Of course the Rooney comments were more eye-catching, designed to be populist in a vaguely supportive manner. Alisher Usmanov saw the opportunity and put the ball away from close range. Offering an alternative opinion might have been more interesting text for the morning’s papers but the England striker offers instant gratification for the domestic market, Higuain a more global appeal and in the clamour for someone, anyone will do. There is a sense that the floodgates might open; once you get one, you’ll get more indeed.
Flying under the radar were his observations on his shareholding. The benefits spoken of are not immediate. If Arsenal shares are priced highly, as much as the commercial performance a key driving force was Red & White’s insatiable desire to reach 30% of the total shareholding. In many respects, Premier League rule changes made it an academic exercise although any offer to buy KSE’s holding if it became available, requiring a lower cash outlay from that position.
The results of Arsenal Supporters Trust survey were published yesterday and made for interesting reading. Representing a cross-section of the club’s support, there was encouragement and contradiction for all. Two-thirds of the respondents do not rate Stan Kroenke’s majority ownership of the club, with 79% opposing dividend payments. The key failure of Kroenke is in not revealing his vision for the club; he has by not saying anything. It is the same as before, people might change but the self-sustaining model remains. Dialogue with the CEO is a better engagement than with a majority shareholder who has little more to offer in terms of details. If there is any discernible change to the path followed, yes, by all means engage and tell all (or as much as is commercially viable). Until then, does it really matter? Talk of broken promises is a smokescreen; what use is engagement if he is not willing to listen to fundamentals, e.g. fanshare, ticket pricing.
Red & White (R&W) have gained traction on the back of this, a majority of those surveyed asking that they be given a place on the board. That invitation is not forthcoming. The contradictory nature of football supporters is shown in the demand for a seat on the board whilst strongly opposing a key facet of the R&W manifesto, the payment of dividends. Usmanov denies having a dictatorial style; one man’s dictator is another’s influencer. At the root of this is a sentiment that seems to be ‘anyone but Kroenke‘. The ideal is a return plurality of ownership but it is not going to happen. Are R&W an alternative? I don’t think so; meet the new boss, the same as the old boss.
The AST survey offered back-handed support for the manager, three-quarters showing no desire for him to leave but happy for contract renewal to wait until next year. Beyond either extreme, that is a reasonable representation of the majority view. History indicates that negotiations, whilst probably started, will be protracted and unhurried. The board is eager but the manager has yet to reciprocate, mindful perhaps of the reaction four months ago to the apparently false story surrounding a new deal. Arsène makes a great play of his loyalty, always working out his full term; it would be astounding if the club terminated his tenure before next June. The status quo is maintained and for the most part everyone is happy. In the past he has made no bones of making the club wait until late in the day before committing his immediate future.
Ending last season on a relative high has clouded the issue. Despite claims to the contrary, it is hard to see the genuine evidence that the squad is able to make the step up to challengers for the title without significant additions. The run should be commended, playing and coaching staff deserve praise for the results and commitment to ensuring a top four berth was assured. Ten games is often cited as the key but the sequence began on the back of the consecutive defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea. Results dominated that run, not performances. Over the course of a season is difficult to maintain; poor performances as we saw pre-Christmas, are more often than not punished with dropped points.
Where is the problem in waiting until next season is well under way, before starting talks? There are many imponderables at this time which will influence decisions as reality emerges. Is a poor start to the season an indicator of deep-seated problems, a signal that managerial mojo has waned or will remaining unbeaten in the first three-month be its snarling re-emergence?
Amid all of this is one point that is frequently overlooked; does Arsène Wenger want to sign a new deal? Does he want to continue managing the club – any club – until well into his sixties? Public proclamations on the subject are like any other footballing quote; best view sceptically, rarely reflecting true feelings. To seem undecided might have an unsettling effect on his players with Ferguson’s aborted retirement evidence of that. If Wenger decides to leave, it is hard to see him doing anything other than replicating his nemesis’ path; a short, quick announcement near the season’s end.
On the transfer front, Gonzalo Higuain didn’t arrive yesterday but Tin Jedvaj might. Fair play to The Sun for bringing a new name to the game. Even if they copied it from someone else. Vito Mannone meanwhile, is seen by Sunderland as a replacement for Simon Mignolet.