The way we achieve success is important by Bryan
As we approach the January transfer window the inevitable demand of supporters from all of the Big-6 EPL teams to their club owners will be, ‘open the bloody cheque-book and get us some title-winning players.’ But is this really the uncouth position Arsenal fans should be taking? Do we really want to be breaking transfer-fee records and signing the shiniest new player out there in an attempt to purchase the EPL? I suggest that approach is NOT Arsenal, and we can return to winning ways in a much more dignified manner.
In June 2003 Roman Abramovich became the owner of Chelsea FC and changed the direction of English soccer, probably for many years to come. His injection of cash at Stamford Bridge brought almost immediate returns. Chelsea finished runners-up to The Invincibles in that 2003-2004 season and went on to win or come runners-up in six of the following seven EPL seasons. In a not dissimilar vein, in early September of 2008, the Abu Dhabi-based group took over at Manchester City. The return on cash injection was not quite so rapid as the Chelsea/Abramovich marriage, but by the 2011-2012 season City had secured the EPL title and went on to win or come runners-up in four straight seasons. Obviously that massive injection of cash and flaunting of UEFA Financial-Fair-Play rules continues to fuel an otherwise unlikely dominance of English football in recent times.
Perhaps I’m in the minority, but if I was a fan of Chelsea or Manchester City, I’d find these ‘accomplishments’ about as shallow as any accomplishment could be. Questionably-gotten gains used to purchase and pay the wages of the most expensive guns-for-hire is not my idea of sport. Real sport is talent coupled with toil. Real sport is a club nurturing homegrown talent. The purest remaining sport on this planet is Gaelic Games in Ireland; its athletes competing for their county against other counties, for nothing more than the honour of victory, often in front of 80,000+ fans. The Olympic Games was this way for some time before becoming tainted by commercialization. The worst form of sport is the American draft system employed by the NBA, NFL and MLB where the lowest team of the previous year (no team ever gets relegated) gets the first pick of young athletes coming into the league. . It’s America’s paradox — the most capitalist country in the world using the most socialist method of sporting team selection. Football is somewhere between Gaelic Games and the NBA, but I fear that may be changing. Football is on a much worse trajectory than any other sport on the planet.
The question then becomes, ‘does Arsenal need to participate in football’s financial cancer?’ I argue that we don’t. There’re great examples out there showing there are alternatives to the Chelsea and Manchester City way.
The first example is Barcelona, a club owned and funded by its supporters. Yes, can you believe that? . . . it’s not owned by an oligarch or a sheikh, it’s owned by the 140,000 members of the club. And how can they compete you might ask? Well, quite simply, a combination of a 100,000-seater stadium and a fantastic youth development system that has produced the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Puyol, Guardiola, Hernandez, Busquets, Pique, Arteta, Fabregas and Victor Valdez. Has the Arsenal youth system produced even one player of comparable ilk?
Let’s look at a completely different example, one much closer to home . . . that of Liverpool Football Club. Similarly to us, they are owned by a US-based entity (Fenway Sports Group) who don’t have infinitely deep pockets. Yes, they are run as a business, but isn’t that far more palatable than being funded by immeasurable amounts of questionable money? Isn’t it far more sporting to win by coupling the grit and determination of your homegrown talent with the cunning and intellect of your leaders? Yes, Liverpool have bought great players, but they’ve funded those purchases by the sale of other players such as Coutinho, Sterling and Suarez, and combined it with youth development in the form of Gerrard, Owen, Fowler, McManaman, Carragher, Alexander-Arnold, Sterling and others. The track record of Fenway Sports Group is admirable . . . immediately after taking over the Boston Red Sox they won four Baseball World Series in 14 years, breaking the supposed ‘Curse of the Bambino’ — an 86 year stretch with no titles between 1918 and 2004. It’s no fluke, these guys know how to run a sports organization. Liverpool are on the verge of success not because of huge injections of cash . . . they are on the verge of success because of the actions of Fenway Sports Group, not last of which was the appointment of Jurgen Klopp as manager. Liverpool are another great example of a successful youth system couple with intelligent leadership.
Perhaps our fortunes can be turned around by courting an oligarch or a sheikh, but is that what we really want? Could things be helped by demanding that Stan Kroenke loosen the purse-strings? Perhaps. But I think there are far more gratifying ways to achieve success that are much more aligned to the core values of Arsenal Football club, and those include greatly improving our youth system and developing the players we already have… in combination with shrewd business in the transfer market. It may not be the immediately gratifying solution some people crave, but worthwhile things are never quick or easy to achieve. They also don’t need to take forever. Arsene Wenger was appointed in August 1996, and between the 1997-1998 season and the 2004-2005 season Arsenal either won or came runner-up in the Premier League (3 titles and 5 runners-up), achieved during Alex Ferguson’s prime years at Man Utd. There’s no reason why something like this can’t happen again. I refuse to believe that oligarch and sheikh money can prevent us from revisiting the success we have enjoyed in the not-too-distant past. There’s more than one way to achieve success and I want to see Arsenal do it the honourable way.