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The Arsenal approach looks like being the only answer, as rest of big four discover problems

In the Old World there were four models for football teams:

a) The KGB Fulham approach in which rich owners spent anything they wanted to buy success

b) Manchester IOU and Liverpool I spend more on new players than they receive each year in the hope that one day someone will buy them out

c) The Arsenal approach in which finances are kept under control, with a strong youth policy and a profit on player transfers.

d) The borrow-borrow approach in which everything is gambled on immediate success. Leeds and Southampton are perfect examples.

The authorities started to deal with option d) a few years ago by punishing clubs going into administration getting punished by points deduction.

The Chelsea option is now seen to be covered in flaws. First there is the utter and complete failure of their desire to be self-sufficient.

In December 2008 Peter Kenyon said that the KGB would be self-sufficient by July 1 2009. The full story was covered in the Guardian, and included the clear statement that there was “a commitment that would ensure they are no longer reliant upon Roman Abramovich’s interest-free loans to cover costs, from players’ wages to forays into the transfer market.”

There is now no sign of that, just as there is no sign of the KGB’s youth policy. That “policy” was utterly destroyed by Jonjo Shelvey, the 17-year-old midfielder at Charlton, turned down the chance to join Chelsea for £3.5m. He turned them down because not one single player who has joined Chelsea’s youth squad has got within a million miles of EPL football. Not just at Chelsea, but anywhere.

So that leads us to method b – the Liverpool/Manchester model. I’ll focus on Liverpool, but the same points can be made about Manchester IOU.

Rafael Benítez is one of the big spenders in an ongoing desperate attempt to win the EPL. Last win 1990 – forget Unbeaten Seasons, doubles, and all that stuff. Forget 91 years since we entered the top division. This is desperation land.

When the owners did a deal with RBS last month it is now clear that they agreed to repay £60m debt IN THE NEXT YEAR. In simple terms that is over £160,000 a day – for a club that is losing money. No wonder Benítez can’t even afford to buy Michael Turner from Hull.

Now to get this in full perspective, remember that Benitez was very slow to sign his new contract with the American owners. When he did so he did it because (as was widely publicised) he got a deal which meant he could spend EVERY YEAR what he received in transfer income PLUS £20m.

We know also that the owners are fellows of dubious character – after all they said they would not do a leveraged buy out, but did. And they said they would use the £350 to buy a new stadium. But, somehow it slipped their minds – tricky thing this memory lark.

So they said, “ooops sorry when we said Mr Bean you could have the money what we meant was, you couldn’t have the money”.

Benítez has so far spent £37m on Johnson and Aquilani – peanuts by the normal standards of Liverpool. About £17m has come back from selling Leto, Arbeloa, Jack Hobbs, Paul Anderson and Keane to the tinies in January.

So he is £20m down for £30m, so surely he must have another £10m to spend, at least. But the owners are not being that forthcoming. That might be it. After all, where the hell are these guys going to get £60m from by the end of the season?

Here’s a quote from Benitez. It is hard to believe it is from Benitez because it just doesn’t sound like him. But believe me it is.

“We have to work with the players we have at this moment and keep working with the scouting department…. We had some money but I will not talk about figures. When you talk about the figures I think it is clear. I will not say anything. I don’t have the answer. We are working hard with the players we have and the money we have. Always it is difficult to compete in the Premier League with clubs who have more money…. To sign better players than we have now is not easy. If you analyse it you have to spend big, big money to sign these players. We have to manage with the players we have and I am pleased with them and hopefully with the experience of last season they will be better….

“I think we have some young players who need to improve… The priority was to extend the contract of the senior players to make sure we kept the spine of the team….

I would say to everyone who thinks about Arsenal and Wenger and says, “Spend Spend Spend” – just compare where we are to the others.

Manchester IOU look to be not spending. Liverpool I definitely in serious financial trouble and not spending. KGB Chelsea finding that even a young Charlton player won’t sign for them because of the failure of their youth policy, while their much flaunted “sufficiency” policy hits the dirt. Manchester Arab finding that just waving money at players doesn’t work any more.

