FFP, like elves, gremlins, and eskimos, was once thought to be make-believe. It existed in some magical universe in which unicorns pooped jellybeans and the Republican Party was the sane, mature one. However—much to our surprise, Everton’s chagrin, and Man City’s disdain—FFP does actually exist. As you surely know by now, Everton have been docked ten points for breaching financial rules. Well done, Premier League. Well done indeed. Now, do 115 alleged financial violations FC, otherwise known as Man City.Continue reading
Well, I guess it sort makes sense when you don’t think about it all that much. Chelsea have bought somewhere around 37 attackingmidfielders, and they’ll have to sell a few to avoid FFP, which is a completely real thing that exists and serves a purpose and all clubs take it very, very seriously. At out end, we could use cover for Saka and Jesus, and Havertz can play at both. However, it’s hard to get all that excited for ths one.Continue reading
Disturbing news continues to emanate out of Saudi Arabia. Last last week, the Saudi government’s purchase of Newcastle was approved, prompting a surge in stock prices in fainting couches and smelling salts. In all seriousness, though, this was a move a long time in the offing, with Mike Ashley coming across as only slightly more objectionable than a government with a penchanct for dismembering its critics with a bonesaw and is not entirely out of character for a league in which profits frequently (read: always) prioritises profits over principles. Still, this latest news—which has club legend and ostensibly all-around good person Arsène Wenger being hired on to manage an all-star squad featuring players from two Saudi Arabian clubs against Paris Saint-Germain in January 2022. Um, wot?
The Riyadh Season Cup, which is apparently a real thing, is a one-match tournament (?) pitting players from Saudi Arabia’s two biggest clubs, Al Hilal FSC and Al Nassr FC, against none other than PSG. It’s as if a writer of dystopian satire was throwing darts or playing mad libs. It is to be assumed that the Al Hilal/Al Nassr hybrid will give PSG a mighty challenge the likes of which they rarely see outside of Ligue 1.
More to the point, though, is the involvement of none other than Arsène Wenger, a man whose name is synonmymous with fair play, justice, parsimony, and an overall commitment to humanity that transcends accomplishments on the pitch. Here is a manager who bound himself for the better part of two decades to running one of the world’s biggest and most-successful clubs on a veritable shoe-string, sacrificing on-pitch success at the altar of sane and balanced transfer policies (to the frequent dismay of fans, it must be added). He was nothing short of a visionary, one whose vision for this club was ultimately scuppered by the influx of oil-rich robber barons buying up clubs, inflating transfer fees and wages through the roof, and all but proving that the only path to success lay in the hands of a super-rich megalomaniac who was willing to buy a club and then go on to buy any player that suited his fancy.
With that in mind, one might hope that Arsène would hold to the principles that served him so well for so long. According the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority , Turki al-Sheikh, “the great international coach Arsène Wenger was signed to lead the stars of al-Hilal and al-Nasr against Paris Saint Germain in the Riyadh Season Cup.” So. Not content to have purchased a club of Newcastle’s pedigree (scoff if you will; they’ve enjoyed a fair amount of success in their time), the House of Saud has apparently purchased one of the world’s most-respected managers to oversee a glorified friendly. I’m not sure which part of that sentence would upset me the most. Would it feel better if it was a match of record? If Arsène was managing an actual Saudi club that was vying for a league championship? Honestly, it’s hard to know what to feel other than a mix of disbelief, disappointment, and, yes, even depression.
More than anyone else, I (and I suspect many others) have looked to Arsène as a kind of moral beacon, the kind of person who was willing to stick to principles even at the price of personal success. As it goes, he passed up numerous invitations to manage wealthier clubs with owners willing to purchase any players he desired. He reportedly spurned these offers, time and time again, in order to pursue and fulfill a higher calling: to build a successful, self-sustaining club (even if some of the funding came from unsavory sources…). We saw him riding off into the proverbial sunset unsullied, unbowed, uncompromised.
