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By Tony Attwood
There is a continual theme that emerges from those people who like to call themselves Arsenal supporters but who criticise virtually everything the club does, and it goes something like this:
The club is being run as a money machine, not as a football club for football supporters.
One element in the argument to support this is that the club takes its time in securing transfers. Players who are leaving are not sold quickly enough, other players who Arsenal are reported to want (probably in the past by the News of the World – although thankfully that source is no longer with us) are not signed quickly enough.
Delay is then seen as a sign of incompetence.
I can only assume the people who say this have never been involved in serious business discussions over anything much. But if you have ever bought, sold or rented business property, if you have ever tried to negotiate a financial settlement around a divorce, if you have ever had to deal with a business that won’t pay you the money they owe, or if you have ever been bought or sold a company, you’ll know, no matter how straightforward it all should be, in the end it all takes time.
People jostle for position, people play games. People who are really naff negotiators think they can solve problems by shouting a lot or making outrageous demands which are never going to be realised, and announce that they are non-negotiable (and then send a fax or email asking why you haven’t replied).
In the real world it doesn’t work like that. Yes people can get worked up, but generally speaking it is more like poker than children in the playground. You send a fax, the other side waits. They ask a question, and you have to spend time trying to work out why lies behind it, what strategy will follow from your answer, and so on.
That’s how it goes generally, but I really do think we have an extra problem with the market at the moment. With PSG being taken over by the Arabs, we now have 3 firms to whom money is no object, and as a result, every time there is a possible sale of a player the clubs looking to do the deal are also looking to see if PSG, Chelsea or Man C want to move for the player.
Those three know just how much emotional power they have, so they keep slipping out noises to their friends in the media, about maybe they are wanting this or that player, knowing full well that they don’t but also knowing that such an approach screws up deals for their rivals.
Everyone knows this is going on, but no one can stop it, because no one really knows what the financial big three are up to – and they are certainly not going to tell.
To make matters worse there is the special case of Man U, where Ferguson is just daring the owners to stop him buying anyone or come to that everyone. We all know that Man U is making huge losses all the time, and have no entry back into the Financial Fair Play regs (unless their lawyers have come up with something and are just waiting to spring it).
So Man U play their own game. They think FFP will buckle and Ferguson believes that the owners won’t dare stop him buying. Hence his policy of rushing out and paying top price for certain players even before the transfer window opens, and then suggesting he can still buy anyone else he wants.
One day the Glazer empire will fall, one day Sir F Word will retire, one day it will all end in tears – but until then, he just buys.
And yet it is not just Manchester U that causes the problem. Consider Barca. Just 13 months ago they failed to pay their players, and now they are saying that they are making cut backs by telling staff only to photocopy in black and white. Consider Real Mad, who spend money as if they had the ability to print it… which is quite an interesting thought given their reputed connections to the top echelons of Spanish society.
Who knows what is going on in clubs like that? Are Barca bankrupt? It certainly looks like it. So how can they offer £30m or whatever it is for a player that they let go for a spot of compensation money? The further one looks, the more insane the situation appears – and that makes it even harder to negotiate for anyone.
(Actually there is one more oddity in all this, which occurs when you have a player like Modric reportedly telling Tottenham that he is confused about his own future. I rather liked that.)
Where does that leave the normal clubs like Arsenal? Arsenal don’t have a country or its oil wealth to back them, so they aim to make a profit and use that on salaries, transfers, youth development, stadium development etc. In the transfer window that means
a) keeping as quiet as possible about a deal for as long as possible. It doesn’t always work, because the other club involved, and the player’s agent, are both likely to alert the financial big three as to the deal, to try and jack the price up. But Arsenal can only try.
b) buying players not on the radar of every other buying club, rather than pitching for the big name deal
c) doing nothing to dissuade bloggers and journalists when they print wholly fallacious stories about Arsenal buying X or Y. Why should the club do that? After all, if all attention is on Arsenal buying X when the club is actually trying to conduct private negotiations about buying Z, so much the better.
Unfortunately because the under 10s don’t get this, they then blame Mr Wenger and the club management for being incompetent by not buying players that Arsenal were never trying to buy in the first place. Equally, because against all the evidence these same under 10s also believe the rumours in the press, they get worked up about things that are never going to happen.
So it is that a difficult market (with maybe 50 or so big clubs worldwide jostling for the services of a few) is made impossible by the advent of the three financial superpowers. And then made more difficult by the oddity of the Man U / Barca / Real Mad situation.
Untold Arsenal – the index
Making the Arsenal – one of only two novels ever published focussing on Arsenal FC