Arsenal beating Celtic was not a case of wealth beating poverty

According to Sam Wallace writing in the Independent,

“Celtic were the victims of a wealthier club, one that can afford better, slicker players as well as a manager any team in Europe would covet.”

Although the second part was true, the first part isn’t – and several regular contributors to this site (Matt and Jonny Neale need a particular mention, and my apologies to others who contributed for forgetting your names) have been helping me put together a picture of the cost of the team Arsenal put out on Tuesday. Many of these prices come from the excellent Transferleague site

This is our first team of the moment, and its price list…

M Almunia £2.5M
B Sagna £6M
W Gallas -£5m (Swap for Cole + £5m)
T Vermaelen £8M – some sources say £10m
G Clichy £250k
Denilson £3.4M
A Song £1.0M (disagreement here – some say £100,000
F Fàbregas Free
N Bendtner Free(academy)
R van Persie £2.75M
A Arshavin £15M
A Diaby 2.0M (elsewhere quoted at £200,000)

But that’s only part of the story. Since the summer of 2004, Arsenal’s net transfer spending puts them around £25m in credit, while Manchester United have a deficit of £64.5m, Liverpool £83.8m and Chelsea £106m.

As we know, most years Arsenal make a profit on transfers by selling players who cost very little and selling them for quite a lot – we think of everyone from Anelka (cost £250,000 sold for £25m on through Vieira, Henry, and on to Adebayor and Toure, with many others in between).

So if one adds up the money spent by Wenger and take away the money brought in from the sale of his purchases, we can say that this team actually cost less than nothing!

Of course Arsenal are a wealthier club if you just take the narrow issue of turnover – it costs more to go into the Ems than Celtic Park – but then our players wage bill is much higher. But against this Celtic own their own ground (I believe) and so don’t have the massive mortgage costs we have. And I think they have a larger worldwide support than we do.

The point is that Celtic, like every other club, could have gone down the Arsenal route 12 years ago, and set up innovative training methods, world wide scouting and an emphasis on youth. They chose not to (particularly in terms of world-wide scouting) – and now we see the result.

World wide scouting does cost money – but each scout only has to bring in one player every three years and you have still saved a fortune. I don’t know what Gilles Grimandi is paid by the club, but even if it is a footballer’s salary (which I am sure it isn’t) he has still saved us millions and millions. Even if all he had found was Clichy, Grimandi would be worth his weight.

But to understand why other clubs such as Celtic have not followed the Wenger lead and “do an Arsenal” we need to look a bit deeper.

The Lord Wenger gave us the first of his doubles very early on because

a) he is a brilliant coach with innovative ideas which surprised the rest of the EPL who wrote him off as “inexperienced”

b) he inherited the famous back five, and extended their life-span through his diet plans and tactics

c) through his own knowledge he could bring in Vieira and Henry even without a new scouting system at Arsenal.

Other clubs have brilliant players, and other managers can spot bargains, but it is the subtlety and complexity of combining what he had along with his innovations that laid the groundwork of his achievement.

Put another way, the Wenger revolution was so much against the dominant spirit of British football that it looked wrong, felt wrong, and was laughed at (remember that stuff about Arsenal never having anyone in the centre to receive the crosses – that was the foundation of the approach of the Unbeaten Season).

In fact every Wenger revolution has been treated as laughable. Vieira got booked too often and was unsuited to English football. We had no centre forward, because Henry was on the wing. We had no defence because our full-backs pushed up to far. We could go the whole season unbeaten – so funny that they brought out a t-shirt. Song – not fit to wear the shirt. Denilson – “lightweight”. Lehmann – far too temperamental to be a goalkeeper in the EPL (the only man ever to play a whole league season without once being on the losing side). The list goes on and on.

