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July 2021

Football as a series of cock-ups – and what this means for the future of RVP

By Tony Attwood

In the dim and distant past I was told by the best historian I ever had the pleasure to meet (Arthur Hicks, Head of History Poole Grammar School), that there were three approaches to understanding what happened in history.  These three approaches, he added, were also a good way of understanding what happens in the world around us today.

Mr Hicks, who had the patience to teach me A level history, never spoke on football and yet, the more I reflect on matters, the more I believe this approach should be seen as giving us a real insight into what is happening with the game we follow.

The approaches to understanding the past, present and the future that were outlined to me in my A level history course were:

1.  Inevitability

2. Plans, plots and conspiracies

3. Cock-ups.

To take them very briefly (and you’ll have to forgive the simplifying, otherwise we’ll be here all day and night)…

The “Inevitability” approach suggests that by and large it doesn’t matter what you do, the outcomes are bound to happen.  It is the Marxist approach of historic inevitability (the workers revolution will triumph because capitalism is full of contradictions).  Christianity has the same vision – it doesn’t matter what mankind does, ultimately the story told in Revelations will come to pass.  I suspect Islam and Judaism are of the same inclination but I am not qualified to say.

Plans, plots and conspiracies suggest that politicians, football club owners, players, agents and the rest of us, work out what they want, and then work out the best way of getting there.  It is an obvious part of life.  I want a new job so I read the lists of job offers.  Mr Wenger sees that football is moving in a particular way, and from his analysis decides that ever faster moving attacking mid-fielders and wide front-men is the way to victory, and so focusses on finding and buying them.   The plan becomes a plot or conspiracy if others become secretly involved.

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As for Cock-ups, this is the bit we normally ignore, but upon which Mr Hicks placed a strong emphasis.  He used the example of the Gun Power Plot of 1605 – a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England by a group of English Catholics involving the blowing up of Parliament.  A conspiracy because lots of men were involved, and a cock-up because it all went wrong and the Protestants became even stronger.

I am not going to suggest that Inevitability has any part to play in football, but I do think that much of football is to be explained by “Plans, plots and conspiracies” and that many of them turn into “cock-ups.”

The Malaga story is a perfect example.   You’ll recall Málaga got into a financial mess and Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani of the Qatari Royal Family became the new owner.

Then on 1st June 2011 the Club signed a deal with Unesco to become an ambassador of peace, equality and sporting values amongst young people all over the world.  The following season the club gained fourth place in the League and qualified for the Champs League for the first time ever.

But somehow the owner lost interest, players wages were not paid, transfer fees were not honoured, and as I write this it seems we have signed Santi Cazorla for whom Malaga still owe money to Villarreal CF.

So, this is a plan gone wrong – a cock-up.  Was it a conspiracy also?  In effect a conspiracy only requires two or more people working together to do something underhand.  Was Malaga or its owner, or even Unesco involved in this?  Possible because it seems strange that given the wealth of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Thani that he should not pull out.  But we don’t know.

There is a strong argument among historians that all plans, plots and conspiracies end up as cock-ups, simply because these plans involve people – and people either get things wrong or have their own interests at heart; interests which are the opposite to those of the original planner.

With this in mind consider Van Persie.

Arsenal don’t offer him a long term contract extension prior to 2010/11 because of his long injury record.  The club doesn’t want to be caught out paying a player for another few years who might only put in a few performances each season.  They suspect that with another season broken by injury RVP will agree to a deal.

But the plan goes wrong, RVP plays the season of his life, and then asks for a five year extension at £200,000 a week, plus a £10m re-signing on fee.  He does this on the basis that Man C, Juve, Chelsea and Man U will fight Arsenal for his services, and the rest of his life will be financially secure.  To cover his tracks RVP says this an argument about the vision of the club.

So for Arsenal it is now a cock-up, for RVP it is a plan.  No conspiracy in sight.

But Chelsea have no interest, and the others don’t really seem too excited by the idea.  Man U step up plans to make Moura their top signing, Man City are worried about unloading players first and are warned by Uefa about FFP, and RVP would have had no idea that just as he was saying no to Arsenal, Agnelli of Juve was talking about the end of the mega transfer + salary deal, which is exactly what RVP had in mind.

