By Richard Bedwell
All the talk at the moment is about what has gone ‘wrong’ and what can be done (mainly in the transfer market) to put it ‘right’. Opinions as to what should happen are of course, just that, opinions. Trying to predict what actually will happen is somewhat different and, when it comes to Arsenal, not such an easy thing to do.
Based on past experience very little will change this summer. One or two older players will depart (although this year it could be three or four) and they will be replaced, at least in terms of squad numbers, by one or two bought-in players and one or two promoted from the fringes.
But surely two major influences on squad building/maintenance strategies will be different from now on. Sadly we will be without Danny Fitzman’s guiding hand and we will have a new, all powerful, ‘owner’ who will be in a position to impose his will and call all the shots when it comes to making the ‘improvements’ that he sees as necessary.
We will also see the beginning of UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) which will, in theory, hamper our main rivals by forcing them to change their strategies and leave the field open for us to buy whoever we want at knockdown prices. After all, take out the money emanating from ‘financial doping’ and the transfer market now would barely exist.
Let’s look at Stan Kroenke first. Unlike all other previous ‘takeovers’ ours has not been done by a complete stranger in what is to all intents and purposes, an emergency sale situation. Stan has been involved with the Club for quite a while and has sat in on probably 20 Board meetings since he started to be a Director.
He knows exactly what makes the Club tick; the history and what strategies have, or have not, worked in the past. He has also seen what’s worked at other clubs and has, no doubt, read Moneyball from cover to cover. He’s certainly seen every report on football finance issued over the last few years. Be assured that he hasn’t spent so much money to get involved with a club that has a lot of problems with the way that it goes about its business. Neither has he bought a Prius in order to put a Ferrari engine in it.
Just as important, he is unlikely to fall into the usual trap that Americans working abroad fall into (trust me, I know). This involves believing that he knows best even on subjects that he has little or no experience of. He has happily admitted to those fans who have spoken to him that ‘soccer’ is not his game (basketball is his passion) and that he firmly believes in letting the experts do what they do best.
He will only demand that money is spent if matchday attendances dramatically fall – but that is why the transfer reserve fund exists and our mortgagors would demand it even more quickly!
He will have been told over and over again that all successful post war Arsenal squads have been built on home grown talent and that Wenger has merely extended the definition of home grown. That, to a numbers man, will be very persuasive.
As far as FFP is concerned it’s easy to assume, indeed hope, that its impact will be large and immediate. But such assumptions are usually wrong. It’s a natural human trait to overestimate the short term impact of change and to underestimate longer term effects. The Bosman ruling is now sixteen years old and took quite a while to become anything like the force it now is.
But we’re already seeing some. FFP inspired, changes. The timing of events at Chelsea both last summer and in January, were not coincidental and, in three years time, we’ll look back at the situation in the early years of post-Abramovich Chelsea and wonder how and why.
I’m not saying that the most successful clubs now will not be the most successful in 2014-15 it’s just that they will have to go about their business in a different way and change, for some at least, will involve risk that they are not used to handling.
In the past those clubs with a business plan which involved a lot of high- priced transfer activity will have to be a great deal more careful. Much of the money that they have spent has actually been spent to make up for previous purchases that haven’t quite worked out as expected. I’m guessing that if they get it wrong in future they’ll be no going back into the market to throw yet more money at the problem. Short-termism and instant gratification are going to become passé.
So, back to the beginning – what’s going to happen next? While I don’t expect Arsenal to return instantly to the position they were in immediately pre-Abramovich they have, by moving to Emirates, made by far and away the best investment they could make to prepare themselves for a future in which how much you pay in wages and the working environment that you offer will be far more important that the transfer fees you are willing to pay. And, five years after doing it, it’s still the case that no other club has managed to pull off the same trick. They’ve huffed and they’ve puffed and their executives and potential sponsors have been shown round Emirates to see how it should be done. But no one has done it and I’ve got a feeling that no one (except West Ham?) will manage it for many years to come.
Despite all the gloom and confused expression of ‘opinion’ I, for one, have never been more optimistic about the future of my Club – both on and off the pitch.
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History of Arsenal including the series on the failures of Herbert Chapman
Making the Arsenal – the book of Arsenal death and rebirth