Of course you need a man of supreme brilliance at the helm to set up a Wengerian Revolution – but it should not be thought that no one else can do it. They don’t because the tradition of British football is against it. British football is built on and dominated by…

a) simplicity – journalists encourage us to laugh at anything complex normally because they are unable to understand it themselves. If you can’t explain it in one sentence on Radio 5, it is not to be broadcast, or is sniggered at. You know that expression that is used to knock over any concept that is expressed in more than 10 words – “We don’t need any of that clever-clever stuff here do we?” That’s football.

b) repetition – this is how we do it, this is how we have done it, so we do it this way, and with repetition you don’t have to use your brain. If it was good enough for Brian Clough it’s good enough for me.

c) instant success – the last four years are the perfect example – every newspaper has been encouraging Arsenal supporters to believe that if they are not winning things this year it is a disaster, and that the sublime genius of Wenger should be kicked out. Instant success is irrelevant – sometimes he takes years to put a revolution in place.

d) a lack of willingness to do any research at all – as with Mark Lawrenson saying Everton will beat Arsenal “because Arsenal have a lot of injuries”. Better to repeat what the other guy said, than to check properly.

e) a lack of willingness to stand out from the crowd. There is only one commentator in football who I hear or read who does go down his own road, no matter what anyone else says, and that is Charlie Nicholas. Incredibly knowledgeable, deep thinking, and willing to put forward his own views which he backs up with logic and reason. Charlie should be one among many – he is not – he stands alone.

So the media conspires to portray simplistic visions of football, when in fact the reality is often far more complex. Arsenal beating Celtic was not a case of rich beating poor, but a case of a club that had taken one set of decisions, beating a club that had travelled a different path.

My old mate Roger and I used to have a joke together – that the next Wenger transfer would be a Peruvian 12 year old who is currently playing in goal, and would be our next midfield genius. It never happened – but you know what I mean. That little joke encapsulates the total complexity of the Wenger revolution, and that is what Celtic missed out on – just as virtually every other club has. They kept it simple.

Arsenal is a revolution in progress. It is complex, radically different, and unlike anything else you will find in any other club, and I am honoured, in my own tiny way, to be part of that.

(c) Tony Attwood 2009, with thanks to all those who contributed ideas and thoughts to this piece.

27 Replies to “Arsenal beating Celtic was not a case of wealth beating poverty”

  1. Good points Tony but a bit harsh on jounalists. Its true there are alot of unthinking, lazy journos cobbling together any old rubbish for a deadline – but there are some good ones out there too. Patrick Barclay is worth reading for example. You have to remember that most journos dont know that much about there subject (with their exacption of business joutnalists), they are employed because they write well and quickly or can create a controversy. Most articles on arsenal by definition are written by people who will know less about arsenal than the average person wriiting an arsenal blog.

  2. effectively, wenger paid about 40 mill for his team that beat celtic, an amount hughes paid for the ‘swoop’ and excellent investment he made in getting ade and toure.

    case closed.

    arsene is a one off in football

  3. the self-assembled machine gun VS the water pistol from tv shopping.

    up yours gordon strachan! 🙂

  4. Hi Tony,

    I hope Glasgow treated you this week as well as Lady Luck.

    There is much to agree with in your post, although a little of it is somewhat generalised.

    Looking at the game in isolation, Celtic were competitive with Arsenal. Neither team created a chance of note, and while Celtic had most of the possession, Arsenal did more adventurous things with the ball. For all my anxiety over what Arshavin, Van Persie and Bendtner might do to our defence, it was only Fabregas that showed the imagination I was worried about. The three forwards were largely peripheral to the action. If the game had ended scoreless, it would have been an accurate reflection of the opportunities created.

    What Arsenal have is excellent players in every position. The speed, athleticism and technique of the full backs for example, were too much for the Celtic attacking players, and Song with Fabregas in midfield make a formidable team. Even the Arsenal centre backs are as technically sound as they are accomplished in defending. In every position, Arsenal’s players are better than Celtic’s, and who would have doubted it before the game?

    That said, and as I mentioned, Celtic competed with Arsenal, and had providence smiled on the Hoops, it would have been 1-0 Celtic with a kind penalty.

    There are two key differences between the clubs that account for the difference on the pitch. The first is Arsene Wenger, about whom many books will be written, some of them worth the read no doubt.

    I reckon this is his 14th season, and he has demonstrated time and again that innovation succeeds in football, whether you can can match your competitors financially or not. In this you are correct; Celtic have only recently (2005) looked beyond the first team horizon in creating a player development pathway; The policy of signing promising kids from across Europe only implemented 2 years ago; The tie in with Ujpest formalised this summer.

    Youth Development is a 10 year project, 5 years to get them into the 1st team squad, 5 years to enjoy the benefits.