So this looks more and more like a second cock-up – Arsenal’s plan went wrong, and now RVP’s plan is going wrong.  (Still not a conspiracy since no one suggests that Juve, Man C, Man U, Chelsea all conspired not to buy RVP).

Arsenal have every right not to sell RVP – something that may not have been in RVP’s thinking.  One can imagine his agent saying, “of course they’ll deal – look at Cesc and Nasri.”  But this year Arsenal are looking firm, and are buying in advance of the season.  Two players for sure, one having had the medical, and one at Real Mad given permission to talk.

Now we see a really bad case scenario – a mega cock-up for RVP.  Supposing Arsenal keep him, and he gets injured, or stays fit and has a poor season, which results in him being dropped (Arsenal do have a lot of choice in the forward line now).  What then of the £10m signing on fee and £10.4m a year for five years?  None.   He might even be allowed to leave Arsenal on a free and struggle to find a buyer, although Stoke might have him.

If that sounds strange remember that although RVP has put in some staggering performances before last season, he could not be relied upon, because he kept getting injured.  So any club interested had to have a top quality back up.   A player does not have just his last season – he has his history.

I believe this little tale is typical of football.  Plans made by owners, managers, players, agents, endlessly undermined by other parties not doing what is expected, and by events taking their toll.

I know that I am often accused of being a conspiracy theorist, but in fact this is rarely true.  If you take the reports on how the vapour transfers have come to be a major force in football, this is not a conspiracy – just normal dirty dealing by a club.  They don’t conspire with anyone, just pull some naughty tricks.

Football is, to my mind, one big cock up after another.  At the moment Man U and Man C have taken extraordinary gambles with the use of money and with transfers which have paid off.  But for Man U the £80m from Ronaldo must almost have gone, and for Man C FFP looms.   They need to find a new plan, and with that plan will come some unexpected results, inevitably.

The game in fact is not to eliminate the cock-ups, but to try and reduce them to a minimum.


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35 comments to Football as a series of cock-ups – and what this means for the future of RVP

  • Matt Clarke

    Another gem from TA 🙂

    Another pensmith expressed similar sentiment:

    “But Mouse, you are not alone,
    In proving foresight may be vain:
    The best laid schemes of mice and men
    Go often askew,
    And leaves us nothing but grief and pain,
    For promised joy!”

  • bob

    A bit of concern. I haven’t read until yours, that Malaga still owes Villareal on Cazorla. Is that new news or old news? That is, is that debt to Villareal included somehow in our alleged 16M+ offering for him, or does it potentially block the deal?

    Oh, and while I’m at it, do you have a view on whether Barca has repaid AFC for x-Cesc yet?

  • Rob

    An interesting post, with a different perspective for a change… Well done, Mr Hicks would have probably given you a B+ for this essay !!..

  • Bob, the truth is none of us know unless Villareal make a statement. But there are various people around saying that the debt is part of the cause of Malaga’s problem.

    If that is the case then Villareal will welcome the sale of the player to Arsenal providing Malaga use the money to pay them off. In such a case I would expect Uefa to make it clear to Malaga that they can sell if they use the money to clear club debts. If they don’t they will have a complete banning order on all new transfers.

    So my reading of the situation is that nothing in the history of Malaga can hold the transfer up. But that’s not to claim I have in depth inside knowledge.

  • Mr Hicks

    Tony, I’m glad to see that you paid some attention all those years ago at Grammar School, a good piece of work young man.. Two house points and a B+

  • bob

    Oh Rob,
    Damnation by faint praise, is it?
    Surely you must object to Tony’s having excluded Social Darwinism from the Inevitability lot. Is that it? Otherwise an A? Come on now, why just a B+?

  • bob

    What I find further worrisome is whether Malaga’s failure (refusal, inability) to repay Villareal would scupper our deal? Especially if, as rumored, there’s no one around to sign off on anything, then what…?

