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October 2016
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Arsenal v Liverpool: “Liverpool is one of the superpowers of football”

By Tony Attwood
“Liverpool is one of the superpowers of football,” said their manager this week. Is that true?
Most certainly they have a history to be envied.  Between 1977 and 1990 they won the Football League nine times – having done what Arsenal wanted to do after our European and Double exploits at the start of the decade (but which Bertie Mee was unable to achieve).
And they won the European Cup four times during that era, and once since.  Again, let’s not be churlish, it was a remarkable achievement that every Arsenal supporter would have loved to claim for our own.
But their last league triumph was a quarter of a century back, and their last FA Cup win was nine years ago.  And indeed they were a powerhouse long before Arsenal – winning the league five times up to 1923, while of course we didn’t get anything until our first FA Cup win in 1930.  They have won the league 18 times to our 13.  We have won the FA Cup 11 times to their 7.
So does this long and illustrious history make them a superpower?
I’m not sure how much history counts.  Of course I sing “49, 49 Undefeated” – I think it is a great song, and I’ll never forget being at many of those games, but I am not sure that achievement actually makes us a superpower.   Current league form probably has more to do with it.
So if we look at Liverpool’s league form over the last five years we find: 7th, 6th 8th, 7th, 2nd.
OK that is not so bad, and Arsenal’s is only 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 4th over that same period.  But… in a couple of those season, (2012, 2013) in terms of points scored Liverpool were so far off the top they were actually nearer relegation than they were top of the league – showing just how huge the gap was between the champions league teams and those just a few places further down the league can be.  (And it didn’t just happen to Liverpool.  Last season Southampton in 8th found the same: closer to relegation than the top of the league).  It has been a common occurrence in the Premier League in recent years.
There is also a bit of a problem with John W Henry, which particularly stems from the moment he admitted after his “what are they smoking at the Emirates” jibe, that he had lied, lied and lied again over his alleged non-existence of the buy out clause for Suarez.  (Incidentally there are many, many other reportings of this tale – you can start here if you want a verification).
Of course people lie in football all day and night, but I think the point was that the boasting about how clever he was to lie over such an issue in an up-market conference didn’t really did the club too much good.  Not least when it later appears that Arsenal were not lodging a serious bid anyway, but were simply putting pressure on Real Madrid, who were backing off the Ozil deal as a result of Tottenham saying they would only sell Bale to Real Mad if Real Mad didn’t finance the deal by selling Ozil to Arsenal.
Now of course the statement from the Liverpool manager that “money doesn’t come into it. If the club doesn’t want to sell they won’t,” can be seen as another jibe at us, in relation to the departure of RVP, Nasri and the like, not to mention the fact that we got Alexis and they didn’t.
But I am still not sure if this sort of commentary is the way to establish the “superpower” credentials.  Certainly Rodgers has spent over £200m, and certainly just as Arsenal, they have made a great run in the league of late, but as of today, prior to our match, they are in the position in the league that in recent years Tottenham have made pretty much their own.
And I am still not convinced by £16m for Ballotelli.  Indeed I can’t recall how many pieces I wrote for Untold saying that under no circumstances is Arsenal bidding for him (while we had all that stuff in the press about it).  Maybe that’s just me not seeing things (and as you may recall if a regular reader, I have had two eye operations this year), but I just don’t get it.
So back to the question: is Liverpool a superpower?  I think there is another way to look at this – and that is money.  Fenway Sports Group do spend, but if we consider the wages bill, and where thinis are going, we can see the problem.
The financial figures that follow are the latest available – which unfortunately is for a little while back, but we can still make use of them.  These figures show the amount spent on wages for the year up to the end of season 2103, with the same figure in brackets for 2012.
  • Man C £233 (£202m).   Growth: £31m.  (115%)
  • Man U £181 (£162m).  Growth: £19m.  (111%)
  • Chelsea: £179m (£173).  Growth: £6m.  (103%)
  • Arsenal: £154m (£143).  Growth: £11m.  (107%)
  • Liverpool: £132m (£119).  Growth:  £13m  (111%)
  • Tottenham: £96m (£90m).  Growth: £6m   (107%)
This needs a bit of entangling, and let me try and do that.
