What does a club need to be successful? There is one magic ingredient



By Tony Attwood

What does a club need to become successful?  Of course to an extent that depends on what one means by success, for obviously if one defines success in terms of winning major trophies Arsenal are not a success.  But if success means improving and getting closer, then yes Arsenal at this moment are indeed a success.

But as we have noted before, the success Arsenal is currently enjoying, nearly didn’t happen.  In a survey in the summer of 2021, the Arsenal Supporters Trust (a fan group often known as AST) did a survey of its members which asked “Are Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) good owners of Arsenal Football Club?”

One percent of those answering said yes, the rest the opposite.

Another question asked, “Is the current Arsenal Board fit for purpose and doing a good job running Arsenal?”    Again 1% said yes, and 89% said no.  The rest were unsure.

Of course, the board and the owners did not take any notice of this AST survey which was held after Arsenal had come eighth in the league.  And fortunately for most of us Arteta stayed, taking Arsenal to fifth in the league the following season, followed, as you may recall, by second place.

I mention this now because at any one time there will be a substantial number of clubs where supporters will be playing the same game of demanding a replacement of the chairman, board and probably the rest of the structure.

Indeed we might perhaps take a look at Tottenham’s results over time.   In 2019 Tottenham reached the Champions League final and moved to the new stadium.   46 per cent were confident of the clubs future and another 43 percent “somewhat confident”.

At the end of last season those figures changed to seven percent being confident and 18 percent somewhat confident.  Three percent had full confidence in the owners.  

What comes through from these figures is the disparity between the time it takes to turn a football club around, and the desire of some supporters (nudged on always by journalists) to demand change now.

Most supporters of course have no experience of running a club, nor indeed of running a business.  But as a person who (before age took its toll) ran a plc for some 20 years, I can say that in my experience running such an operation is a case of taking decisions constantly and trying to get most of them right, while putting right the wrong ones, as quickly as possible.

But on this score, the problems for a football club are multiple – not least the fact that as the Arsenal surveys above showed, people can express a total lack of confidence in a situation which in fact is on track to bring significant progress.

However, there is another element in all this which is peculiar to football.  Footballers by and large reach the end of their working life at around 35.  As one report shows “An estimated 40% of professional footballers go bankrupt within five years of retirement, and many more struggle financially in later life”.

To help themselves, some try their hand at punditry and quickly find that what the journalists who interview them want are shock-horror headlines.  “I think he is making solid progress and in a couple of years the club will be challenging for honours,” is unlikely to impress a journalist doing the interview.

“Arsenal board sent Mikel Arteta sack warning after disastrous start to season” was a typical Mirror headline that was published under two years ago, and that sort of headline is loved by the media.  Paul Merson is quoted in the article as saying, “Mikel Arteta will have til the October international.  If they haven’t done anything by then he will be under pressure.”

On 2 September 2021, when that story was published Arsenal were bottom of the league.  By 2 October – the deadline date Paul Merson gave Arteta, Arsenal had risen to ninth in the league.   At the top at that moment were Chelsea.

Arsenal finished fifth at the end of that season, five points behind Chelsea.  The following season Arsenal finished second, 40 points ahead of Chelsea.

What would have happened if Arteta had been sacked as the journalists and those hanging on to their coattails had suggested?   Of course, we don’t know, but we can say that sacking managers is not always a good idea.

In September 2021 with Arsenal bottom of the league, Chelsea had Thomas Tuchel in charge.   Since then they have had Graham Potter, Bruno Saltor, Frank Lampard, and Mauricio Pochettino as managers, and although the last name can’t yet be blamed for anything, the reality is that this constant change of managers has seen Chelsea slip from four seasons finishing third and fourth, to finishing 12th, along with a third-round exit in both domestic cups.

And that is the message that never seems to get home.  Overall replacing the manager is more likely to make things worse than it is to make things better.   But keeping a manager is not news, the journalists don’t like it, and some of these supporters groups are very easily led.

Which brings us to the one magic ingredient.  Patience.  And clear planning.  (Sorry that’s two).  And a bit of luck (ooops three).  And refusing to take any notice of journalists…


6 Replies to “What does a club need to be successful? There is one magic ingredient”

  1. And spending bucket loads of money.

    Yes, it is slightly different now because so many clubs spend a lot of money. Back in the early days of mega spending there was only 3 clubs mega spending and they won almost everything. Now we have, not only more mega spenders, including Arsenal, but right down the pyramid we have enormous spending.

