your Arsenal are in a pickle. The team is struggling in a way it never has before under this manager, Arsene Wenger. Wenger has enjoyed considerable success in the past, but the pressure has really cranked up. This is his worst-ever Premier League points haul at this stage of a season. The team’s 1-0 defeat to Blackburn at the weekend means they have been dumped out of both cups to lower league teams for the first time in decades. There is little reason for optimism in the Champions League against a Bayern Munich side which looks far superior. The regular end of season sale of the best players to rivals has taken its toll.
We all know the supposed ‘Arsenal Model.’ It’s practically a running gag now in football circles, up there with the old joke about how Wenger’s team tries to walk the ball in the net and is perpetually in love with short corners.
It goes (very) roughly like this: Arsene Wenger is an economist first, and a football manager second. The club refuses to spend at the same rate as its rivals in the Premier League, because they would rather turn a profit than win trophies. Fans are suffering, but the continued trophy-less years have yet to make a dent in the team’s commercial revenues or their gate receipts. Kroenke and Wenger are keen to ride the club’s intrinsic popularity for as long as they can, and fans are willing to pay some of the highest ticket prices in the land for the privilege, at least for now.
I’m often told that football is first and foremost a business. Why? Because of the exorbitant prices charged for shirts, tickets, and satellite TV packages. Because of the astronomical amounts club spend in the transfer market and on player wages. Because once in a while, clubs go into administration for failing to pay their bills, usually to the tax man. Because clubs borrow money to spend, just like real companies. Because the ‘product’ of all this spending is ostensibly more table points, which means more TV revenue for Champions League qualification, more Premier League sharing money, more popularity, which therefore means more commercial revenue, i.e. more money.
See? A business.
So why then aren’t Arsenal fans currently over the moon? Despite a few close shaves, they’ve qualified regularly for the Champions League. Their revenues are robust. The club is in rude financial health in comparison with most other Premier League clubs. If football is a business, then Arsenal are winning.
Except football is not a business. Football involves money, of course, and clubs need to earn a revenue to compete. But the end goal of most businesses is to turn a profit for their owners/investors. The end goal of football is to win at the football. Football sure looks, acts, and sounds like a business; indeed, everything is measured in pounds and euros. Yet football ultimately has to be played on a pitch, eventually; it stubbornly remains a sport.
The lesson here, Arsenal naysayers, is not limited to North London. Imagine ‘winning trophies’ as a business product, like computers or cheese doodles. In a business, that product would come with a defined cost of production, and a related set price in the market. Yet in football, clubs spend a lot of money with only a vague guarantee they will win anything. It’s like spending $500 to produce Mac Book Pro, only to come out with a secondhand Dell on the other end of the production line.
Moreover, businesses are able to set a price for their product to recoup the cost of production and earn a profit. But “winning” doesn’t come with a set price. Sure, there are Premier League title bonuses and Champions League TV rights moneys, but these are drops in the bucket compared with commercial revenue and gate sales. In theory at least, more people will like your club and buy more things, but this isn’t a one-for-one relationship. Sometimes a single trophy isn’t enough to make your club popular, Blackburn Rovers.
Football however does work as a business if its product is a brand—an identity, a lifestyle. Sometimes a trophy is needed once in a while to increase the brand’s value, but often with historically popular clubs, it isn’t needed at all. Other clubs could win all the trophies in the world but still fail to earn worldwide acclaim, enough to offset the debt incurred by transfer spending and player wages.
This doesn’t mean Arsenal should spend all they can to win, but it also doesn’t mean their current status quo—smooth sailing profitability—is so great either. But the lesson here is that if winning is the ultimate purpose of playing football, it will forever remain a sport, not a business. Read the rest of this entry »
Let it be known dear reader that I post this video primarily because a) it’s tangentially football related (or to use a Wengerism, it’s “footballistic”), and b) it’s interesting to watch normally staid professionals get a bit angry about silly things from time to time.
As far as fodder though for the little narrative spinners in and around English football media, who are poised to make tenuous inferences about “signs of strain,” and “buckling under the pressure”, or alternatively, showing a “fighting spirit”, please. Don’t.
The truth is all managers hate the press, forever. Most of the time they’re good at not showing it, and sometimes they’re not. Now, run along and share this with your friends.
Congratulations to Blackburn. Their loyal supporters deserve this. Venky’s, not so much.
Most of you know where my allegiances lie. This job–one I’m incredibly lucky to have– has changed how I watch the game. I don’t live and die with results like I once did. At least that was the thought. Today brought back memories I was glad to suppress.
Blackburn was not the better team. Mike Appleton’s squad, unbeaten in six, came into the Emirates with one idea in mind: make this unwatchable. They did, with a lot of help from their opponents. Jake Kean was great. For the neutrals, the slew of hilariously awful Piers Morgan tweets will provide comedic fodder for days. Colin Kazim-Richards is a life long Arsenal fan. Go on. He’ll never forget this day and nor should he.
A few months ago I wrote about giving up. Reading it now I feel slightly embarrassed. This game, any game for that matter, doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Nine years without a trophy doesn’t matter. Arsene Wenger’s future with Arsenal doesn’t matter. Tuesday’s round of 16 clash with Bayern Munich–brace for impact–doesn’t matter.
I say this facetiously. Of course it matters. That’s why we watch.