First, money isn’t everything, because you can discover a brilliant young player on a modest wage and he becomes a superstar.  But as Liverpool are finding now, very quickly that player wants his salary upped, so it is a benefit that doesn’t last long.
And where money counts the simple point is this: if you want to rise up from your position in the league, most of the time you do it with a combination of factors, one of most important of which is more money spent on wages.
But here’s the rub: if you are in a lower position and want to rise up, you have to increase the percentage of expenditure on salary far more than those above you – in order to get that rise.  It is a catch up job.
Yes of course you can rise up the league for a short spell with a brilliant season, a bit of luck (vis a vis injuries etc), and so on but for a regular break into the top, what you need is to invest in players at a level beyond your rivals.
So Liverpool grew their investment in players by more than Arsenal in the period we are considering, but nowhere near as much as the Manchester clubs, and nowhere near enough to catch Arsenal up.
And since then?
Well, we know that Man City have to be careful because of FFP, and we know Chelsea are experimenting like mad with a complex way around FFP using an industrial scale loan system and high price sales to clubs not in Europe.  But both are still being reigned in a little because they haven’t got many more ways to make income grow.  Man U have no such problems, but the change of manager has been more troublesome than they expected, and their owners still want their annual take.
Arsenal’s growth in player investment is now much larger, having built the stadium and paid off the high repayment front end of the debt.  So with the purchase of Ozil in 2013 and Alexis in 2014 Arsenal’s wages bill is rising and rising.  But this is exactly at the moment when Liverpool are starting to rebuild bits of their old ground – and indeed when Tottenham are too.  This is not the moment when more and more money becomes available for either club.  Indeed the reverse is true.
To be clear this is not an FFP problem – because ground building is not included in FFP calculations.  It is a debt problem – just how much can you borrow, and how much are you investing.  (And for Tottenham during the season away from WHL that is going to be quite a question – although that’s for another article).
In short I think an argument can be made that the money Rodgers spent (including the windfall from Suarez, achieved by the good fortune of the fact that Barcelona were about to be banned for a year from buying anyone, and so were buying as much as they could with the money they got from Qatar), was the last hurrah.  I think there might be a decline in available cash – and even if I am wrong, I am not sure there is much room for growth, with so much being soaked up by the redevelopment of Anfield.
So my guess, and of course everything about the future is a guess, is that for a few years this is about as good as it gets for Liverpool.  If Chelsea’s experiments with ways around FFP work, then they are safe from restraint, although of course everyone else will follow them, so the playing field levels out.  If Man City’s owners do get their South African and Brazilian clubs up and running quickly, they too will have their own way around FFP, and they’ll continue to grow.
Man U and Arsenal have no financial constraints now – Man U because of world wide marketing, and Arsenal because the stadium is such a mega money-spinner, and the big bills have been paid.  Which leaves a problem both for Tottenham and Liverpool.
 To make matters worse, yes people noticed like mad when Arsenal didn’t win anything between the FA Cup in 2005 and 2014, and they made an awful lot of noise about it, but Liverpool have had a bigger catastrophe – dropping out of the Champions League for several years, and then when they did get back in, not only dropping out of the group stages, but actually falling short in the Europa.  Players notice this, and so are less willing to transfer to a superpower without the Champions League every season, than a club that does achieve this.
As a conclusion, it is interesting to compare Liverpool’s vision with that of Southampton.  Of course Liverpool have the history and Southampton don’t, but consider what Ronald Koeman said recently about this coming summer…
“Maybe, we will lose some players. We will do everything to keep everyone at the club, but we know the situation will be difficult. It will not be [as bad as] last season, but, of course, the risk is that we will lose some players. That’s normal. That means we have to be prepared to bring in new players, new focus and we will see what position we are talking.”
Southampton are not Liverpool, but they have an interesting styyle these days.  Southampton are only one place and one point behind Liverpool, and have a much better goal difference…   Maybe just occasionally a little humility is better than a boast.
Coming up next: the match preview.