Compare Arsenal who this year bring in the following players who did not play anything like a full season last year…

Eduardo, Rosicky, Arshavin, Wilshere, Walcott, Fabregas, Vermaelen, Gallas

All of them were out for long spells last season either through injury or because they were yet to join us. Even if half of them suffer injuries for half the season we will still be far better off than last year.

No wonder clubs are not saying, “Hey let’s do a Portsmouth and find a rich Arab.” No, they are all saying, “Let’s do an Arsenal.”

21 comments to The Arsenal approach looks like being the only answer, as rest of big four discover problems

  • I am sorry, but until Arsenal win a trophy in modern football, no one wants to even follow that model. Arsenal are turning into a youth academy, not a football club.

    And John Terry, captain of club and country, didn’t come through the Chelsea ranks? Scott Sinclair, Gael Kakuta, Miroslav Stoch, Michael Woods, Ben Sahar, etc. are looking fantastic. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all get minutes this season.

  • Question for you Denny: When you fail to win the league or Champions League with your old-geezer squad, what will you do? Ask Abramovich for another £400M to buy a new squad? Let’s even say you win the FA Cup again.

    It’s do or die for you this season. Either the cup with the big ears or Roman’s taking his ball and going back to Moscow.

    What will you do then?

  • shotta-gunna

    Splendid piece by Tony once again. You must have been reading the ACLF blog today where some of us had to once again take on the 5th Column among Arsenal supporters. This rabid, disloyal minority are readying to rip the team this Saturday if we fail to win at Everton simply because AW has faith in his squad and is not prepared to overspend on new players. Unable to directly attack AW, they cowardly take aim at the Board for not spending 30 million on new players, especially to cover for Nasri and Rosicky who are out injured. I shudder at the prospect of any of these fans ever trying to balance their checkbooks. But then like Rafa and Ferguson it is only Other Peoples Money.

  • AMAZING ARTICLE. A Barca fan here but you guys seem to have a better policy even than us.
    Bunch of rubbish from whoever says that you are a youth academy. Semis of the Champions League is no youth academy. Let’s see the difference between spending and buying of Real and Arsenal last year. Oh yes right they didn’t even get to the quarters. Barca could be called a youth academy too, but hey are the most successful club of recent years. So Arsenal keep going the way you are cuz you are certainly not buying your achievements and Semis of Champions IS an achievement.

  • Aaditya

    Great post, although I believe Everton has been following this path for a while now as well.

  • Denny – what I am arguing is that the Chelsea model under Mr Abramovich has problems. If we look at the case of J Terry, he first played for the club in 1998, while Mr Abramovich bought the club in 2003. You can’t possibly claim that he is a product of the Abramovich youth system.

    My point is that people are turning away from the oligarch model because thus far we have no one who has come through the ranks under the model. Of course it is possible that in the future I will be proven wrong and lots of young players will make it for Chelsea or another EPL team – but the argument is that none have made it so far.

    In terms of Arsenal, if Arsenal is just a youth academy you have to recognise that it is an astonishing youth academy. While Liverpool spend an extra £20m a year on players than the get, and Manchester U and Chelsea spend far more than that, Arsenal make a profit on their players year after year – and still manage (under the model developed by Wenger) to win doubles and have an Unbeaten Season – which I believe Chelsea has not achieved.

    I really do think the analysis here is one that other clubs are looking at and saying – “if I want to take my club forward I will do it the Arsenal way”.

  • JediKnut

    Perfect sense as usual Tony! Ole Gunner – nice one!

