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July 2021

Man U, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Barca… who should Arsenal emulate?

By Tony Attwood

If you have taken a glance at the Arsenal History site of late you will know that we have been considering the issue of the man who managed the club after the first world war: Leslie Knighton.

His role at Arsenal is interesting because 20 years after he was manager he published a vitriolic attack on the club and its then chairman Lt Col Sir Henry Norris.  Since the board of the time were by then no longer with us, the Leslie Knighton version of those years has been allowed to stand.   You will find it repeated in every history of Arsenal.

And yet, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that what Knighton said was nothing more than a set of allegations very similar to those posed by the current day AAA.  Allegations of mismanagement, blindness, self-serving, stubbornness, and above all, a refusal to spend money.

I thought of all this, not just because of researching Knighton but also because of the similarities between then and today.  Here’s but one example…

Knighton made much, in his book, of the way in which Sir Henry refused to allow him to transfer in the players that he wanted, suggesting that  Sir Henry was so mean he even wound up the whole scouting system at Arsenal.  This, Knighton suggests, left him (Knighton) scrabbling around to find anyone who could turn out for Arsenal.  At one time he says he even had to sign up the brother in law of the club’s doctor, just to make up the numbers.  (And that’s only one of the stories – there are many others of that type).

What a prat Sir Henry must have been!  What a dolt!  What a self-centred money grabbing idiot!

So the story of Jimmy Patterson, the club doctor’s brother in law,  has been told and repeated.  But if we do check we find that far from being a make-weight, brought in because Sir Henry would not transfer in players, he played for Rangers and Queen’s Park in Scotland, and after coming to Arsenal played for the English League in a representative match.   What’s more, he retired just as Chapman arrived, and Chapman personally persuaded him to come back and play for the club.

My point is simple: some “facts” become true simply through repetition.  Had the internet existed in the 1920s you would have seen “Now Arsenal reduced to signing the Doctor’s brother in law!”   and “Arsenal descend into farce” and “No transfer money: can your brother-in-law kick a ball?” as headlines.

And it leads me to a more contemporary question.  For those people who really do believe that we ought to doing far better than we are doing, and that the club is being badly run at several levels, my question is not so much what we should do but: who should we try to emulate?

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To illustrate this point, look at the following, posted on Untold recently…

We are owned by a club collecter, Kroenke, probably the worst scenario possible, and a man who knows little of soccer and does not have the love of ‘soccer’. We have the Alastair Campbell of football, Gazidis, who is a master of meaningless bullshite. The relationship between the board and the fans is an insult. Arsene Wenger himself is almost autistic in his non-existent relationship with fans. I will support this club until I die, but I will not support this board, who in reality are enjoying control and power without giving anything back to the fans. What saddens me is the docile way the Arsenal fans are led to the ‘slaughter’. This club is not in financial danger, it is losing the iqyalitative factors…mystique, public image, and numinosity. We are run by bullshite merchants.

Take just one sentence: the relationship between the board and the fans is an insult.

Now I have commented in the past how I think Arsenal’s relationship between board and fans is much better than at other clubs.  I have noted the way Liverpool fans can’t communicate with their owners, while we have the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Assn, which does liaise regularly with the club.

I don’t mean that just because we are better off than Liverpool, everything is ok, but it still seems to me a point.  Which club is getting it more right than us?

If you have ever read a word of mine, you’ll know I don’t accept the piece above in italics.  A comment that I would have used against Leslie Knighton’s allegations, had I been around at the time, is apposite here.  Where’s the proof?

And it makes me ask this.  If any of those allegations could be shown to be true through example and proof  (as I have tried to do very simply by taking the Knighton story to bits) who should we emulate?

Man City?  They won the league after all – but what is Man City’s answer to FFP?  What is their guarantee that the owners will still be interested in a few years?  What will they do to stop the sort of league form slide that Chelsea, who operate in a similar way, had.