    The second key difference is financial. While I am truly impressed with Wenger’s consistent record in getting outstanding value from his recruitment, as I’m sure Malcolm Glazer is too!, the fact remains that the Arsenal payroll, at £101 Million p.a. last time I looked, is a factor of 3 times greater than Celtic’s to maintain the same number of players.

    Even if Celtic could finance Arshavin’ transfer, we couldn’t touch his wages. (To highlight; Celtic had lined up Szabolcs Huszti in January on a Bozman, and when Zenit sold Arshavin to you guys they immediately paid Hannover €3M for the guy who was out of contract in 4 months).

    What Wenger has done is to create a team that genuinely competes for the Champions League every year with a recruitment budget that is dwarfed by half of the teams in the EPL. And he does it time after time. (Although I note some pressure on Wenger to win something soon, financial disadvantage or not)

    Should Celtic’s system produce a harvest of talent in the coming 5 years, the limit of our ambition, given current environmental constraints, will still be to get to the CL last 8 sometime. It will take a new structure for football in Europe before Celtic will again frighten Arsenal on the pitch, and that is altogether a different topic.

    Finally, the press are what they are; Primarily thick and devoid of imagination outside of the 26 letters that make up a headline. I’m afraid I include dear old Charlie in there too. Wenger didn’t get his ideas from reading the papers! It is websites like this that have demonstrated the increasing irrelevance of old style hacks and their once-upon-a-time columnists.

    More power to you.

  5. What is more disappointing than lazy, simplistic jounalists sprewing their stuff is Arsenal fans, seeing beautiful football every year and respectable (if trophyless) performance, changed footballing environment and evolving footballers at almost zero net cost to the club yet baying to be like other unimaginative and backward footballing clubs in EPL and in Europe.

    Arsenal is the ENVY of every club owner because they have to deal with the COMPLETE picture sooner or later. AFC ought to be the pride of everyone who deems himself or herself a “FAN” – if only she will look more at the complete picture.

    Thanks for the article.


  6. Very insightful piece, Tony. Journalist in this country are not really up to scratch. The simplest part of journalism is to check one’s facts. They do not even do this, how can we expect them to do research?

    @Nick in Frankfurt: Isn’t knowledge power? If they do not know much about their subject but are employed because they can write, shouldn’t they research that about which they write?

    Anyway, like you Tony, I too am happy in my own small way to be a part of this Arsenal revolution.

  7. Very insightful piece, Tony. Journalist in this country are not really up to scratch. The simplest part of journalism is to check one’s facts. They do not even do this, how can we expect them to do research?

    @Nick in Frankfurt: Isn’t knowledge power? If they do not know much about their subject but are employed because they can write, shouldn’t they research that about which they write?

    Anyway, like you Tony, I too am happy in my own small way to be a part of this Arsenal revolution.

  8. The biggest problem with Wenger is the terrible fear that resides in much of this country of anyone who is intelligent and forward thinking. How many children are mocked (and I’m being polite) in school for being bright. A few years ago there was a brilliant comment by Fergie, some journalist had mentioned somewhere about Wenger’s intellectualism and Fergie’s response was “So what if he can speak 5 languages so can the lad in my local Kebab shop”. Why should a manager who is highly respected around the world for his managerial ability and feted by the media as the greatest ever manager feel insecure that someone else can speak different languages?

  9. @The Battered Bunnet: Just a quick question. I know that you support Arseanl as well as being a Celtic fan. You must have been torn in two on Tuesday. How did you cope? I don’t want to ask which your preference was, even though I will like to know. But I recon that will not be fair. How did you feel generally. The rest of us may learn from it, you know. If Tony allows it, could you write a piece for us about it? Only if you want to though.

  10. The problem with sport reporting, I believe, is the lack of intent and capacity to educate.

    A standard reporting piece starts out with an anecdotal story before linking that story with the bigger picture – most often statistics that by themselves can be interpreted in different ways. The end product of a good journalistic article is that we, the public, are made aware of a fact and understand the causes and consequences of that fact. Great journalism leads us to respond to new information in actions.

    What we most often read on the sport columns are not journalism in this definition. They basically repeat in words what we have heard and seen and try to amplify the sensation. Functionally they are means for us to reflect our emotions and create bonds with other people who are exposed to the same sporting events – something very similar to the celebrity culture.