  • KG

    did anyone notice that Aquilani (of Fifa/FM fame) is crocked for next 2 months; ~20m on an injured player.
    Even if Arsenal is JUST a youth academy, it is a bloody good academy – look at the number of players from Arsenal youth structure plying their trade in the PL.
    But the good news is Arsenal is not JUST an academy, semi final of CL and FA Cup and adding some entertainment into the Carling Cup — a good season indeed. It would have been a fantastic season if we were challenging for the League too.
    And the policy of Arsenal, to live within its own means, — it is valid in every business; if you are involved in running a business, the more you see Arsenal, the more you appreciate their efforts.

  • Bobby Pliers

    Good article. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion but as an Arsenal supporter of over thirty years I can remember the dark days of the early eighties and all the other seasons where we were going nowhere. To my mind it is so obvious what is happening at Arsenal. In the FA Youth Cup last season Arsenal were head and shoulders above everything else and the style of football was at times breathtaking. More and more of these young players will start coming through and the quality is improving all the time. It is only a matter of time before we become the major force again.

  • Faron

    Denny, Scott Sinclair will leave. Stoch wont last long either. the only player that will make it out of the Players you mentioned is Michael Woods who is class. And What the Heck is Modern day Football??

    It just goes to show trying to buy sucess doesnt work.

    Good Article Tony.

  • IndianGooner

    Another excellent article, Tony. AW and the Arsenal Board had a lot to endure in the last decade but I’m sure in the near future, when we start winning trophies, everyone will be praising them.. I wish that Time comes very soon.

  • IanWrightWright

    I know everyone is feeling tense with the lack of signings so far and I just cant believe for a club of Arsenals stature that we take so long to complete signings. We seem to be the slowest negotiators in the world and we always offer well below what the selling club is asking for therefore irritating them before negociations have started. The Nasri deal last year and the Arshavin deals were complete sagas. It seems other clubs are clear who they want and go for their targets while we ponder forever over different options then leave it so late we end up not getting any of the targets as we run out of time (last summer). The Arshavin deal was put through by the skin of our teeth and I have no idea why we work this way people may argue we got Arshavin for less than Zenit wanted but not by much. The benefits of getting the signings in early and integrating them with the team have got to outweigh the penny saving brinkmanship that takes place !

  • LRV

    Another excellent post as usual Tony. Even SA Fergie conceded the other day that Man IOU will now begin to rely on youth policy. Smith of Rangers is very impressed with the Arsenal model. It is not surprising though that ‘glory hunters’ and ‘plastic fans’ cannot see any good in the model; after all they are only after trophies of any kind. I wish it was possible to excommunicate them when all the present efforts & perseverance come to fruition.

  • Cape Gooner

    Hi Tony, in the Liverpool analysis didn’t you omit Alonso?

  • shotta-gunna

    IanWrightWright – Have you ever been involved in a serious negotiation? Not many of us have, I grant you. But I’ve been involved in a couple. Serious negotiations that involve real money (e.g. collective bargaining, bank deals, that kind of everyday stuff) usually goes down to the wire.
    …Contrary to the b.s. we are taught in school and colleges and propogated by the media, usually the seller is trying to screw the buyer by trying to get more than the subject is worth. Facts are Zenit started off with a 25 million asking price for Arshavin and Arsenal stood firm, ending up at 15 million. You should applaud the club rather than carping.

  • Marc

    Tony – As well as missing out on Alonso you have also missed the fact that Portsmouth owed Liverpool about £7 million so Liverpool’s actual cash cost (as opposed to book cost) for Johnson was £10 million. How will the owners take Benitez blaming them for bad results. I have a feeling that this will be Benitez’s last season at Liverpool.

  • stuartlondon

    IanWrightWright: There is no point buying unless we use the money to acquire players who bring additional capabilities to the team. Even well informed onlookers are unlikely to have knowledge of the true costs and benefits associated with buying particular players. Like it or not, only the manager and his negotiating team have access to this information. But one certain way of driving up the price is to state publicly that we are desperate to acquire particular players or types of player.