Man U?  We know that in a couple of years we will find our marketing revenue rising rapidly – but can Man U keep their commercial revenue on the up year after year?  And after Sir Alex?  Yes I make fun of him, but I also have enough sense to see him as the Herbert Chapman of the 21st century.  And what of the money still being taken out of the company by the Glazers.  Is that what we want?

Rangers?  A few years ago it seemed they had everything.  Nine league wins in a row, bringing in the best players from Europe…

Tottenham?  (I leave that one open)

Liverpool?  Remember Hicks and Gillett, and how easy it is to fall into their hands.  Remember their regular change of manager.  Yes they have won a trophy and we haven’t so should we be like them?

Newcastle, with their ownership?

Barca?  With their sudden rules to the effect that colour photocopying is not allowed, and not being able to pay their players one month.  Barca who signed Thierry Henry just to show they could, and then played him so rarely that what with transfer fees and salary it cost them £2m a match to play him.  On the wing.   And all that money to come second in a two-club league?

Real Madrid.   League winners indeed, but with a certain delicate question mark hanging over their finances.

Juventus?   Match fixing anyone?

I could go on, but you are getting bored, I can tell.    So, who exactly should we emulate?


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35 comments to Man U, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Barca… who should Arsenal emulate?

  • deejay1952

    We should emulate the Chinese government… 9% growth year on year, pay low wages (as in slave labour), shoot any dissenters and attack our neighbors should they get uppity. lets face it some of our ‘fringe’ players deserve a plate of rice and dried fish, pigs trotters etc.

  • Byron

    Tony again a good read and I do always support your views because you back them with meaningful fact. The comment you quote does to an extent hit the nail on the head for me.

    We have fallen behind in terms of winning trophies and that is still important after all.

    The current system is sustainable but what is it sustaining if not title challenges? We all hope FFP will come as some sort of saviour, a sort of leveller. It has long been the demand of smaller clubs that there be a Salary cap to allow them to compete but the reality is that the rich win things.

    I am just pointing to the fact that planning for the future is important for any buisness model but surely we are not going to attract young fans from around the world based on our better finances? (I exclude fans in the U.K based on historical and geographic support)

    I am based in South Africa and remember watching Arsenal win the double in 1998 as my first full season of watching soccer. Growing up there were only 3 teams you supported ManU Liverpool or Arsenal

    I have not met a youth recently who supports Arsenal or Liverpool and long term failure will cause a loss of revenue.

  • bob

    You actually present this as a counter-argument against ManUre’s business model?: “can Man U keep their commercial revenue on the up year after year?” Their strategic partnerships are local, national, regional and global. They are so far ahead of AFC, indeed of anyone in sport on this score that your question (actually a statement meant to cast doubt on them when our own new deals are pie-in-the-sky, unless you have inside information on them), that to think you are casting doubt on them as an object of commercial emulation seems groundless. Having signed Hazard and having the inside track on some of the wonderkinds shows that they are rather alive and rather well (in spite of what the Glazers may or may not be doing).

  • bob

    p.s. and yes, I would say that their relentless pursuit of multiple levels of strategic partnerships for their brand is one of the ways we should go. They finished first, until the last minute, and lost the league on goals scored. I detest Don Fergus advantages in this league and the media, but their business model runs rings around everyone’s, AFC included – and not for the betterment of football.

  • Ong Bing

    Another choice Tony, Lyon.

    After wins 7 leagues in a row, now they struggle to win it again, and also Champion League spot.

    Football club up and down, so it is important when you down, don’t down to deep or disappear (bankrupt).

    No matter how much trophies you win, if the club does not exist anymore, people will forget you. You will be a piece of history: once upon a time there is football club named Arsenal, they playing good football, but after stupid ambition they lost a lot of money and down very fast like a waterfall, suddenly they played in Blue Square….

  • bob

    Please clarify: the youth that you cite are supporters of which team(s)?