This disturbing news jolts me into facing a cold, hard reality that Arsène had done so much to teach me against facing: money talks. On one hand, I ask myself, who am I to begrudge a man who pledged 22 years of his life to managing the club I love? Does he not deserve a golden parachute? On the other, I ask myself, what do all of those years stand for if he’s apparently willing to trade it all in for a bit of lucre?
|What is he smoking over there?|
On its face, the news regarding player-salaries in 2013-14 should serve to confirm what many of Arsène’s defenders have long claimed: his commitment to financial sanity has kept the club stable, consistently finishing in the top four and qualifying for Champions League even while being manically outspent by rivals. After all, who can contend with the spending of Man City or Chelsea or Man U? Toss in the occasional season when Liverpool or Tottenham outspend us, and it’s a wonder that we have been so consistent. Consistency may not be sexy, but it’s better than missing out on top-four entirely.
Taking a closer look, though, suggests that for all of Arsène’s financial acumen, his managerial chops are not what they once were. After all, to finish fourth year after year with the fourth-highest wage-bill suggests that we’re finishing exactly where we should finish—no higher, no lower. In other words, Arsène’s impact on the squad’s performance is not especially noteworthy, and that belies his reputation as a club legend. The correlation between wages and position is quite strong, but we should have reason to believe that a manager of Arsène’s stature and reputation might propel the squad to at least occasionally outpace that correlation.
A useful pair of comparisons might help. Man U’s wage-bill in 2013-14 was the highest in the Prem at £214.8m, but they finished a woeful seventh place. Punch one hole in that correlation between wages and position. Moyes, of course, was sacked. At the other end of things, Southampton’s wage bill (for 2012-13, the latest figures available for the club) amounted to £47.1m, almost five times less than Man U’s, yet they finished 8th, just a spot below. Pochettino was, er “promoted” as were various players. Man U have surely added to that wage-bill with the signings of Di Maria, Shaw, Falcao, Blind, Herrera, Rojo, and now Valdes, and yet they have the same points they had a year ago at this point. Southampton, meanwhile, may have trimmed their wage bill after the sale of players to Man U, Liverpool, and Arsenal, players whom they’ve replaced with signings from Hull, RB Salzburg, and FC Twente, among others. As of this post, they now sit third under new manager Ronald Koeman. Koeman seems to stand out as a manager who elevates the squad, who inspires it to perform as more than the sum of its parts. Time will tell whether this is as true in May as it is in January, but the point still holds water. For now, we at Arsenal would do well to bite our tongues instead of criticizing a squad that done pretty well against us recently, if memory serves.
And that brings us back to Arsène. For as shrewd or as penurious as he’s been with transfer-fees, our wage-bill stacks up quite well against these clubs who so regularly outcompete us. Our wage-bill last season was £166.4m, trailing the Manchesters by a wide margin, but not so far behind Chelsea at £190.5m. Much as I hate to admit, there’s something there to suggest that Mourinho might be more than a malevolent, Machiavellian, moldwarp. I’m going to set that aside for now rather than dwell on it.
If Arsène isn’t elevating the squad above its wage-bill as Pochettino did, as Koeman is doing, and as Mourinho has done, well, that begs the larger question: is Arsène still the manager his reputation has convinced us to see him as? Yes, he’s the club’s most-decorated manager, so much so that a fair few fans assume that the club takes its name from his, but I’m reaching a point at which I worry that I can no longer see him as the magician who once entranced us. At what point do past achievements no longer overshadow present failings? Many of us have long since passed that point, of course, and no number of FA Cups or Community Shields will change that.
There is still time to change that, of course. The returns to fitness of Ozil and Walcott offer hope, as will the returns of Ramsey, Chambers, Welbeck, and Arteta, but will these be enough to launch us towards third place? We’re currently dithering over the signing of a 17-year old whose fee will amount to less than £3m and whose wages could hardly go beyond £50k per week. Meanwhile, Man City look ready to land a Prem-proven striker for a fee of around £28m and wages that might amount to £100k per week. It feels almost like a choreographed parody of past transfer-windows.
What will it take to lay these doubts to rest? A high-profile signing or two? A string of eight or ten positive results? Truth be told, Arsène may need for this squad to advance past AS Monaco, win the FA Cup, and finish no lower than fourth, or the torch-and-pitchfork brigade will be out in full-force…
|So much for ‘hatred’, I guess…|
Don’t get me wrong. On a sentimental level, it would hurt to see him go. After all, I did just wax nostalgic on the virtues of loyalty and devoting one’s career to one club the other day. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, I’ll admit. Sagna’s been with Arsenal longer than most players, save Walcott, Diaby and Rosicky, and has been a bedrock in defense for the duration. To see him go would be a sad day; to see leave him leave on a Bosman to a league-rival would be a slap in the face.
