On our website, onlinegooner.com, we’ve had a couple of articles in recent months from Russian Gooner Ivan Merc, breaking down the club’s spending on transfers and player wages and analysing its efficiency. He has exposed the myth of Arsène Wenger being financially constrained since the move to the new stadium, which rather blows a major reason why there has been a great deal of support for the manager in the trophyless years since 2005. Ivan’s analysis demonstrates that in football spending, between the summer of 2004 and 2009, Manchester United’s net transfer spend plus players’ wages was 8.5% more than Arsenal’s. The actual figures are around £522 million for United and £481m for Arsenal, a difference of £41m, or a little over £8m a season. Chelsea’s spending is almost double United’s, but in the five years under scrutiny, Manchester United secured six major trophies (not including peripheral stuff like Community Shields and a World Club Championship), matching Chelsea’s haul. What it demonstrates is that, with efficient spending and top management, it is possible to match clubs that are spending money like it’s going out of fashion. In the same period, Arsenal have won a solitary FA Cup, and that back in 2005. Remember at the beginning of this period, the Gunners had just completed the ‘Invincibles’ campaign, so the foundations were solid. Initially, both sides were blown away by Abramovich’s money coming good in the hands of Jose Mourinho, but United recovered and are – currently – the only proven challengers to those at Stamford Bridge. The point Ivan Merc is making is that financial reasons should not be used as an excuse for Arsenal’s inability to compete. If it were simply about money, then United would have been far less successful than Chelsea. £8m per season is not a significant sum at the level of Arsenal and United, and had the Gunners matched the spending at Old Trafford I suspect there would probably have been no greater success. United’s achievement, and stop reading here if you do not want some objective opinion that is going to move beyond abuse, is a result of buying the right type of player and their handling by the manager. It should be borne in mind that in the five years we are talking about, Liverpool spent more on net transfers and wages than either United or Arsenal, with a return of two trophies to United’s six (although the fact that one was the European Cup certainly bought Rafa Benitez a great deal of time on Merseyside). Soon after Ivan Gazidis took the job as CEO of Arsenal, he was outlining his plans to analyse all of the club’s staff in every department to determine whether they could be more efficient and produce better results. He promised changes where they were falling short. However, now the club are sitting on a heap of money while – it seems to many – the predictable problems continue on the pitch.
What worries me is that the motivation of the board and indeed the manager is more about the balance sheets than the trophy cabinet. We’ll never know, but if someone told me the manager was getting a percentage of the club’s profit, I really would not be surprised. There is certainly an element of smoke and mirrors to the club’s accounts, such as the ‘other operating costs’ accounting for up to 25 percent of the club’s turnover. How I’d love to see a breakdown of the £50m plus that goes under that particular column. Wenger has many loyal fans who are content to watch some sumptuous football, and can tolerate the lack of ability to turn it into silverware, the currency that really counts in the long term. Others are polar opposites who yearn for the days of George Graham, although it should always be remembered that his team played some pretty decent football themselves until 1992 and George’s decision to bypass midfield and play to the strengths of Ian Wright. For every AKB (Arsène Knows Best), there is probably an AMG (Arsène Must Go), or as another writer in this issue has it, a WLP (Wenger’s Lost the Plot). The real question for me is whether or not a different manager could be more successful. In terms of income, it is difficult to imagine, and that is presumably why the board are happy. It is rare for a home game to not sell out and the success the club have achieved with sales in the financially critical middle tier of Club Level and boxes is the envy of all in a period when corporate hospitality budgets have suffered big time. So aside from commercial revenue, which Gazidis is now addressing, Arsenal are maxed out as far as income is concerned – and all without the need to win trophies. It is a triumph of marketing. It’s been a real tightrope walk to continue to deliver a bank balance in the black while indulging the manager’s failing experiment (in terms of winning anything, which I am sure is his personal aim), and the club look like they will get away with it, because UEFA’s financial fair play rules will start to bite relatively soon, unless the protests of certain clubs can prevent it. However, the one thing that Ivan Merc and I are trying to get across is that history will falsely paint these years as ones of austerity. The idea that Arsenal’s lack of financial muscle handicapped them and prevented their winning trophies is simply incorrect. The fact is that the reason Arsenal have not had any open bus top parades since the move from Highbury is simple: the performance of the manager and the players have not matched those of a club in the Stretford area of Manchester that has spent about the same amount of money. The resources available to Arsène Wenger have not been spent as wisely as they might have. So, as the figures reveal, it’s less a case of Arsène Knows Best than Sir Alex Knows Best, galling a reality as it is. To think, United’s current manager almost came to Highbury instead of George Graham in 1986 (he would have then employed Graham as his deputy). But the Arsenal board wanted him to commit before he went to the World Cup with Scotland, so Ferguson stayed put and Graham got the gig instead. How small things can change so much, eh?
- Kevin Whitcher
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CONTRIBUTORS Kevin Whitcher, Mike Francis, Phil Wall, Steve Ashford, Mike Slaughter, Warren Swaine, Brian Dawes, Tim Stillman, Simon Rose, Robert Exley, Peter Le Beau, David O’Brien, Jeremy Cunnington, Joe Mardon, Nick Kelsall, Ricky Butler, Nadim Naaman, Stuart Watson, Ian Mills, Richard Leighton, Alister Campbell, Vasil Atanasov, Brad Duncan, David Gold, Andy Wood, Adam Bernstein, Chris Wellsted, Owen Griffith, Kevin O’Connor, Paul Regan & Phil Venton ARTWORK Darren Rackham, Ron Hill, Mike Murphy, The X-Man & Tony Eagle PHOTOS Offside Sports Photography, Professional Sport, Marcia Milnes MATCHDAY SELLERS Dave, Mrs B, Andrew, Rich, Frank, Alex, Griffo, PJ, Marc, Adam, David, Paul, Pete & James PRINTERS Regal Litho 01908 270 400,
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