  • Emulate Man U= Wrap referees around your fingers
    Emulate Chelski= Have a scumbag like Terry as captain
    Emulate Liverpool= Swim in obscurity while living on past glory
    Emulate Tottenham. Tottenham?= Puke!
    ….And you were wrong Tony, La Liga is a three club league, Barca, Madrid and the others.

    Only one club we can emulate, AFC.

  • Stevie E

    Hi Bob, Man U haven’t signed Hazard, Chelsea have.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    I think we would be wise to emulate the good parts of other clubs. ManU has done a great job of marketing world wide. We should aspire to their level of market dominance. Barça have their own propaganda or PR department in the local press. We do not get favourable press in England – we should change this.

  • Davi

    What I don’t understand is why it is that fans of Birmingham or Everton or whoever are so different from fans of Arsenal or Manchester Utd. I don’t understand why people think our place is at the top of the league 100% of the time. Of course every year we hope that they get there, and we expect them to *try* to get there these days, but that’s life isn’t it? Even United won’t continue to win something every year. We saw how much they struggled without Scholes earlier in the season, so when he and Giggs finally retire for good, who knows where they’ll be – let alone Ferguson.
    How arrogant these people are. They expect arsenal to succeed year-after-year – as if they do themselves?!

  • bob

    Hi, Stevie E,
    you’re right on Hazard. ManUre did sign Kagawa, who’s not chopped liver either. But my point was to say that their marketing success enables them to weather many storms, including Glazer-leeching from within (to whatever unsubstantiated amount), and they can and will purchase well in order to maintain the worldwide prowess of their brand – which, ALAS, no one in the EPL has been near-matching to date. To say that well, can they keep that going (especially in a global recession that will hit other much harder) is not a serious – albeit seriously provocative – question/statement on Tony’s part here.

    (To me, the economic question of the moment, is what did Hill-Wood mean – I mean exactly what was he getting at – in the public pronouncement of a few days ago that RvP would not get 250K per week. That is the question of the moment. Why public? Why that statement? Is it an invitation to the Petro-Clubbers and other Leviathans to line up? An honest, realistic statement driven by the integrity of the Arsenal Way? I dunno. But I find it a rather interesting if not compelling economic question for, hopefully, very near future consideration on UA.)

  • bob

    Just as a footnote, there is a non-arrogant, but aspirational aspect to wanting to finish first every year. I mean yes, it is arrogant to Demand that this be the only goal and measure of a team’s value. But, imo, it is defeatist to be prepared year after year to accept not winning the league. Surely there’s lots of room between the two extremes, including winning the league again in a way that plays Wengerball, which is what has first drawn me to AFC.

  • Stevie E

    It is interesting why Mr Hill-Wood made that comment, but without knowing the full context or even what question was asked, its difficult to speculate. You know better than most that the press only print what they want you to read, so it could’ve been a direct “will you pay RVP £250k per week?” To which our chairman could only answer No! Not only that, but as I understand it, Mr Hill-Wood is now little more than a figurehead at the club so doesn’t really have any say on who gets paid what.

  • insideright

    Emulating the good parts of other clubs is both sensible (it’s what all businesses try to do) and actually what I think we’ve done.
    Bieing of a certain age I can remember that the club to emulate back in the 70’s was Ajax. They seemed to have the best youth system around and also played the best (‘total’) football.
    Their problem was finance because it’s always been cheap to watch football in Holland and therefore holding on to their stars was often difficult. Barcelona recognised this and imported, via Cruyff, as much of the Ajax set up as they could. And you have to admit it worked for them.
    Arsenal always had one of the better youth systems and Wenger improved it and widened its scope. That, coupled with much stronger finances (thanks to the maintenance of high prices even in a big stadium)gives Arsenal the best of all worlds. The setback occured when Abramovich arrived at Chelsea and was made worse by the situation at Man City.
    Hence Arsenals more and more confident support for FFP which should severely hamper financially doped clubs.
    Ivan Gazidis intimated that Arsenal were about to see the fruits of our emulation of Man Utd’s commercial efforts which will push us another step or two forward.
    The Arsenal model is now the one that UEFA want clubs to follow – in which case complacency may be our only enemy.

