Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Football is primarily a business for Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger will soon be held accountable for Arsenal’s eighth consecutive season without a trophy. As fans continue to revolt against the Frenchman’s willingness to settle for fourth and a place in the Uefa Champions League, Wenger remains defiant over his careful management of the club’s finances.

Arsene Wenger is the perfect manager for an owner
who prioritises financial stability over trophy wins

Arsene Wenger graduated in 1971 with a first rate degree in Economics at Strasbourg University. It shows. After becoming Arsenal manager in 1996, Wenger made the club his own, and oversaw a transformation that changed modern day football as we know it. He altered the diets of his playing staff to the nearest calorie, and concluded through science and statistics the exact minute a player would begin to tire and therefore need substituting.

It soon became clear that Wenger’s brain worked differently to other managers. It worked on the basis of mathematics and logic, and where he really excelled, was in the area of financial management. The Frenchman sold troublesome striker Nicholas Anelka to Real Madrid for £23 million, and as a result was able to assemble ‘The Invincibles’, the most successful football team in Premier League history. Kolo Toure, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry were all bought in to form the spine of a side that would go unbeaten throughout an entire season, 38 games without defeat in 2004.

Arsenal enjoyed dominance under Wenger’s fast-flowing, eye-catching pass and move football. Other teams were unable to cope with the tempo of passing inspired by Arsenal’s midfield triangles. By this time, clubs had decided to compete in the only way they could; financial muscle. A certain Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich had taken over at Chelsea and was quick to make his mark on the transfer market, buying sought after players for hugely inflated transfer fees, which other clubs simply couldn’t afford, including Arsenal.

Even if Arsenal did have the money to spend, there was a feeling that Wenger would have persisted with his own transfer philosophy of buying players at extremely low prices and selling them on for profit after they had developed under his guidance. It was Wenger’s belief that players begin to digress at the age of 28, and so introduced his own age restriction policy. His ‘Invincibles’ side had finally lost to Manchester United, and things were never to be the same. It was time for a period of transition in English football.

Patrick Vieira, who was bought by Wenger for £2.5m, was sold for £14m. The trend continued, and the height of Wenger’s profit making transfer policy came following a deal that would see the club sell Cesc Fabregas back to Barcelona for a staggering £30m profit. Despite such an incredible return on the player, the move came at a price for Wenger. Fabregas was club captain of Arsenal and one of the best players in the Premier League. Wenger’s decision to sell the most talented and influential individual on his playing staff sent out a signal to fans that Arsenal were no longer able to compete at the highest level. Rival clubs took advantage of this fact and Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie all followed Fabregas out of The Emirates, leaving behind them a set of angry Gunners fans demanding that Wenger should spend heavily on their replacements.

But he didn’t. Arsenal are rumoured to have a transfer fund of £136m, but Wenger didn’t spend more than £11m on a single player during that same transfer window. Simon Kuper of The Financial Times believes this is because Wenger thinks so deeply about football’s potential economic collapse, that he is trying to protect the future of the club: “Wenger and Arsenal think that the football economy is a bubble: clubs are spending beyond their means and risking collapse. The argument is at bottom one about football being a business. Wenger manages Arsenal as if he is going to be there for the next 100 years.”
Kuper is not the only one who has likened Arsene Wenger to a businessman. Many believe that Wenger has kept his job at The Emirates despite his lack of silverware because of his ability to bring money into the club. The aforementioned player sales will have compensated and replaced any outgoings from the pockets of board owners Ivan Gadiz and Stan Kroenke, so what reasons do they have to fire a man who has a proven track record when it comes to earning money?

Wenger has wrapped himself into the foundations of the club, literally. His visions and planning were an integral part to building Arsenal’s 60,000 capacity Emirates Stadium, following their move from Highbury. Arsenal Football Club now earn £3.3m each and every home game on ticket sales alone, making them the most profitable club in the country, further proof that Arsene Wenger sees football as a business. He played the game at an extremely low level for a modern day manager, so perhaps his management style isn’t clouded by blind passion and dressing room experiences of the past. He is able to analyse football from the outside, making decisions he feels will be of most benefit to the club, and it’s clear he chooses to place more importance on financial reward than titles and trophies.

“To other managers, £15m might be simply ‘a big number, but not to Wenger. When he weighs up potential signings, he judges like an economist pricing assets as much as like a coach seeking quick wins”says Kuper, the author of Soccernomics, a book based on football’s troubled financial underworld. Wenger’s rule at Arsenal has been fuelled largely by business, but also by stubbornness and strong personal morals. Arsene Wenger is so against the Abramovichs’ and Glazers of this world, spending money that they don’t have, funding wage bills on insurmountable debts, that he installed his faith in youngsters and products of the club’s youth academy. Whereas Wenger used to scour the globe to buy unknown young players from abroad, these same players are now choosing to go to ‘bigger’ clubs than Arsenal, such as Chelsea and Manchester City who are willing to offer the mind-blowing wages demanded by footballer’s agents and advisors.

Arsene’s faith in the club’s own youth academy has yet to be rewarded. An 18-year-old Denilson was expected to develop into a ready-made replacement for Gilberto Silva, a strong, combative midfield captain. It never materialised and the Brazilian has since been loaned back to his native South America, and is set to depart permanently in the summer. Nicklas Bendtner, Sebastian Larrson and Fabrice Muamba all promised to break through at the same time and form a new first-team spine, but were deemed not good enough and shipped out to various other Premier League clubs. Several promising Englishman also came through the ranks, Jay Simpson, an explosive striker, is now plying his trade with Hull City after failing to make an impact under Arsene Wenger. Kieran Gibbs remains at the club but has struggled with a series of muscle injuries that have prevented his development. Simon Kuper believes Wenger’s decision to rely on the club’s academy was a mistake. “Separately from economics, Wenger made another fundamental misjudgement. He dreamt of building a team produced in Arsenal’s youth academy, rather than bought as adult stars. Another truth of football is that it’s almost impossible to predict whether a great untried teenager will make a great adult footballer. Only really once a teenager has achieved success in actual professional football, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney or Gareth Bale, can you know he is the real thing, and by then richer clubs than Arsenal will be chasing him.”

Arsenal are unlikely to win a trophy again next year. Their playing squad is not good enough to compete with Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United, and those clubs are set spend sufficiently in the summer before FIFA’s Financial Fair Play rules come into fruition. As Tottenham and Everton continue to improve, they might even find it difficult to finish in the top four. That still won’t be enough to make Arsene Wenger open his chequebook and make ‘big-money’ signings. That is not his approach to business, or indeed life. Whilst he continues to oversee financial stability and generate such great revenue at The Emirates, his job will be safe. His bosses will be happy. Club owners and Chief Executive types in football boardrooms will always take money over cup wins and tournament glory. That’s why they are happy to make him the highest paid manager in England on £7.5m a year.

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