The claim is that he’s unhappy with the terms Arsenal have offered, and that makes sense. He’s been loyal, he’s been dependable, he’s done what he’s been asked. At some level (again, largely sentimental), he has a right to expect some kind of pay-out, which is something I’ve suggested in the past, and our robust financial health might encourage him to believe that we’re capable of rising to those expectations. However, as we’ve learned time and again, sentiment plays a small, small role in these talks. At the risk of sounding callous, if sentiment is supposed to motivate the club to offer a richer payout, shouldn’t sentiment also suggest to Sagan that he sympathize with the club that’s supported him for so long? I’m not asking that Sagna accept a low offer out of loyalty, compassion, or any other touchy-feely factors, but it’s hard to believe that we’re so far apart that he’d leave on a free. Not to City.
While we’re on the subject of feelings, I guess that a move to Man City won’t be the least bit awkward even if Sagna will be there as support and competition for Pablo Zabaleta, a man whose insults “pushed me to the limit”, as Sagna put it, adding that he “felt hatred” towards the Argentinian. Time heals all wounds, I’m sure, but it raises the larger question of why Sagna, by all accounts Arsenal’s first-choice right-back to the point that a loan was considered for Jenkinson, would go to City, where he’d be a back-up to Zabaleta. If the insults Zabaleta aimed at him were enough to inspire hatred deep enough to get sent off, pride might motivate Sagna to consider what he’s signing on for.
Enough of the touchy-feely. Strategically, losing Sagna would be tough, but not as tough as we might worry. Jenkinson and Bellerin are not yet ready for full first-team action, of course, and we’ll need a more-seasoned replacement. However, that was true if less obvious a few weeks ago. At 31, Sagna has shown worrying signs that he’s (a) no longer able to or (b) no longer willing to get forward and track back. Time and time again, he’s been guilty of failing to get back on defense, whether it was a quick counter-attack or even a slower build-up, and we’ve been exposed and conceded goals as a result. On the whole, Sagna has probably prevented more goals than he’s invited in this way, and even if the issue has been willingness rather than ability, it’s starting to sound like he’s less and less willing to put in that effort. If we did convince him to stay, how are we to know that the attitude will change? Staying, after all, would require him at some level to forego at least some of what he’s demanding in pay or length of contract, and that’s likely to erode effort rather than inspire it. We depend on our wide defenders to get forward and get back, and if Sagna’s not committed to (or no longer capable of) doing that, well, it might just be time to part ways anyway.
So why Man City? From Sagna’s point of view, of course, the answer is loud and clear. An increased chance at silverware, not to mention they can afford to pay him just about anything. Kind of. With UEFA ready to sanction the club for violating FFP, they’re going to have to mind their pounds and quid just a bit more. No, the £50m fine is not going to have any impact on their dealings. Sheikh Mansour could probably fumble around in the back of a junk-drawer to scrounge up that amount. The more-serious consideration might come through a Champions League squad-reduction. UEFA is considering reducing City’s squad from 25 to as low as 21 or even 18. That, combined with UEFA’s homegrown players rule, which requires that at least eight eligible players to have trained domestically (not with their current club, just domestically) for three years between the ages of 15 and 21, could seriously limit Man City’s options in the Champions League. Sagna would be ineligible to play, as would other defenders like Zabaleta, Nastasic, Demichelis, Boyata, Kolarov, and Kompany. In fact, the only defenders in the City squad who would still be eligible would be Lescott and Richards. The homegrown players rule applies to the entire squad, and Man City could find its six other eligible players elsewhere in the roster: Joe Hart. James Milner. Richard Wright. Jack Rodwell. That’s six, meaning Man City would need two more call-ups or signings, and these would have to meet that homegrown players rule.
Heck, while we’re on the subject of unhappy right-backs, does anyone fancy a go at Richards? He’s already unhappy and out of favor, having made only five appearances all season, and he’d have to feel like the arrival of Sagna would cut the number in half, if not more (let’s call it 60% to keep the math clean).
I’d be sad to see Sagna go, whether it’s to City, PSG, Fener, or wherever it is he’d end up. Despite my old-fashioned, soft-in-the-head ideals around loyalty, there’s little we can do to prevent it. If Sunday’s win over West Brom was his swan-song, it at least ends on a high-note, whether it was Bac’s performance or Elias’s goal.