  • Lanz

    Nice one Tony. My thinking is in line with Bob though on ManUre marketing (not necessarily their business model).
    May I present something a little off just in case we might get a comment or in fact an article on it. We have a problem right now in that the moment we show interest in any player, some rival clubs AUTOMATICALLY develop interest- just because it is Arsenal. It is interesting how Newcastle got up to three decent players with no competition!!! It seems to me some of these clubs actually call up Chelski and Manshitteh to inform them we are interested in their player. How do we now go about our purchasing? Can we get even more secretive than at present? Anyone has an idea?

  • bob

    Stevie E,
    If Hill-Wood is in fact a figurehead, does that make Stan the de facto power? What’s your thought?

  • bob

    Also wonder what you’d make of Jerry’s link to a Swedish analyst’s assessment of Hill-Wood:

  • Stevie E

    No idea mate 🙂 I would imagine he would have the final say, but in an organization as large as Arsenal, would contract negotitatons go in that far up the chain?

  • Stevie E

    Re. Jerrys link… Are we saying that PH-W is blocking any takeover attempt because his mate is on competition with the guy wanting to takeover? Sounds a bit school boy to me, but then, who knows what goes on in the mind of a rich old man?

  • Ong Bing

    Very OOT: Ox starts against France!

    I hope he will shines in this game, no problem if England lose!

  • bob

    Stevie E,
    Yes, I agree – it does sound school-boyish; but we’re left to try and read tea leaves in the dark. It just seems that this is no tea party: but there are de facto rivalries within rivalries the likes of which we won’t ever be allowed to see – unless it breaks out into the open, which has happened. And also, that it’s scary – but realistic I fear – to think that short-term wreckage (like the campaign to oust Arsene last summer/fall) could be inflicted on a team to serve one board Player’s longer term interests over another’s (or perhaps it’s a matter of serving person A’s short-term interests rather than person B’s short-term interests). And the rub is that these rivalries will have massive impact on the pitch, who stays/leaves/arrives, to say the obvious.

  • Wooby

    The timing of PH-W’s statement is rather suspect. Do anyone know if the quotes from both PH-W and RVP’s dad were taken from interviews that took place in the past few days or week?

    I wonder if this is the case of the newspaper publishing something that PH-W said awhile back in response to something another paper published about what RVP’s father said (which may also have happened at another point in time). Euros are on right now and if papers need eyeballs, what better way to do it than to recycle quotes into sensational stories?

  • bob

    You could well be right, and surely right to put it all in question given the media’s track record. And if it’s another made up story, then I hope AFC would grow a couple and take the perpetrators to court because such an attribution will have attempted to publicly damaged us economically.

  • Damien Luu

    Oh come on, Tony, who needs proofs or evidences these days? Just make up some stupid stories (about Arsenal), claim that you have been a Gooner since the Ice Age, and repeat those stories and applaud yourself under different nicknames in the cloud, they will spread like wildfire.

    Sometimes I wish the Internet has not been being so easy to use like today. At least you should have a brain to use it. Sigh!

    @Ong Bing: So far (after 1st half) it seems that Mr $$$ri is the best player on the field! This match is suck! I think I will go to sleep now. It’s not worth it, really.

  • Ong Bing

    Sorry Tony, OOT again.

    Looking France vs England tonight, I am very sad.

    We must be watch Arsenal vs Arsenal, but most of them is injured or not played for Arsenal again.

    Nasri, Diaby, Clichy, Kos, Sagna for France. Ox, Theo, Jack, Cole for England.

    Yes Damien, I agree with you, this game is suck! England looking for draw! I am not sure, but I think Hodgson played 8-0-2 formation! Or maybe 8-1-1?

