There is an unbridgeable divide between supporters who feel we have overachieved since the stadium move and those who feel we have underachieved.
I am in the first camp. The arguments for and against have seen more daylight than Ashley Cole’s wayward todger so there’s no need to go into them in too much depth again.
But in summary, the case for us having overachieved is this:
- We moved stadium at great expense, leaving us with a mighty debt.
- To pay for the stadium we had to enter into long-term commercial deals which, while just about OK at the time, became less and less competitive as the years went by. Unfortunately we were locked in for the long haul as it was the only way we could finance the new stadium.
- The world entered the biggest financial crash for 75 years.
- Rich oilygarchs started taking over English football clubs and completely skewed the economics of the game. In this rich man’s game we were suddenly the paupers at the table.
- Somehow, despite all these adverse trends, we managed to qualify for the Champions League every single year while showing a net profit on transfers. During this period we were massively outspent not just by the oilers, but also by such footballing titans as Stoke City, Aston Villa, QPR, West Ham, Sunderland, Wigan, Reading and Norwich.
- All the above constitutes a minor footballing miracle. That any club could be steered through such stormy seas and still find its way to harbour safely year after year is simply incredible. One day this achievement will be understood and appreciated more widely than it is now.
Now if you, like me, accept this case as being self-evident, then it naturally follows that some people have been doing an extraordinarily good job at Arsenal.
First and foremost the credit for this overachievement is rightly given to Arsene Wenger.
We now know that his “project youth” experiment (while undoubtedly appealing somewhat to his philosophy and vanity) was actually a policy of financial necessity.
And while many are angry that he failed to bring us any silverware in the years since we left Highbury, with the financial resources we had available it’s remarkable that we did not slide into mid table mediocrity.
But enough has been said and written about Arsene.
I want to dole out some credit to another man – one who has been pilloried and vilified by huge swathes of the fan base for many years: Ivan Gazidis.
The reason I feel he deserves praise is because if Arsene was the captain of our ship during the stormy years, Ivan was the chief engineer. It was his job to keep HMS Arsenal seaworthy (financially sound) during some very difficult years – and he has succeeded brilliantly.
To be honest, I have never understood the vitriol – hate, even – that has been directed at him. Most of the critics have not the faintest idea of what he actually does (not that it stops them hating him).
When he became Chief Executive in 2008 the challenges before him were many and complex but the main ones were: retain the services of Arsene Wenger; pay down the high-interest elements of our stadium debt; ensure stability in the boardroom during a period of intense struggle between shareholders; improve on the commercial deals when possible.
Well, you can put a tick against every one of those aims.
His recent interview, in which he spoke with great optimism about the future of Arsenal, has received mixed reactions entirely depending on the prejudices of the listener/reader.
If you are part of the Angry Brigade, his talk of being now able to compete financially with the best in the world was a cynical ploy related to season ticket renewal and in advance of the meeting with supporters this week. Or it was a way of passing the blame on to Arsene if we fail to make any significant signings this summer.
I am a much less complicated listener. I took his words to mean what they said. In fact, they sounded to me like self-evident truth: we know that our new commercial deals are bringing in vast sums of money; we know that the new Premier League broadcasting deal is doing likewise; we know that the remaining “mortgage” on The Emirates Stadium is at low interest rates and is entirely manageable.
If you want to understand what our club has achieved in the last seven or eight years, just think about what COULD have happened during that period.
- The stadium move could have spiraled out of control, running over time and over budget, but it didn’t, which says a great deal for the oversight from the club’s hierarchy (before and after Gazidis’s arrival).
- Without Wenger’s genius and with no “net” money to spend on transfers, the team could have really struggled to stay competitive and could have slid down the Premier League table.
- This might then have prompted desperate, panic buying to try and prop up the playing side even though we couldn’t afford it.
- In the worst case, we could have found ourselves in a vicious spiral of debt off the pitch and failure on the pitch, which might ultimately have led to flirting with relegation, bankruptcy or both.
- St Totteringham’s bones would have stayed in their casket for year after miserable year.
None of these bad things happened and we are now better placed than all but the “financially doped” teams to succeed in the years ahead.
And as Ivan has pointed out, the two teams in the Champions League final this year – Munich and Dortmund – both got there on the back of sustainable financial models and without the help of rich sugar-daddies.
So, Ivan Gazidis, you have taken many barbs since you arrived at Arsenal. Just for once, it’s time you took a bow…
I have seen Ivan referred to as an American, as a South African, as someone who knows nothing about football. Well, here are some facts that you may not know about our Chief Exec:
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Moved to England (Manchester) at age four because he father, a prominent anti-apartheid activist, was being persecuted by the then South African government.
Was considered a very talented footballer at school in Manchester.
Went to Oxford University where he earned a “blue” at football (which means he represented the University which also means he was a better player than 99% of the people reading this Post).
Graduated in law.
Moved to the US in 1992.
Was a founding member of Major League Soccer in the US in 1994.
DON’T FORGET: TOMORROW WE RESUME OUR SEARCH TO FIND THE ALL-TIME GREATEST ARSENAL SQUAD. THIS WEEK WE MOVE ONTO THE DEFENCE.