    The difference is now to when there were just 3 is that JUST spending is no longer enough. You must also have other factors in place such as scouting, youth, manager, coaches etc. etc.

    Back in the day Chelsea and Man City were winning no matter who was in place, simply on the back of spending 5 times the amount of money on transfers as anyone else, barring Man Utd.

    As we have seen with both Man Utd and Chelsea, spending on it’s own, no matter how much, is no longer enough on it’s own.

    They need more. Better managers. Coaches. Scouting. Youth. As I say, without getting at least some of them in place you will struggle.

    But here’s the thing. You can get all those in place, but without one particular aspect, the big spending, you will win nothing.

    Take us. I think we all agree that Arsenal really have got their act together. The board, who untold fundamentally supported, as did I with a big piece on them a few years ago, have guided our club fantastically back to the brink of success, which lets be honest here, can NOW only be measured in Titles and European success, given our spending. Not necessarily this year, but soon.

    All the pieces of the jigsaw appear to be in place, but it has cost us a fortune. This is the PL net spending the last 5 years.

    Manchester United: £-614.92m.
    Arsenal: £-582.91m. …
    Chelsea: £-567.95m. …
    Newcastle: £-418.28m. …
    Tottenham: £-402.16m. …
    Aston Villa: £-334.96m. …
    Manchester City: £-275.25m. …
    West Ham: £-194.21m.

    Even with all those other factors in place, Arteta, Edu, Youth, Scouting, is there any chance on Earth we would be where we are without that mega spending? Not a chance.

    Okay, Chelsea and Man Utd have under achieved in the sense Man Utd haven’t won anything for a while despite their constant heavy spending, and Chelsea had an awful season, but when you look at those teams they are still all the ones that we all expect to be in or around the top 6.

    Liverpool are also going to be in the mix and they are not on that list, but lets not pretend they are paupers. Their Gross spending has been enormous.

    Brighton is an outlier as I expect them to challenge top 6 in place of perhaps Spurs, or West Ham or Chelsea, but by and large, as usual the top 6 will be the top 6 spenders. How they finish within that mini league will depend on all those ‘other’ factors we are talking about, but without the money they probably would not be in the mix, and they certainly wont be challenging for the title.

    The money is the absolutely crucial aspect that you cannot do without, irrespective of all those ‘other’ factors.

  2. Nitram,

    Which source are you using for the five year net spend?

    Transfermarkt seems to be a resource many use. Transfermarkt’s figures for MCFC appear to be inaccurate because they have not recorded the sales of Carlos Borges (Ajax – up to 17.3 million euros), Shea Charles (Southampton – £10.5 million rising to £15 million with add-ons) and James Trafford (Burnley – £15 million rising to 19 million with add-ons).

    I can’t comment on the accuracy of Transfermarkt other figures, but based on the above not the most reliable source.

  3. Oh, I also forgot to add the sell on clause for Pedro Porro (Tottenham – about £10 million) and Romeo Lavia (Chelsea – about £10.6 million).

  4. Tim

    Sorry I can’t recall. Normally I source my own figures but just googled last 5 years net spend and found that table which I just copied and pasted.

    Could have been one of the Nationals so there is every chance it may be not be entirely accurate.

    I hope it’s accurate enough to back up my point though, which is despite the fact a seasons high spend may not work, and a low spend might, consistent spending over time, and 5 years is a decent barometer, almost inevitably leads to a rise up the table, and depending on the amount usually leads to challenging the top 4 or even the title.

    The point is you have to keep it up or you drop away, both Liverpool and Chelsea eased their spending and fell backwards.

    Sorry, should’ve been more careful

  5. Nitram,

    I fall prey to the same issues of copying and pasting, and I’m always wondering just how accurate the sources I cite sometimes are; for example, I’ve referenced Transfermarkt with regard to some other team’s transfer activity and yet I know they haven’t got MCFC’s business correct. What do you do?

    With regard to your main point, I agree that continued, targeted, spending over a prolonged period is vital to any long-term success. Of course, I’m pretty sure most supporters would like to see their team filled with academy talent beating all and sundry, whilst playing football that’s easy on the eye without resorting to cheating.

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