Principles are a funny thing

Yesterday, Tim Stillman at arseblog touched on an interesting point that at first made me uncomfortable and so I swept it under the rug for a while. However, like the victim in Poe’s “A Tell-tale Heart”, it just keep ticking in my ear, pricking my conscience very now and then despite the cognitive dissonance I had so effectively practiced. I’ll give you his words first:

The relentless commercialisation of society itself is something that I find incredibly uncomfortable. Indeed, a good deal of my professional life to date has been devoted to fighting avarice and greed. Yet I sweep those principles under the carpet for my football club. It’s easier to do with “The race for fourth” because I can bury that hypocrisy on the pitch and conceal it beneath the rug of a couple of London rivalries to boot. But speaking of megabucks deals such as these make my double standards naked. It strips away the delusion I clothe myself in.

He addresses the impending Puma deal and our latest obsession with qualifying for the Champions League, both of which would fatten the club’s wallet considerably. As much as I tried to rationalize his comments, I just couldn’t get enough layers of papier-mâché over it, and there it lay, gnawing at me until I had to confront it.

Like Stillman, I’d been obsessing over a 4th place finish for what I thought were “noble” reasons: trumping a few rivals, continuing a stretch of Champions League appearances, having a chance to face some of Europe’s best clubs, etc. However, once I peek behind the curtain, I see a few less-savory reasons driving my concern: the money from qualifying. The money from winning and drawing and advancing. The players we’d be better-positioned to pursue and purchase.  Better sponsorship deals. And on and on.

Look. I’m no naïf. I’m not stupid. I know that money talks and players don’t just kick a ball around on weekends purely for our entertainment or their enjoyment. However, part of why I’ve loved Arsenal and defended them in pubs and random encounters is the fiscal responsibility we’ve become known for. Despite the hair-pulling agony of seeing our best players repeatedly leave for bigger contracts, we’ve bounced back each time just as strong as we were the previous season (still top-four). I know it’s difficult to look at the likes of Chelsea and Man City and to see their recent successes and to look at our miserable lot, but I’ve always consoled myself by saying something along the lines of, “well, at least we play football the right way and develop our players responsibly. Those gauche, nouveau-riche clubs  are just renting the best that money can buy at the price of selling their souls. I don’t want us to become one of the biggest-spending clubs in the world. We’ll become just another bully on the block, throwing our weight around and snatching up lesser club’s best players just in case we need a fourth-choice right-back, for example. For all of the talk of Ferguson’s greatness as a manager (and yes, I’ll admit he’s been one of them), few clubs in the world have had more money at their disposal than Man U over the years. Winning games is always a bit easier when you have a roster chock-a-block with talent. It’s a touch harder when you have to actually develop young players and get them to mesh and reach their potential as Arsène has done over the years.

I’m therefore worried that, in our rush to make up for the paucity of success we’ve had over the years, we’ll become just like Chelsea and Man U and Man City, buying players in each transfer window for £20, 25, 30m and simply overwhelming rivals through sheer depth of talent rather than through strategy and teamwork. It’s not for nothing that we have a motto in Victoria concordia crescit, “victory through harmony.” I love the team we have while agreeing that we could stand for some fresh blood, some sharpening up of our options on attack, and so on. I just don’t want us to beggar our traditions and philosophy now that we’re finally about to come into some money. We didn’t lose to Bradford or Blackburn by being outspent, and we didn’t beat Bayern by outspending them, either, and we are still locked in a battle for a top-four spot, trailing only those teams that have so thoroughly outspent us over the years, poaching our players or players we had pursued along the way.

My point is that we need not spend our money like it’s going out of style. A few high-quality and intelligent purchases–two, maybe three–could just be enough to see us answer all our critics and our own in-house naysayers quite nicely.

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