A guest post from Andrew Luck (aka ArsenalAndrew) this morning…
Football, we are often told, is a results business. But what does this actually mean?
Depending upon who you are, ‘results’ can mean dramatically different things – if you are Chelsea, for instance, it apparently means winning the European Champions League and ideally the English Premiership, pretty much as a minimum. It doesn’t appear to include losing a Champions League final or coming a close second in the Premiership.
If you are a team like Sunderland, the definition of acceptable ‘results’ in the last decade or so have veered from simple league survival to maybe a slot just outside the top four. To lose the status of ‘yo-yo’ club has possibly been their greatest achievement – their only real ‘result’. For newly promoted clubs, simple survival is viewed as a ‘result’. Actual cups are hardly an agenda item and playing with any kind of ‘style’ is very much an optional extra – so much so that on the rare occasions that it happens, it can make headline news. For a club like Arsenal, the very definition of the word ‘results’ and the meaning of an ‘acceptable result’ is causing pretty greater controversy over almost anything else. Meanwhile Arsène Wenger’s contract renewal date inches ever closer.
The consensus view amongst Arsenal fans appears to be making the footballing equivalent of a seismic shift.
Although seemingly very different clubs, Arsenal and Manchester United have one feature in common that few would have predicted even a decade or so ago. To be a follower of either clubs would now appear to require a degree in Economics, ideally augmented with a Masters in Finance. Today, a ‘meaningful’ conversation about either great institution is hardly complete without an appraisal of the latest bandied around figures. Indeed, time and energy to discuss the last match played, let alone the next one coming, is sometimes the optional extra for fans of both clubs.
One assessment of MUFC’s financial prospects so enraged elements of the United support a few years ago that they went off and set up their own club in what was surely the ultimate ‘we are taking our ball back’ moment in football. Neutrals to this day are unsure whether to mock or admire.
Today, all around the Gunners’ world, the phrase “We want our Arsenal back!” is starting to become more widely repeated. Once again, neutrals are unsure whether to mock or admire. For those of us with the fondest memories of Highbury stretching back whole lifetimes, the very phrase is almost cruelly evocative of a stadium now gone and an era lost forever.
For the more recently acquired supporters, this phrase resonates of a recent time in which the club not only competed at the highest levels but also actually won ‘things’ whilst there. And not only winning those ‘things’ but doing so in the most majestic, imperious – and literally, at times, unbeatable – fashions imaginable. For these supporters, they too would like back ‘their’ Arsenal – a club that has seemingly been mislaid, rather than actually lost. And for a third set of supporters, the ‘We want our Arsenal back’ phrase resonates in the hallways of the seemingly disenfranchised, the former holders of season tickets long since priced out of the club but still in possession of the stub marked ‘Lifelong Supporter’.
The financial machinations of great clubs often seem the most complex of puzzles. Actually, for some of them – the Chelsea’s and the City’s – the outlook is relatively straightforward. For as long as their owners continue to back them with the requisite funding, not even a sideways glance at the numbers is actually required. Fans can just sit back and enjoy the ride. Indeed, if the empty seats evident at City’s most recent excursion to the Champions League are anything to go by, not even THAT is required.
Most professional sports men and women are driven by a desire to win. Sir Alex Ferguson could arguably be described as the ultimate embodiment of this concept in a career in Manchester hallmarked with trophy-laden success. The achievements of most other managers can legitimately be benchmarked against the success of this one man.
But this is where the waters get muddied as the one manager who can’t quite be compared in the same way is Arsène Wenger. Today, the hallmarks of his Arsenal reign can be seen through two very different prisms, helpfully date stamped, for ease of reference. A look through the older device displays on-pitch glory that has far exceeded the success of free-spending Manchester City despite recent investment heading north of £1 billion. The view through the second prism is dominated by the imposing image of one of the world’s most impressively smart, state of the art stadiums.
Footballing endeavour for Wenger has resulted in outstanding success on the pitch and an outstanding home for that success in the shape of a stadium created out of nothing on the site of an old waste incinerator. Uniquely in football, his ‘results’ don’t merely sit in a trophy cabinet; it is the cabinet itself, the room within which the cabinet sits, the office suite surrounding, the pitch it all overlooks and an entire stadium providing both a home and a symbol for a club built on the proudest and soundest of traditions.
Football is a results based business yet the construction of the Emirates stadium resulted in the loss of the old Highbury and, in recent years, the trophies that went with it. Football is a results based business yet the results by which Ferguson is judged, have not applied to the arsenal manager thanks to the now aging Trophy and the ageless Stadium Prisms through which we have until now, peered in order to judge him.
Wenger is a man motivated to compete and win. So much so that he built a stadium to ensure his adopted club could do just that. As the years have fallen away, his ability to compete and win have been compromised – by his competitors and by the unregulated sums of money flowing into the game. All this at a time when the very thing he built to enable him and the club to compete and win required us all to scrimp and save. His expenditure was drastically curtailed; our expectations painfully capped, cut and compromised.
Losing to his competitors on the field is one thing but losing the support of those who support the club is the one result of the move to the Emirates Wenger will ultimately be unable to absorb. As supporters plead for the return of ‘their Arsenal’ and the stadium attendances begin to resemble the Etihad on a Tuesday night, any cash reserves the club may have gathered will be rendered somewhat redundant if the cash flows required to keep the Emirates afloat begin to subside.
What happens next to Wenger in the post-Arsène years is anyone’s guess; the footballing world will likely prove to be his oyster. He may lose a club but his reputation remains a big winner and he will doubtless go on to compete again. For many who ‘want their Arsenal back’, this would no doubt represent a French Champagne moment, a victory in a league of its own and many open arms will doubtless await his successor. And the ones after that.
The loss to the club of one of the finest footballing brains the world has ever known – one that delivered results both on and off the pitch in the most spectacular and glorious fashions will prove inestimable. Constrained by paucity of funds, undone by the arrival of the new and minted kids on the block and finally abandoned by enough of the fans to make a difference, his final departure would represent the greatest loss imaginable, both for him and for the club.
And in a results based business, that’s probably no good thing.