The books

27 comments to Arsenal v Liverpool: “Liverpool is one of the superpowers of football”

  • seamus

    Thank you, a very interesting piece of journalism.

  • Cou

    “Maybe just occasionally a little humility is better than a boast.”

    Fine words. You should maybe have a read of them yourself! The twisted logic you employ to make Arsenal look like some mega-team with all of the 3rd and 4th place finishes…and actually making it out of the group stages of a competition you’ve never won is the height of irony.

  • para

    “Liverpool WAS one of the superpowers of football,” their manager should have said.

  • Blackfoox

    @ cou

    I see a butt hurt dipper attempting to twist the words

  • jake

    Cou could you point out where the article says Arsenal are a megateam? or maybe your just being a bit delicate
    because a nerve has been touched?

  • Notoverthehill

    Tony, you have omitted to cite the pay-offs for the cast off managers!

    Except, the Arsenal and ManU. ManU will of course, join the others with David Moyes exit!

  • Barney B

    I hate to be a pedant, but I think you need to re-calibrate your calculator & deduct “100” from your percentage growth figures. An extra £31m in Man City’s £202m wages actually represents a 15% increase, not 115%. Full marks for consistency, though.

    On a happier note, I have projected the results for the leading teams’ (plus Tottenham Thursday’s) remaining matches, using the Finkelstein model. This model is based on a one goal swing between a team’s home & away performances in matches against the same opponents. The application of which reveals that we should be able to celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day on 11th May, following our match v. Swansea. It would, of course, have been the previous Saturday, 9th May, but for the TV-mandated postponement.

  • ob1977

    Ha para bless you, truth as they does hurt, we Arsenal fans on here know our limitations, know what’s constitutes success and relative success, trophies are success, 3rd or 4th is relative success as brings in money and prestige, 6th or 7th is Liverpool clinging on to years gone buy lashing out blindly at anyone that points this out to them

  • ob1977

    Sorry para clearly me at Cou, think I was still liking your comment in my head and had an elderly moment.

  • ARSENAL 13


    Despite the champions league medal, you couldn’t get Ozil and Alexis. That says where exactly Liverpool stand, and thats below us.

    When your manager signs a player and then tells he was the only player available. Not humility at display.

    Smoking jibe is not humility either.

    We are a footballing superpower in the making and like it or not…..Liverpool are not heading in the same direction as we are.

  • TailGunner

    Rogers is hardly likely to talk his team down, and to be fair to him he’s done a pretty decent job with them despite losing one of the best strikers in Europe. I thought they were going to run riot last season ( his first ), and if Sturridge hadn’t had been injured for so long this season they might be in a better position right now. I’d say they are still a great club, but no longer a superpower.

  • Andy Mack

    They were a football superpower and have a surprisingly large international following considering their lack of recent success but (and it is a big BUT)they are slipping further from the superpower ‘club’ every year that they continue failing to win silverware. If they do start winning then it’s easier for them to get back into the ‘club’ than it is for us because of that European history. Having said that, can they start winning consistently and build a new stadium…. we all know the answer to that one is a very firm NO.

  • Tom

    Pretty well balanced article Tony.
    Liverpool’s greatness is truly a thing of the past, and if they want to bring it back they should probably start with the stadium.

    One thing though – if Arsene Wenger” wasn’t lodging a serious bid” , according to you, then why get upset over John Henry’s response?

    Seems to me one lie deserves another.

    “It was not the most subtle thing we have done ( £40M +1) , but it was not meant to be provocative at all. It could be interpreted like that, but it was not our purpose” , said Arsene Wenger.

    “At the moment the situation is on stand by. I heard that Suarez is considering legal action to force a move, but this is sometimes linked with things that you don’t know as a potential buyer……”
    “This is is the story between Suarez and Liverpool and I don’t know what has been said, what has been promised and what has been written and that is only Suarez and Liverpool that can decide that.