  • bc

    well someone signed off the deal for salomon rondon to leave malaga and join rubin kazan so surely that same person can sign off cazorla. perhaps the only hold up is that villareal will be concerned that if malaga get their money it still does not guarantee they get theirs

  • Rob

    @ Bob, you raise a very good point here, I was discussing the very same thing with a friend yesterday. As Malaga still owe money to Villareal (as reported) one must consider whether Malaga have the ‘legal’ right to sell him under Spanish law, perhaps Arsenal have had to agree somekind of compensation payment to Villareal, to guarantee them that they get paid the money they are owed on the player. I’m sure modern day players have very complex contracts, full of various clauses and stipulations. I believe from other reports I’ve read that Cazorla had a 35M Euro buy out clause in his contract with Malaga, not sure how that impacts things, but I think this Cazorla deal has a few more twists and turns in it before it is completely done, and could still turn sour at the 11th hour. Until I see Cazotla posing for the press with his Arsenal shirt in his hands, I’m not going to build my hopes up too much… As for my ‘ B+ grading’ of Tony’s epistle above, perhaps I was a little harsh, on reflection I’ll suggest that Mr Hicks gives him an “A minus” !!…LOL

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    I’m pretty certain under La Liga rules, the transfer embargo on Malaga would only be lifted if Villareal agree that A) all debts are settled or B) that there is a workable agreement to settle those debts.
    So Malaga would be daft to sell Cazorla without agreement with Villareal as it would leave them stuck in transfer limbo. That is probably the cause for the delay, Malaga will want to negotiate a settlement with Villareal that pays them the outstanding monies over a period of time, whereas Villareal will want to see the money upfront.

  • I do think that RVP has overplayed his hand. Yes it was a fantastic season, but any club taking him on would be gambling that his injury problems were over. It might be that they are, but we’ll see from the course of the forthcoming season.

    This good season has led RVP to perhaps over-estimate his value on the market. I don’t blame him for wanting a move, actually; at his age, he has probably one move left and wants to secure the future financially for his family, who are surely the first call on his loyalty.

    It’s noteworthy that there are some who suggest that we sell Song to Barcelona if the price offered is high enough, irrespective – presumably – of Song’s wishes in the matter. It’s debateable how much loyalty there can be in the multi-billion pound business that is top-flight football.

  • nicky

    You didn’t answer Bob’s question about Barcalona’s debt to Arsenal over the transfer of Fabregas.

  • bob

    Yes, it’s debatable what Song’s feelings are; but, this very March, he did take on Dein The Lesser as his agent, the very man who escorted his midfield pal x-Cesc out the door and who is currently engaged in escorting our next captain out the door. None of this has possibly escaped Alex Song; rather it has motivated him (via Dein’s Siren Song). Imo, the very act of signing with Dein is a clear statement of intent – and that intent is to get out of town rich. Dein has the track record with Barca and Citeh and is vulture for Arsenal talent. I love Song’s talent and great potential but to get in sync with Dein is to wittingly play the part of a high-paid wrecking ball in exchange for his next lucrative payday and a chance to re-unite with x-Cesc in Barca’s midfield.

  • Sav from Austraila

    Thought provoking article Tony. Thanks for your hard work.

    Just in regards to Man Utd – something is up with the Moura transfer and other transfer talk – I get the feeling the Glazers/Fergie want people to ‘think’ they have money to play with – but do they really? So can they really afford RVP’s transfer fee and salary? Or smokescreen to hide their lack of funds.

  • barrys

    i have this gut-feeling that rvp will now stay and sign a new contract. the rumours of him being very impressed with both wenger and the board in this summer’s transfer market,is a welcome boost for us fans.but the biggest reason why i see him staying now is that he is flying with the squad to germany,where afc will no doubt up their training regime.if rvp was left behind,the it would tell you that he’s on his bike out of the club.all we need is a big player like rvp to commit to the club. that for me will see a whole new change that us fans should welcome, despite what rvp did,or said in his statement.personally,i tend to look at the bigger picture than anything i feel personally because afc are far more important than any selfish view i would have.rvp,staying,and banging in 25 goals with the likes of podolski,cazorla,walcott,wilshere, chamberlain etc makes me very excited for the new season.i said,before that the club needs a 30/40 goal swingaround to compete next season.we will score at least 20/25 more goals,i have no doubt about if we can concede at least 14/17 less,we will be back in business big time. i can’t wait for it to start now,i got the bug back.c’mon you reds.