    I think we should do well this season without buying any new players, but I am not sure we will come away with trophies. I still think we look a little vulnerable at the back when in full attacking mode, as was demonstrated in the second half of the Valencia game. But if we are able keep our current squad and manager, I am very confident we will be challenging for honours next season and for seasons to come, due to the farsighted nature of AW’s youth development policy. I’m prepared if necessary to wait and to continue supporting the manager and the team. I really do think we are on the edge of the greatest period in our club’s footballing history. We just need to keep our players, our manager, and our nerve!

  • walter

    Spot on Stuartlondon.
    It took even the great Herbert Chapman 4 years before bringin home his first trophy.
    I’ve known the 70, 80 and my God we look good these days

  • Wayne

    Fantastic article Tony. In total agreement.

    Has anyone noticed that people have stopped cribbing about the lack of depth in the squad this year? …and now only intent on focusing on a super DM who will magically transform the team.

    Did Wenger splash out on a number of new players last year to sort out the problem of depth or did that sort itself out magically? 🙂 …It’ sall going to plan actually… This season will definitely better than the last season…i can bet on it. The long wait is only going to make the joy of success sweeter.

  • joe

    I have for many years believed that the board have Arsenal’s future on the right path.Being self sufficient is the way to go and the the proper way. Like other people have said on this site and many others, we remember the dark days of the 60’s , 70’s and 80’s.Those of the new variety of fans don’t know how well off we are at the moment.Do I want Wenger to go out and spend millions bringing in new players ,of course I do but that’s my heart ruling my head , finance just doesn’t work that way.The crop of players coming through is worth the wait, I just wish the Board and Wenger had told us how long we had to be patient , so I understand why the “newbies” are so unhappy but know that in a couple of years when the plan comes to fruition we WILL be a more complete team.
    So what do we do now as supporters , do we jump ship because we aren’t spending millions , please get real, it doesn’t work that way with severe long term problems, we are on the right path, you just have to see it and walk on it.Have the Board and Wenger made mistakes, Yes but then who hasn’t?
    I believe that patience is the answer and it will be rewarded and then the “newbies” will be wondering why they were so worried.
    joe

  • dan

    Tony, you’re a Wenger and Arsenal supporter there’s no doubt about that, but Wenger’s ‘youth policy’ has yet to produce results, there is no doubt about that either(it’s more fair to say ‘we were found out in the cl semis and could easily have lost to roma’ than to suggest anything more). We are more youth oriented but an objective observer will quite rightly recognize that our youth sans sufficient experience has it’s weaknesses as well(is cesc and all our ex players barking?). All the talk about sustainability falls away when it comes to the ultra rich clubs now, i don’t think roman would leave chelsea mired in debt, that’s idle speculation as well and is that part of our strategy? Btw, he may not be young, but this season’s epl revelation could very well be yuri zhirkov. We should do fine this season, i’m not concerned about top four and i do think we’ll be more competitive than last term, but i haven’t got rose colored specs and in spite of what should be an extremely good start for us, i expect the youth weakness to rear it’s ugly head once again come the end of the season. That’s not to say we shouldn’t live within our means, more like we shouldn’t live too well within our means(way too well).

    And regarding denilson, no i don’t see him slotting in to the brasil senior side when gilberto moves on. And it’s spoken on this site as if Denilson wasn’t promoted to the senior side because of some failure to promote him due to politics or that dunga is a poor coach and doesn’t know what he’s doing and his teams play crap football? Well, i don’t feel like i should have any special knowledge about football, we all watch the same matches right?, but some of your commentators make me feel i could teach them quite a bit. Dunga is perhaps brasil’s finest coach in a good spell and he’s won his last two tournaments. Oh yeah, and he’ll definitely pick players on political consideration alone, he likes his job(no outside political pressure there either, ta). There are very apparent reasons, or so i thought, that players like pato and diego played very little for the sub senior sides.

    Many AFC fans like to strut around and shout about supporting some of the fanciest footie around, but football supporters worldwide know that the true standard of great football is winning. How about balancing financial soundness and football effectiveness? We haven’t tried that one in a while.