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July 2021

Be careful what you wish for in an era of endless change

By Tony Attwood

At the Arsenal AGM Arsene Wenger made the point that “‘Our world is changing quickly. Europe as a continent is becoming poorer, the rest of the world is becoming richer, especially Asia, and these people invest in football in Europe.’   As many commentators noted, this coincidence with the news that Erck Thohir, an Indonesian billionaire, was buying a majority stake in Inter Milan, making him the second foreign owner in Serie A.

Mr Wenger contrasted the Arsenal approach of finding and investing in the best young talent, worldwide scouting for unknown players and buying key players such as Mesut Ozil.  

So far, so well known.  But there is another element that needs to be investigated here – the issue of what happens when the new money and new investment goes wrong.   Just because we have examples in England of Chelsea and Manchester City where the investment has not caused difficulties, it is assumed that this always how it is.  But that’s not the case.

Many clubs have run into trouble as they try to get the big money – but somehow the idea remains that “it wouldn’t happen to us”.   The fact is, it might do, and indeed it still might at Chelsea, Manchester City, Monaco and PSG.

But let’s pause for a moment to look at just some of the clubs where there has been success and then everything has then gone wrong.  Here are a few.

Birminjgham City: When he first came in to power at Birmingham Carson Yeung was seen by many as the saviour with his talk of massive transfer fees being available.  The money never came and he is only trial in Hong Kong on money laundering charges.

The prosecution alleged that some of the funds obtained in this way were used to buy Yeung’s stake in Birmingham City.  A verdict is not expected until the new year. Meanwhile, the club remains almost penniless.

Blackburn have become a laughing stock in and out of court, have slipped out of the Premier League and have moved from a £4.3m profit to a £36.5m loss in the course of one year.  Their present plight is unsustainable, but the owners don’t seem to be able to get a grip on the situation at all.

Cardiff City are likewise a laughing stock with the owner endlessly interfering, the colour of the club kit being changed to match that of the sponsors’, and more of the same.  Every time you think it can’t get more odd, it does.

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Coventry City, never one of the top clubs but a club with a long run in the top division, are now out of their home and playing at Northampton.  They are actually doing quite well, but the legal cases run on and on, and the owners’ campaign in the courts are regularly being rejected by judges.

Newcastle United ought to be a big club, with their massive support and large stadium.  That they are not says a lot about the owners.  Mike Ashley got upset when the local press (which has a strong voice in the north east) reported a march by supporters who are unhappy with the running of the football club by Ashley.  Now the Journal, Chronicle and Sunday Sun have been banned by the owner.  Even Alan Pardew has had words to say on the topic: “When he (Ashley) is upset he does things that aren’t brilliant for the football club.”’

Portsmouth slipped and slipped and slipped as the battle between various owners continued.  But they were a top division club, and FA Cup winners not too long back.  Five years after winning the cup they are in the fourth division.

Rangers, one of the two giant clubs in Scotland, are in the third division, having been promoted from the fourth last season.

There are many more British examples I could regale you with, but let’s take in one overseas company just to finish with.

Jose Maria Gay de Liebana has agreed with suggestions made that Florentino Perez is fiddling the debts in order to hide a giant hole at Real Madrid.  A hole that is no longer automatically being covered by the banks.

The way other commentators have swarmed to the defence of Real Madrid of late is reminiscent of the way in which the Scottish (and to some degree the English) press supported Rangers when others were pointing out that everything about the club’s money was wrong.  And maybe nothing is wrong.  But…

In essence what is being said is that the debt is 541 million euros, which is bigtime.  Worse the short-term debt of 338 million euros, is higher than its current assets, and that should never be the case.  Your current assets should always be bigger than the short term debt.

Jose Maria Gay de Liebana said, “It is true that Madrid has important cash on hand — 156 million at the end of the season.  But you cannot abuse negative working capital. If you look at Arsenal or Bayern, two reference points in financial management, their working capital is positive. Madrid has homework to do.”

“The plans for the stadium [costing 400 million euros] are fantastic,  but 400 million during a time when nobody is able to invest — obviously they would need to finance it with bank debt. That seems a bit risky.

“The fact is that Madrid is so far in debt, and has a big project for the stadium, so it could end up in a monumental situation, and have to convert itself into a limited company and capital be injected in,” he said.

The point is that Real Madrid are finding it hard to grow revenue because of the downturn in the Spanish economy, they are vulnerable to any move to balance out TV revenues, and they are under investigation over their land deal with the city council.

There’s one other interesting point.   Jose Maria Gay de Liebana added that having spent  700 million euros on players you might expect Real Madrid to win things, but they aren’t winning things.  A timely reminder that dealing in the transfer market is not really a guarantee of success.