    It’s nothing to do with us. We have been told that the player wants to leave Liverpool and that’s why we have acted.
    I really don’t know what will be decided by Liverpool”, said Arsene Wenger

    Arsenal are probably better than most , but they are not perfect.
    They refuse to pay their workers the London living wages, the cappuccino is truly below par at the Emirates and we really tried to sign a serial biter , racist and a diver.
    That’s life.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Liverpool are a big club, a decent team, but always surrounded with a healthy dash of media bias.

  • Gord

    Wait a minute Tom!

    You have tried the cappucino at Wenger/Emirates Stadium?????

    All we ever hear from Tony; is that he would _LIKE_ to have a cappucino, but they never have any when he finally gets to order.

  • Tom


    No , actually I haven’t . I myself am a beer man, but I thought I remembered Tony being dissatisfied with the quality of cappuccino at the Ems. Perhaps I was just confused about that, my bad 🙂

  • Gord

    I ran across a news article, that the aaa are joining with 2 groups from Liverpool, that are going to try and keep people out of Wenger/Emirates Stadium until the game is 10 minutes old. The groups from Liverpool are mad about ticket prices, the aaa are just mad (and hate Wenger).

  • Al

    Also if they were such a super power how come all their contract rebels always say it’s nice to be flattered to be linked with Arsenal? And it usually ends in some sort of public spat between club and manager on one and player on the other. And these are key players we’re talking about; first Suarez and now Sterling. I don’t remember that ever being the case with us, having to deal with players seemingly hell-bent on joining Liverpool this way that the club had to resort to lying about contracts, etc. Not even at the height of our selling years. Think that shows the players themselves know which club is bigger.

  • Menace

    The success of Liverpool was because of the finance of the Moores family. The pools & the catalogue shopping paid for a lot of Liverpool’s success.

    The evidence is very clear – wealthy clubs can achieve success & can maintain it while the wealth remains. Arsenal are the exception to the rule.

  • ThereisnootherArseneWenger

    Pls, who can point me 2 an article dt explains expansively n comprehensively d cost of building d Emirates/Wenger stadium, its consequent effects n how we are able 2 spend big n well despite not haven completely paid up.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    power, superpower
    star,superstar, starlet

    Talk about overuse of superlatives…There is such a high degree of word inflation within the media that the words themselves cease to have any meaning (what the heck is the difference between a 1st division and a premier league – premier is just first – in French)?

    But to the point at hand…Is Liverpool to be considered one of the elite teams of Europe? No. And, neither are we. Liverpool was a power in the 70s and 80s but no longer. The Liverpool manager’s comments were made for local consumption only. Like fresh fish off ice – it doesn’t travel well.

  • omgarsenal

    It is difficult to predict what Liverpool will do in the future, but they do seem to be coming to an end of an era with their CL winning side almost totally dismantled. Their greatest strength is their Kop end support and their legendary drivenness, which won them the CL against Milan.
    Gerard is moving on and many of their most dominant performers are either reaching their expiry dates or have left/retired. I consider them a top British team but not necessarily a top European team…..that could change IF they make the right purchases and manage to keep their best players. As we well know at AFC, that is always a great challenge!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Its all about getting the balance right !

  • Florian


    I can’t find such an article, but Swiss Ramble has covered the Arsenal subject extensively on his blog. If you got there and infer the data from his last 2-3 postings about Arsenal with the one about the new PL TV deal, you’ll have a pretty good idea where we are and why we’re spending like we never did before:)

  • Chapman's Ghost

    @Menace, Arsenal aren’t the exception to the rule. We are a wealthy club compared to the majority of EPL teams. Also back in the thirties when we won the league three times in a row we were the Chelsea/City of the day. Money, at least in football, brings you sustained success.

  • menace

    What a match! We stuffed them despite Taylor. He tried to ruin our play but screwed up. There was a bit of indecision when defending, but overall we were awesome. We are upwardly mobile gunners. Loving it.

  • jake

    now now lets remember even superpowers( cough) can have an off day