By Tony Attwood
Running a football club is about two things: surviving and winning. Obviously if you can’t do the former, then the latter is out of the question.
So far, only one club in the modern era has fallen from pretensions of greatness to a desperate attempt to survive: Leeds. Other supposedly big clubs have fallen from the top to the bottom however – I recall Manchester City in the 3rd division in 1999, and Wolverhampton and Portsmouth in the 4th (I watched them at Torquay when living in Devon for three years).
The fact that it hasn’t happened for a few years now, and the fact that Manchester City has recovered, and the fact that somehow Portsmouth don’t really count (two cup finals and they don’t count – an interesting thought), means the thinking is, top flight clubs don’t go bust.
Let’s just pause on Portsmouth. They won the FA Cup, and we haven’t won anything for five years. So if winning is everything, we should be like them, spend and spend, and then notice that there is no club left…. Maybe not.
I seem to recall Sky saying that Manchester City has bought £78m worth of players this summer – and it is this that dominates the thinking, not survival. For some people the thinking is that we have to keep up with them, no matter what.
But the truth is that survival is not a God-given right. Liverpool and Manchester United are on the edge. Manchester City are just a change of mind (or a coup, or a heart attack) away from total collapse. Tottenham are utterly dependent on the continuing largess of a man hidden in tax havens and a policy of endlessly buying players and flogging them at what any sane person would call a loss, but which for accounting purposes is a profit.
Aston Villa are dependent on Randy Lerner (although I doubt he would walk, given the profit he is making out of his loans to the club), Everton are dependent on one man who is desperate to sell. So it goes on.
What we are looking at is a pack of cards. If one topples, the banks and the owners are going to get very nervous, and all hell springs forth.
Survival is not given, it has to be earned, and most clubs are not earning it. Except at Arsenal where we seem to be able to go around posting half yearly profits in excess of £35m.
But even that doesn’t give the full picture, which is this: Arsenal are coming to financial dominance just at the moment when all the other clubs are either dependent on one man who is irreplaceable, or are already entering collapse mode.
And that is before we factor in the new anti-doping regulations.
What Arsenal have done, and indeed what Arsene Wenger has done, is redefine English football – not just from the point of view of how the game is played, what food is eaten, how we train, worldwide scouting and everything else in that arena, but also how the game is financed.
When Wenger was interviewed for the job at Arsenal Danny Fiszman asked him about his ambitions. He is reported to have said, ‘That when I leave, it will be in a better state than when I arrived’.
The stadium, the youth arrangements, the scouting system, the 12 years in the Champions League, the doubles, the unbeaten season, and the continuing profits – I think he’s done that a dozen times over.
The fact is that the expenditure of Real Mad, Man Arab and Barca-loan-us is unsustainable, as witness the fact that no one can unravel Real Mad’s accounts and Barca ran out of money this year. Although some, like those three, live in a world of total madness, most clubs are trying to claw their way to sustainability, but for most it is extraordinarily difficult, and will take years.
Of course we now want to return to the era of winning trophies as well – and we will do so, of that I have no doubt. But the main thing is to make sure that the sustainability of the club is assured, for without that we can slip backwards.
How different is our position from Man IOU.
For the last ten years the most profitable sporting club in the world has been Man IOU, making profits of between £40m to £80m a year – the sort of figure Arsenal is now moving into.
But in Man IOUs case almost all of that money goes to service the debt. Now it can be argued that this is a special case – but the fact is that the previous owner sold to the Glazer Gang knowing that this was the ploy. What Arsenal has sought to do is diversify its ownership, and thus attempt to stop such a buy out. Had they not done so we could be exactly where Man IOU is. Boycotts, turning up in a funny mix of club shirts and 100 year old scarves, unsold season tickets…
Chelsea of course are in a different position – although they are dependent on the mental and physical well-being of one man, and their ability to adjust to meet the anti-doping regulations.
But supposing we had had a pre-season like Chelsea’s. The cries of anguish when we won in Poland could be heard across the ether – what would the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal blogs have done with a defeat? (Actually I am not sure that many clubs have fans who would so berate their players for scoring six in a pre-season friendly, but that just shows how deep the AAA has got.)
Back at Man IOU the bond issue they had revealed to us that the Glazers will take out almost £130m in cash from the club this season. That is in addition to the straightforward payment of interest on the bond of around £45m – a total of £172m out of the club a year.
Compare that with the dividend paid to shareholders at Arsenal this year. And last year. And the year before. Zero.
So what we have is the best stadium in the world, a club that is making a profit and in no danger of failing to pay its players, a club that has set up magnificent training facilities, world-wide scouting on a scale other clubs can only dream of, and not the slightest problem with financial doping, and 12 years in the champions league.
I want this club to be here for my grandsons to enjoy, and under this regime I think that is likely to happen.
Untold Arsenal – Arsenal for this year, next year, and another 100 years.
Woolwich Arsenal, remembering 100 years ago
Making the Arsenal – from the day the club went bust, and vowed, never again.
- How much have Arsenal’s rivals spent on transfers in recent years?
- Why is it becoming so difficult to find a sponsor for new football stadium?
- Corruption flares up again in Italy, as Premier League figures don’t look too clever
- How much does a club have to spend on transfers to get a trophy?
- Does the team that is top after 14 games usually go on to win the league?