    Sport commentators have almost no desire/time/capacity to make their viewers better at understanding techniques and tactics. Who wants to be “educated” while having fun with his mates at a pub? Commentators instead spend most of air time talking about super-human performances of players on the field as individuals – the most obvious, glossy things everyone can see and opine on (For baseball, this explains the phenomenon “chicks dig the long balls” – everyone can see the ball flying out of the park – while pitching is an arcane art for most fans).

    Sport journalists have no access to scouting/recruiting report. But that IS scouting – our private info on Vermaelen allows us but not other teams to confidently bid for him. This information asymmetry, ironically, makes sport journalists averse to the practice of bringing in previously unknown players (“If this guy was so good, why hadn’t we heard of him before?”). They instead dig “news” on players we all see every weekend, further enhance their importance in our cosmos, or brew unfounded transfer rumors to fill up their columns.

    At the end of the day, our bashing the tabloids/uncritically buying anything the tabloids say is what tabloids are there for. If you want to improve the quality of your appreciation for the sport by understanding it better, there are other sources.

  11. As I am journalist, I will in this case, though I always agree with Tony defend my branch. It isn’t always about writing (saying) something in media. It is too simplistic, in today world where we have so many newspapers, radio stations, tv broadcasters and internet, media have totally different role than in world before 20-30 years.
    Before 20-30 years journalism was about to create opinion, to educate and inform people. But in modern world they have to compete for place in market.
    Easiest way to achieve that is to give potential consumers whet they want read (hear). So they only write what majority like to listen about. I remember my BBC instructor (pore guy magpie supporter) told me its something what can be defined as Pencil prostitution.
    If we know that, than its not surprise, knowing how much people hate Arsenal because its special, and it will always be special, to have journalists trying to write what would those people like to read.
    What hurts me, and I guess most of us, is that some our fellow gooners fall in that trap believing to such “journalism”..

  12. yes, it is true that we can spit on certain journalist but the fact that some of the fans just believe every word they write is also a problem.
    The fans also have to be critical and always be thinking: is this bullsh*t that I read true ?
    In a way I already felt what you said, Armin, you just put it to words how it is in realty.
    Off course it is double in a way: if we wouldn’t read anything about the Arsenal for a week we would be writing here that the reporters hate us and there fore don’t write about us. If they write negative about us it’s not good also.
    So we could conclude whatever they do… its just not good. 😉
    Off course they could hire in Tony for a good job.

  13. But if they hire Tony, do you think Moan Utd and Looserpoo supporters would be happy with it ???

    But in a way it gives charm, to be against all others

  14. Great article Tony.My son recently did some sports jounalism traing at a red top daily..He was told that they often make up stories to get ahead of other papers, also agents and Managers ring up asking for stories to be put in the paper to either unsettle a player or to get him out.
    Regarding ” our Harry “(Redknapp).My son was asked, why do all Reporters love him?.He always will give a interview to anyone.
    Is it not about time the Premier League and Man Unt told Ferguson he must do interviews to the BBC.What a disgrace that the so called biggest team in the world still allows their Manager to blank the BBC.How many Unt supporters in this country have not heard him?
    Finally, how can these so called pundits think that by spending money in Football is a must.I do think,it is coming to a end.Apart from City and R.Madrid who is spending(Lyon are next)?

  15. Comments in moderation…

    You will appreciate I am using a program, and am not the originator of the program, so it doesn’t always do what I want it to do. But, here’s the situation.

    The program is set, of necessity, to put into moderation any comment that includes a link. If it were not so set the site would be overwhelmed with junk email adverts.

    But I think that part of the way in which the program recognises a link is through the (at) symbol – so if you use that because it is within someone’s screen name or as a form of abbreviation, then you will go into moderation.

    I do check the site regularly, but obviously have other things to do. Tonight, in half an hour (for example) I am going to my local jive club, and if this evening is like most jive evenings I will return at about 11.30pm so exhausted that it is all I can do to get out of the car and into the house. I won’t check the site again until about 8am tomorrow.

    Actually that reminds me, on Saturday after the Portsmouth game I am driving a few hundred miles to a family reunion and party, which goes on until Monday. I might just find a computer somewhere, but if not, sorry, no Untold Arsenal for a couple of days. The comments will of course remain open.

