by Tony Attwood
For years there has been a general assumption that there are only three ways of developing a club and two ways of making money out of football.
You can make your club grow (so it was always said) by
Development Method 1) Buying in those who are already acknowledged to be the best players. True you have to pay lots of dosh, but it is obvious, the best players play best, and so you win stuff. This is the traditional English system. Chelsea and Man C still practice it.
Development Method 2) Develop great young talent by running an academy system. This is a lot cheaper than 1) even when it takes eight years to develop a player, but the problem is that it takes a long time to get going. Arsenal are only now seeing the benefits of a youth system set up 8 years ago.
In the past some clubs have hit on a bright group of kiddies by chance (Man U are an example with the Giggs generation, as was Arsenal under Graham when Adams and the rest came through) but doing it year after year was thought impossible – and besides since the average lifespan of a manager at a club is two years or less no one really wants to put his faith in something that won’t mature for eight years.
Development Method 3) Find players who are playing at lesser clubs or in lesser leagues, who you know are great, but whom the rest of the world have not quite recognised. Think Gilberto Silva, bought to Arsenal for £2m, who went on to be captain of Brazil.
This is of course the famous world-wide scouting, and since Wenger’s early triumphs many clubs have sought to use this as a method of recruitment. The problem is that you need a brilliant scouting system and (at the very top) someone who can see the difference between a 16 year old who is knocking them in and who will go on to do the same at the top level, and someone who just looks better than the average kids around him.
So those are the three ways of developing a club – and as we all know Arsène Wenger was the first to make a youth system work (three trophies in the last two years, and the first ever retention of the league by a youth team) and he was the man who invented world-wide scouting.
As for the two ways of making money out of football, these were quite simply
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Money Making Method 1) Building up the club, taking on a few debts en route and selling the club on to someone with a load of money. We might think of K. Bates selling to R. Abramovich as an example, although I believe the Chelsea debts at the time of the sale were more than “a few”.
Money Making Method 2) Become a “selling club”. For years clubs in the old 3rd and 4th division never harboured any thoughts of coming up into the first division. Clubs like Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic were in the 3rd division, had a ground that had not been upgraded for years, and existed on crowds of maybe 6,000 if they were lucky. They survived on the odd cup clash with a big team, and by selling players on.
Occasionally a team did break out of the lower leagues – Southampton left the old third division and made it to the top without changing their ground, and had a long run in the first division – but this was rare. Now it is just on impossible.
But even in the 1960s clubs knew their chances of rising up the ladder were small, so they existed by finding and grooming youngsters, who could be sold on. The old rule was, find a player every three or four years, get a transfer, and the club was secure, and could carry on making a loss.
But now once again everything has changed – and clubs are finding themselves left behind.
In terms of the Development Method, the transfer window is very quiet indeed (remember the days when Man IOU would spend £35m on July 1 and then keep everyone guessing as to who else they would grab in the next two months), the youth project remains a long-term dream which can’t be launched if you are struggling to make ends meet.
So world-wide scouting it is – and as has been often said, ten years ago if you went to a second division match in France the only scout there would be from Arsenal. Today you can’t move for scouts.
In terms of the Money Making methods, selling a club is a great idea, if you can find a buyer. Liverpool are struggling, Portsmouth became a laughing stock as they found four, none of whom had any money, Everton have been for sale for years, Notts County were actually given away by the fans who owned them to a bunch of jolly nice people with (unfortunately) no money, and so it goes on. So the list goes on.
True Man City have been sold – along with QPR, but the number of buyers is always going to be small, not least because when you get to that level it is hard to sell the club on again. Maybe Ahsan Ali Syed will buy Blackburn – but that’s about it for new sales I suspect.
So where does football go now?
The transfer window is grinding along doing very little save the purchases by Man City. Appy Arry Headcase would love to buy his usual twenty odd players but so far has just bought one. And when Arry is not dealing, you know the system is in trouble.
O’Neill at Villa resigned because he couldn’t count on a continuing open cheque book financing his failure to get into the Champs League. Even Chelsea are holding back with one eye on the financial doping regulations.
In effect football economics are grinding to a halt.
But three things are changing.
First, Arsenal’s youth system uniquely is in position and should be producing brilliant youngsters year after year from now on. While Tottenham have headed in the opposite direction and removed themselves from reserve team football, Arsenal have established the new progression system for young players. We know about players like JET and Wilshere coming through this year (and Frimpong until his tragic injury) – but just wait til you see what we have next year!
What’s more, kids and their agents across the world know that Arsenal are doing this, and they are queuing up to come to us. Watch out for Wellington Silva.
Second, although world-wide scouting is now overcrowded, Arsenal’s system is still in position, and is mostly simply looking for younger players who can be matured, rather than ready made players (although as this season’s transfer window shows, we can still pick up some of the established players, with two already signed and one more on the doorstep).
Third, Arsenal are making a profit, and so have the money to buy anyone if they want to.
And that leads to a final point. Some of the kids that Arsenal bring through don’t make it. Jay Simpson for example has just gone to Hull. It’s sad, but it happens. But that is not money wasted. Many of these players go on to make it in football, although not at the very top of the tree, and in every Arsenal sale there is a sell-on clause. Arsenal get their development money back even if the player ends up playing for the Tiny Totts (see Bentley for example).
So Arsène Wenger can spend £10m on Laurent Koscielny and pay high wages to Chamakh and still be looking to buy while others have the bank managers knocking on the door.
Thus once again Wenger has changed the world, and left the other clubs trailing behind him. We make money out of the actual game of football, in that the club makes a profit on each match. We make money in the transfer market by selling on players like Jay Simpson. We have a youth system in place and now producing the goods. We can buy in the transfer market.
And the new world looks like this
Development Method 1) – The Youth System bringing through new players
Development Method 2) – World Wide Scouting with younger players at the fore
Development Method 3) – The reputation of Arsenal as the place to come and learn how to be a brilliant player
Money Making Method 1) – Sell out at every match, top earning club from match day revenue in the world
Money Making Method 2) – Sell on of youngsters who don’t quite make it with extra sell-on clauses
Other clubs are now scratching their collective heads and wondering how to catch up, once again. Liverpool and Man U. are long since gone. But think of clubs like Tottenham, who rely on wheeling and dealing when there is no longer anyone to wheel and deal for, and you have financial doping regs plus the 25 rule are looking over your shoulder.
Think of Man City who have no idea what to do with all these players they have bought, and certainly would not get into the Champs League even if they qualified. And think of Chelsea who have tried and tried to put some sort of youth system in place, and still not done it.
Once more Wenger has changed the world.