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
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.
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