    By the way, Talk Sport (a UK national commercial radio station) was seriously debating this afternoon if the Tiny Totts would win the league this season. It was, I assure you, a SERIOUS debate.

  16. Sam Wallace is a good guy. He is not as bad as some of the tabloid hacks, and better than a lot of the so called ex player pundits. Still, he makes a point that doesn’t explain why Celtic have been able to hold their own against european allcomers since 1983. Surely if it was all about money, then the majority of visiting teams would have come away with victories.

    In general, it is hard to appreciate some of the journalistic opinion, especially when it scorns the beloved arsenal. Taking a step back, you know some of it is true, but quite often the wrong reasons are attributed to arsenal’s lack of success. Injuries and refeering decisions are never mentioned, along with the massive resources of the mancs and the chavs.

  17. And off course I’m also proud of being a small big-supporter of the revolution that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are creating.
    The day the revolution is done and we win again the other teams will be grinding their teeth so hard I should be able to hear it all the way from England up to here. 😉


    Really great article that i feel everyone should read. The one thing I would add as a factor of the media is arrogance/ xenophobia. Anything not British in origin is always looked at as inferior and everything British is often overratted. Feel free to disagree with me but that is my view and keep it in mind and it will begin to become evident I feel. That is why to me Arsenal is much more than a football club. It is a representation of good, in so many ways- fighting against evil. Thanks for a great piece

  19. What in the world is that logo that appeared next to my post!?! I like it lol. Im just posting to see if it changes or not…

  20. i dont think its all about market share, its also about the big media companies pushing their personal agendas. most papers side with one party or the other, often changing their allegences when their personal agenda isnt being met.

    journalists get so used to having to spin crap stories that when a real story comes along, they dont recognise it as such, and have to find a spin to put on it.

    our start to the season was spectacular enough that any real journalist would be able to fill page after page with just straightforward facts.

  21. wow — what an article; loved the bit about mad Jens (looks like this is his last season).

    The traits of journalism as u point out :
    a) simplicity
    b) repetition
    c) instant success
    d) a lack of willingness to do any research at all
    e) a lack of willingness to stand out from the crowd.
    — i see these traits in every walk of life nowadays; be it journalism, movies or your colleagues at work, the people u interact with.
    In fact, (b),(d) and (e) are almost the same — spout the same bullsh!t repeatedly, it becomes the truth and u question it/do something different — oh wait u cant everyone else is doing it (there must be a reason they are doing it but i dont care to know or question it), so u should do the same.

  22. Just on the topic of the little illustrations that appear next to names at the start of comments, I just found them one day when pressing buttons in the program to see what they did, and thought it was rather funny.

    I know the joke will wear off in a while, but for now I quite like them.

  23. On Vermaelen – this from the Ajax site.

    Ajax and Arsenal FC have reached agreement about the transfer of Thomas Vermaelen. The transfer has a total worth of 12 million euro, of which 10 million fixed and 2 million variable.
    Vermaelen (born 14 November 1985) joined the Ajax youth academy at age 15. He signed his first contract in 2003. Vermaelen joined Ajax from former affiliate Germinal Beerschot. He made his debut in Ajax 1 at age 18 on 15 February 2004 in the match FC Volendam – Ajax (0-2). Vermaelen played 143 official matches for Ajax, in which he scored 10 goals. The defender won the national title with Ajax in 2004, the Johan Cruijff Shield in 2005 and both the Dutch FA Cup and the Johan Cruijff Shield in 2006 and 2007.

    Vermaelen playeed on loan for RKC Waalwijk in the 2004-2005 season. He has earned 21 caps for Belgium.

    From Finn at

  24. very well written.

    Eventually, just like the invincibles, grudgingly or otherwise, they will have to acknowledge the team at last

  25. Ah again off topic, but I forgot to “report you” that Bosnian Gooners (who unfortunately cant afford to attend to games) watched this game in sport bar in Sarajevo called “Celtic Pub”, and of course, even there we outnumbered them on their “home ground”.

  26. It is hard to appreciate some of the journalistic opinion, especially when it scorns the beloved arsenal. Taking a step back, you know some of it is true, but quite often the wrong reasons are attributed to arsenal’s lack of success.

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