  • colario

    I don’t think stoke would buy RVP. Not with his injury record – too fragile by far for Stoke. Then do Stoke buy talented players. Also would RVP’s wife want to live in Stoke!!!!

  • Ray from Norfolk, Virginia

    Tony: Greetings!

    I was educated in Lebanon, in the French Catholic system, and I ended up sitting through two set of exams throughout my education: one for the national system, and one for the French system. The most shocking gap in what we were taught was in the two sets of History classes. Forget “history is written by the winner” or “only history will judge this or that” etc… The most eye-opening difference is what we were told about the crusaders: a bunch of people who tried to civilize the Levant dwellers but who “lost” due to divisions per the French curriculum, or a bunch of Barbarians who destroyed everything on their path and “lost” despite help from a variety of turncoats per the national curriculum. The truth is, it is all in the eye of the beholder: RvP was elevated to the rank of a God by AFC fans (including me) a few months ago, then came the “statement” and he is now a pariah.

    Coincidence has it that owners are thinking about Financial issues, not particularly because of FFP rules but because they are making less money, as recent events in “Syriana” (I am loosely using the George Clooney movie title) make the benefit margins for the oil moguls much smaller. In the end, it is inevitable that owners will abide by FFP as a market adjustment rather than because UEFA, FIFA, or the UNSC tell them to do so. There will always a nouveau riche trying to pull a Chelsea 2012 CL or a Man City 2011-2012 EPL, but it will become less likely.

    Back to history: My father, who was born under the French mandate in the Northern Levant, always emphasized that luck and coincidence play a far larger role than people think; he gave examples from the Alexadrian conquests to the battle of Hittin and to the battle of Waterloo…

    Back again to the battle for RvP: His “team” issued the “statement” expecting that his value will go up, but a series of coincidences (not a conspiracy, but for his “team” a series of unfortunate events, to be fair) and bad luck (the Dutch team had under-performed at Euro 2012, his injury record is quite extensive, and most of all: being part of a Nederlands team that is notorious for open factionalism, etc…) are all elements to a lesser enthusiastic run on the player.

    In addition, the Wenger gamble has paid: Had the Netherlands and RvP had a great Euro, his value would have doubled, with the opposite happening, the Dutch performance has contributed to a definite lack of enthusiasm for RvP.
    In other terms, agreeing to the Wenger-Gazidis request to stay put until after Euro 2012 was a great thing for AFC.

    Only History will tell, but the scenarios include:
    1- AFC gets the transfer money AFC wants, and he departs now; this is good, no matter what he does elsewhere; next year, the rumor in the street will be that Wenger and AFC get what they want.
    2- He stays and does not play well; his stock goes down;
    2 (A) he can then decide in January to go for the Wenger-agreed transfer fee; after all Wenger’s argument to stick with the valuation will be based on the fact that RvP was playing with no enthusiasm for AFC, but that he is still a stellar attacker
    2 (B) he could get injured before January, and rush to beg for a contract (very likely, and why not for AFC as Wenger knows how to use him) or stay put and land a mediocre (less than 3 year) contract somewhere else after the season is over
    2 (C) he could not get injured but stay and decide what to do at the end of the season, again for tepid personal terms
    3- He stays and plays well: transfer fee will go way up, especially as it is inevitable that Mega-Rich Petrol FC or Full-Of-Gaz FC will deal with injured and out-of-form attackers, and RvP will then be the gem of the January market

    So, when I see the scenarios, I see a conspiracy by AFC and Lord Wenger, but it is a just conspiracy, pitting a decent man and a decent club against hubris in general and rich (well nouveau riche) clubs; we just have to be patient to see which one of the big fish will bite first.

  • Bob, Many thanks for your informative response re Song. I hadn’t considered the interesting points you made.