    Can you give Oik to Hodgson Tony? Please?

  • Persian gunner

    You are exactly right sir!

  • Jerry

    No need to emulate anyone, keep our own identity at AFC, and we’ll be the model to follow soon! Marketing is improving, just like our talented young players.

  • Goona Gal

    To me, the promise of 100m or even 200m ‘investment’ could pale in the face of the invaluable benefits of synergies achieved by having an established sports owner on board at Arsenal. If you are familar with the tv show Dragons Den, Sometimes those seeking investment don’t actually need the money! What the entreprenuer wants is a beneficial relationship with a dragon and is prepared to give away valuable equity to obtain it.

    After reading the vitriolic comments inserted into this article, it got me thinking about how a sports owner may actually be beneficial to Arsenal. For example, access to new markets, I read an article ages ago that said in the USA amongst the age group 12-24, football or ‘soccer’ was now the 2nd most popular sport and it benefitted from the NBA lock down. I would suggest that having an owner that understands the sports market in the US would be more useful than one that doesn’t.

    Or say the introduction of new products through R&D, I would of thought having a successful sports owner may offer up experience and know how, in the very least help stay on top of technological developments and their business applications.

    Or even offer insights into ways to lower cost of operation and/or production for current products. Or in terms of increasing organisational cost efficiencies, through shared administrative savings.

    Or provide networking opportunities to improve and share intelligence relating to maximising brand potential or say in the field of sports injuries.

    Or better still, in dealing with renewal/tenders of commercial partnerships for Arsernal FC, I would of thought the opportunity to draw upon industry know how, positioning and negotiation from other affiliated sports organisations would be a very useful benefit.

    I am not selling Kroenke, I don’t know the guy, all I am saying that the dismissiveness and inability to see any potential benefit to having a guy on board who clearly has a passion for sports and has a business philosophy and track record we can take a degree of comfort from is a bit odd to me.

  • Scott

    Weren’t Utd several hundreds of millions in debt to so long ago??
    Is that a business model people want??
    Yes,Arsenal can always improve on everything,or at least attempt to,but they’re better run than any club in the world,imo.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice article Tony – we don’t have to emulate anyone but may have to ‘fine tune ‘ certain aspects of our plans.As mentioned by the others ,we can improve ourselves by learning
    from others and being open minded.
    We are on the right path and only time will tell if all our hopes will bear fruit .Up the Gunners !

  • ARSENAL 13

    good one Tony.

    I think we should emulate JLR. Whats changed since the TATA take over. Confidence…. Under Ford they never had that.
    AND Kroenke should emulate TATA. Give Arsenal the freedom they need to excel.

    We should be proud of over system, which most clubs are envious of. Yes we cant hold on to financially ambitious players, BUT we can develop better ones.

  • Arsene Whinger

    I think we should continue our own successful model. We have a new stadium, earn good money through ticket sales and buy young players cheap and sell them to the highest bidder few years later. Also we have lots of shirt sales by re-signing our veterans. Who gives a darn about trophies?? We achieve the third place trophy every year. In fact I am planning to sell those 13 league titles and other useless pots we have won in the past and make a good fortune for my master, Satan the Silent.

  • Shard

    Goona Gal

    That’s a very good comment.

  • ARSENAL 13

    We finish top 4 every year, I dont understand why people (AAAs) go blah blah…..blah blah blah.

    We had the ambition to win the league all these years, so we are able to finish were we did. We had the ambition to finish this season above Spurs, So did we.

    Look at Liverpool, target for this year was champions league qualification, thats why they are 8th now. Unless you aim for the best, you wont be competitive enough to come close (even).

  • Gf60

    I think true happiness would be our emulating our 2001`-2 side.

    Your headline including the word “Txxxxxhxxm” makes me wonder if I might cadge some of whatever you’ve been smoking.