In my view it is only a matter of time before another big European club falls over, under the weight of its debt and dodgy dealings.  Who it is we don’t know, but we will know when we see it.

But more importantly, the simple fact is that neither bringing in a man who promises a fortune, and then paying a fortune in terms of buying players, is actually a guaranteed way to secure the future.  Anything can happen – and in the next year or so probably will.

The sites from the same team…

8 comments to Be careful what you wish for in an era of endless change

  • colario


    How is it that Real are able to play in the Champions League with this debt round their neck or it the new rules come in next season?

    Is it likely that Spurs will not be paid by Real for Modrat and Bale?

    Slightly of subject but what about the money owed to us by Barcelona? Do you have news on that?

  • WalterBroeckx

    I’m sorry to go off topic but I do think this comment should be read by all at Untold

    (I hope the link works)


    Thank God for Arsene Wenger. Because of his vision, Arsenal has a great new stadium and are in sound financial standing. He stood by our club knowing money was going to be tight and he would have to operate on a shoestring. You think Fergie or Jose would have done that. No fucking way. He did and kept us in the Champions League every season. A remarkable feat. The media never mentions that, All they write and talk about is 8 years and no trophies. Look at Spurs and Liverpool, Those clubs talk about new venues and show their supporters big plans and fancy blueprints. They talk about how wonderful it’s gonna be. Talk don’t built stadiums, Money does. Footy ain’t played on blueprints, You need a pitch. Easier said than done. Less talk and more construction. Shut the Fuck up and as Nike says ” Just do it “. You wanna talk the talk, You better walk the walk.

  • gouresh

    its very difficult for unreal mad-getrid to come out of their debts the right way either they hid the debt or sell to some billionaire. having said this, do you think there will be a CL without Barca and unreal? i don’t thing so. will be really interesting to watch going forward.

  • collins Elechi

    Brilliant article. Thank God for such a maverick and missionary like wenger who has stood behind his vision and blueprint for arsenal f.c. Long may he live to witness his dreams for arsenal come true. We live in a world where people pursue pipe dreams but only few actualy go through with d arduous task of seeing it come to pass. This is a man that has forfeited alot of temporal glory elsewhere just to place this club among d elite. Long live untold that has made dis journey even bearable. Thanks guys.

  • Notoverthehill

    Re FCBarcelona

    I have read a copy of the Memoria FCBarcelona 2012-2013:

    Note 13.3 tells us that as at 30 de juny de 2012,
    The Arsenal FC plc (Cesc Fabregas) €2,000,000 due to be paid.

    Note 13.3 tells us that as at 30 de juny de 2013,
    The Arsenal FC plc (Cesc Fabregas i Alex Song) €9,585,000 due to be paid.

    There is a lot less detail than in the 2011-2012 Memoria, so I would assume another add-on for Cesc. In that case I would assume that the payment for Cesc has now increased up to €39,900,00 + €2,000,000 + €x (?).

    I trust this answers a query.

    At the moment there is no copy in Spanish on the official site!

  • magaon

    Against Liverpool, clear employment of high line when defending set pieces to counter Gerrard’s deliveries.

    Threw in Vermaelen, Jenkinson to secure the win later on.

    Meanwhile The Brendan Rodgers revolution shifted from and ineffective 3-5-2 to an equally ineffective 4-4-2.

    What Wenger does is he believes in his player. The current formation employing a fluid 3 ahead of the more ‘defensive midfield duo has been a long time in the making. Difficult to perfect but almost impossible to defend against when perfected. We saw the teething of it last season but this season, it is starting to click with several players finally maturing (Ramsey) and the addition of course of Ozil.

    Thereby as much as possible, he tries to keep to this set up as it gets the most out of our set of players at the moment.

    Particularly if you consider we had practically 5 playmakers on the field in Ramsey (Wales), Rosicky (Czech), Ozil (Germany) and Santi/Arteta (Although not Spain’s first choice, they could practically walk into any other team as playmaker)

    We are playing to our strengths at the moment.

    However when some other types of players return to the fold (walcott, podolski in particular), it will give us other options.

    As an example, Podolski could be positioned more centrally with Ozil closer up front and Walcott on other flank closer to a 4-3-3.

    We tried this last season albeit without Podolski.

    So it is entirely untrue to say that Wenger just puts them out there and does not respond to tactical situations.

    Where I would say he is at fault at times is he is generally a bit slow to respond and change things round during a game. He is a bit better this season in that respect.

  • para

    @ magaon

    I agree, seasons before i used to rant at AW lack of tactical ability, but now he is showing a little more ability to change tactics, but maybe this is because we now have players with many different capabilities, and or our players have now learned (from the constant playing out of position) to be multi faceted, what ever the reason, it’s working now, and Arsenal are a step further in regaining the CROWN.
    Forward gunners.