  • Stuart

    I just want to get something off my chest (Michael Staley, this is not a dig at you personally)

    It bugs me when people mention RVP (or anyone else) having one last chance to make a move and secure his families future. I mean, how the f*ck can anyone consider him to be short of cash? If he is it is down to his own stupidity!! On top of his wages there are lucrative sponsorship and image rights deals, the players also get a cut of shirts sold with ther name on it I believe. (This obviously doesn’t just apply to RVP.)

  • bob

    Clearly I don’t know this about Song from insider knowledge; but it is how I have come to perceive the Dein/Arsenal relationship: in my view, it’s that of parasite/host. It’s all ice-in-the-veins business, so that if the market is not going head over heels this window for RVP (and United don’t suddenly splash their purportedly new cash infusion in a way that AFC won’t resist), then Dein will cut the best available contract possible with AFC. There’s no loyalty, shame or hypocrisy that deters these agents. That’s not their job. So the maximal possible seems like the only consideration.

    Even if RVP stays, that still doesn’t mean that Alex Song/Dein won’t try to max out on Barca’s interest: more money, maybe huge money (depending on Barca’s real situation, no matter what anyone who’s not on the inside claims to know) and the Cesc/Song reunion in the midfield. If Barca can’t swing the deal because of its (reputed) financing problems, then it’s all vapor for whatever other reasons are in play. That said, and after a few exchanges yesterday with Goona Gal who has a very clear-eyed take, I am maximally cynical about the intentions and dreams of Dein the Lesser’s clients.

  • bjtgooner


    I fully agree on Dein the Lesser being the ultimate parasite as far as Arsenal is concerned, but, does anyone know just how much this person earns wrt a percentage of wages and each transfer transaction?

  • Adam

    I was told from a young age that “football is a game based on mistakes”. Usually we slam clichés on this site but this one seems quite befitting.

  • bob

    Yes, Adam. And among its biggest mistakes was the choice of PGMOL head. 🙂

  • Domhuaille MacMathghamhna

    Tony………on the conspiracy front, I believe you could easily be forgiven for wondering aloud about the timing of RVP’s supposed personal website statement, Jabba the Usmanov’s simpering ¨open¨ letter to the BoD and Dein’s behind the scenes machinations in our recent player losses.
    Many AAA whiners called last season’s deadline transfers a cock-up but if us winning 3rd, pipping the Spuds and their joyful embrace of the EUFA League once again and getting the CL place we deserved are the consequences of such cock-ups then lets have more!
    RVP has been ill advised and poorly guided/managed by his ¨advisors¨from the start and he knows it. Wenger is now in the driving seat and will, being the gentleman he is, provide an out for his star striker so he doesn’t lose face or make another serious error in judgement. That’s fixing a cock-up in style like everything else he does.

  • Thorson

    Hello Tony.

    This is my first comment after my new login.

    I have been wondering.
    After RVP’s shocking statement, Arsenal have had the best transfer window in the EPL.

    After signing three world class players can he then accuse Arsenal of “not sharing his ambition”?
    Though i find it hard to belive that more signing would come in, considdering Arsene’s previous transfer windows.

    I personally want to keep all the players we got, and challenge for the title.

    If some Arsenal player dares to come out before the next season and say that AFC lack amition should speak up.

    If that someone does so, i would think his abition lies somwhere outside of football.

    Maybe that place has another financial status then the AFC want to stand for.

    I strongly agree with the sustainable model that AFC represent, and think that other “out of this world” models are the source of all evil and suck the true values out of football in it’s origin.

    Do you share my views, Tony?

  • Lil Nap

    I stumbled on this site yesterday and have read many of your articles here. All I have to say is wow what a great site for Arsenal fans not to mention so many great articles. Thank you . I will def visiting this site on a regular basis.

