By Tony Attwood
I wrote yesterday about how I feel that the management of Arsenal through the period of building and moving into the Emirates has been a masterpiece – a work of genius. A masterpiece that other clubs, such as Liverpool and Tottenham want to emulate. A masterpiece that they think they are certain to achieve.
We shall see if their unbridled optimism is justified in the coming months and years – although it does seem as if we have been waiting in each case rather a long time for the promised action to start.
Arsenal started its journey in 1997, after Islington Council refused permission for the club to expand Highbury – just as the local council tried to stop us moving to Highbury in 1913.
Ashburton Grove was bought in 2000 and work was completed in 2006. It cost £390 million. Six years from buying the site to the opening, including long delays caused by the need to circumvent the results of the banking crisis. The lesson is simple: with big projects shit happens.
In November 2007 Tony Winterbottom, who had worked on development of the Ems started the ball rolling for Tottenham and the design of the new ground was revealed in December 2008. A completion date was announced in October 2009, when Mr Levy gave August 2012 as the moment when the 56000 seat stadium would be ready. At the Tottenham AGM in April 2014 a new date was announced as August 2017.
Liverpool’s new Stanley Park stadium was announced in 2003 and due to open in 2006 and although some work was done the plan was finally abandoned in 2012. Nine years with no result. In June this year Liverpool announced a new plan to rebuild Anfield in time for the start of the 2016/17 season taking it up to 58,800 with construction starting in 2015. A one year construction project – fairly nifty by current standards.
My point here is that this sort of work not only takes time and is subject to many unforeseen circumstances. So when I read the latest Tottenham and Liverpool dates, I still say, “maybe”.
And when I read that Mr Usmanov feels that Arsenal could have built the Ems and started winning trophies at once, if only he had been allowed to put money in, my response is also “maybe.”
Maybe because hindsight is always 100% but in all projects – be they building new stadia or building new teams, things can go wrong. Just as I was trying to show in my earlier article about how great teams and great clubs can fade away. How Leeds, our rivals in 1971 could slip into the third division and now be in a position where they insist their players bring in their own sandwiches for lunch. How if a solid club with a new stadium, such as Southampton, could fall apart, so can any club. It takes genius even to hold a monstrosity like a modern football club together. We need a word beyond genius to turn the club into a thriving success.
Mr Usmanov was very positive, and indeed very generous, in his analysis of the future saying, “I think we begin a new era for Arsenal where we win trophies. That is most important for football. In my opinion, in line with the existing rules, the club has the correct decision-making process in place, including their selection policy, especially now, when they have the means to buy the best players.”
But – and this is a big “but” – it was only in 2012 that Mr Usmanov expressed his serious concerns about the direction of the club; just two years back, warning that the “minimum target” of top four was in danger of slipping away. Even though he knew the new money would be in place by 2013 allowing the purchase of Ozil, and onwards thereafter.
Mr Usmanov noted that the process of getting the stadium had put the club in debt, and said, “There is another way of doing it: when shareholders buy all of the assets and contribute them to the club. As a result, these debt-free assets may generate income for the club. It is always up to the shareholders to choose which model to adopt.
So quite simply Mr Usmanov says if the shareholders had paid to build the new ground we would have got to today’s position sooner. Quite possibly yes, quite possibly no, because such huge projects are tricky and who knows what happens as we motor along football’s crazy highway.
If our current owner were to change his mind, pass on, be taken very ill, suffer a financial collapse of the rest of his business empire, or anything else, who knows what might happen to him and his interest in Arsenal? But whatever happens to him, nothing happens to Arsenal except his shares are available in the market. If something happens to an owner who is deeply financially involved in the club, then anything can result.
For a while it seemed as if the AAA were turning to Mr Usmanov as a saviour – seeing his investment as a way out of Arsenal’s continuing employment of Arsene Wenger. But Mr Usmanov describes Wenger as “a genius” – and has always done so. I think it was when the AAA got wind of this opinion they backed away from Mr Usmanov as their saviour.
But as for the rest of us, those who invested in FanShare, for example, the fact is that neither Mr Usmanov nor Mr Kronke, wants to help with our own personal involvement in the club, and that says something to me. Mr Usmanov, with his 30% shareholding could easily have stepped in a month or so ago when it was announced that FanShare was in trouble. That would have shown him in a new light.
Meanwhile relationships between Mr Usmanov and Mr Kronke seem to have improved, which can only be good for the club. The club has reportedly supported some of Mr Usmanov’s charitable work by inviting Russian orphans to meet Mr Wenger and the team. Mr Usmanov is reported to be welcomed in the directors’ lounge even though he isn’t one (although quite honestly having been to a meeting in the directors’ lounge myself, I’m not sure it is such a great thing to have).
So where does that leave us? Quite possibly using Mr Usmanov’s money would have got us to where we are quicker, and maybe it would have worked ok, maybe not, no one can ever know. The fact is Arsenal didn’t and we are where we are.
Mr Usmanov had a chance to show us he is very different from Mr Kronke by opening up discussions with AST over the failure of FanShare but he, like Mr Kronke stayed silent, and that is a shame in both cases. For them, financially, it is a trifle. But the symbolism of FanShare speaks volumes.
What we do have however is a stable ownership with no battles going on, and no one looking to sell – and that is something that is very very worth having.
And above all, we got the stadium, and got those ten years of top four finishes – the ultimate work of genius. And it is worth remembering this. Liverpool and Tottenham speak as if building the stadium is the be all and end all of the project. But experience shows it isn’t. Building the stadium is just part one. After that anything can happen. A lot depends on the finance. And the genius of the manager.
If the owner owns the shares, he can sell them and the club goes on. If the owner is also the benefactor who paid for the stadium, then that puts another level of risk on the agenda.
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- Qatar, Fifa, Barça. Is this how we want football to be?