  • Gerry Lennon

    Great article. It is funny how ‘great teachers’ can have a lasting impression, irrespective of career choice?
    RVP is in a difficult spot right now, of his own making, but I think the solution is near.
    I always thought that SAF sees this purchase as his chance to bow out of Utd with that elusive league title. He is not that concerned about leaving a legacy of young players for the future. He wants the 2012/13 title. A fit, in form RVP could do that. Unless GM can find a legal ‘get-out clause’, Utd have the cash. It could all go terribly wrong of course?
    As for Alex Song, a player I have always liked, so it hurts to say, Yes, sell him now. I’d rather take a bigger fee now than have the same wrangling we have now next season, when his contract has a year to run? In a strange way there is a parallel between Song and RVP with their positional play. Neither are orthodox striker/defender. Such maveriks bring their own strengths and weaknesses?

  • Bob you raised the question of Barca not paying Arsenal. I don’t have any inside access to this sort of information, but from what I gather the payment for Cesc moved ahead as per requirements.

    My understanding (no more than that) is like other commercial contracts, the transfer has set dates for payments, and penalties to be paid in terms of interest and one-off penalty payments if the payment is made late.

    The one occasion I came across where there was just no movement on a payment and Arsenal went to Uefa for help was the sale of Anelka to Real Madrid. That move indicates that in these contracts both parties agree to go to Uefa as arbitrator (or maybe these days the court of arbitration in sport) and not the legal authorities.

    So it is possible that Barca are late on all their purchases, but are paying interest.

    The problem all Spanish clubs have is that they can’t find banks to lend them more money. That is the time bomb.

  • And my one regret from this really interesting discussion is that I still only got a B+

    Mr Hicks, where are you when I need your help?

  • JohnW

    Call me whatever you want, but I still think losing Theo will be the greated blow from this Summer than losing RVP. One: Theo is young and he can only improve; Two:His assist rate keeps on increasing every season; Three: He keeps some English fans who look at passports first off our backs; Four: We will miss a team one time which has Theo, Gibbs, Wilshire, The Ox, Lansbury which I would like to witness. So RVP can go all he wants, the one I desperately want to stay is Theo

  • Mr Hicks

    Well then young Tony, what are we to do ?… It would appear that my earlier marking of your dissertation has caused some disgruntled remarks among some of your more avid readers. I have therefore decided to re-evaluate my earlier judgement and award you an “A”… In truth, this was a fine piece of writing on your part, which obviously struck a chord judging by some of the excellent responses received.

    Mr Arthur Hicks
    Historian Extraordinaire (Retired).

  • bob

    Dear Mr. Hicks,
    Of course that would be an act of Revisionist History. 🙂

  • bob

    “He keeps some English fans who look at passports first off our backs;”

    I too want Theo to stay, and agree that keeping him might help at least give some of the passport-first crowd some pause. But I also feel that we shouldn’t pander to that attitude; because it can slide too quickly into xenophobia. I agree that there’s a fraction of the populace and AFC support (including AAA) that feels and vocalizes this way (“English Spine vs. Johnny Foreigner); but let them expose themselves and others call them out for it. That said, keeping Theo makes a lot of sense as part of a diversifying offensive juggernaut.

  • bob

    I realize that you don’t have insider information on the Barca repayment schedule for x-Cesc’s transfer. My concerns are not only whether they are on schedule, but also that there was a schedule under the circumstance of that transfer. Why a schedule after the blatant tapping up; their use of AFC’s training facilities last summer whilst doing that tapping up; the contract breaking that forced the transfer; the brokering of said deal by Arsenal-wrecker Dein the Lesser, etc. All this and we are left presuming that the repayment is on schedule. Well, football business may exclude fans from any real knowledge; but the silence that continues to surround the x-Cesc transfer – even to the point of secrecy around whether we’ve even been repaid on time – does not allow fans to have a true sense of what the club, our club, might be able to spend or not in transfer windows. It is part of the puzzle. And I suspect that, at bottom, there is a great scandal being covered up when so little is actually known about the loss of our most important player since the Invincibles.

  • bob

    p.s. in sum, those circumstances remain an important Untold story, and one that continues to disturb and/or impact the fanbase. That repayment schedule by itself, and the possibility that we have not as yet been repaid are not made known on purpose. And I would guess that it is because there are reputations that would be seriously tarnished and challenged if such details were actually Told.