Amidst all the talk of football and finance over the past week or so, it’s been interesting to hear the outrage of fans and pundits alike at the state and prognosis of football clubs in England.
One man who could be forgiven for a wry smile and a shrug of the shoulders is Arsene Wenger – a manager who has run the club he works for like a burgeoning enterprise. Wenger sees it as morally imperative and the proprietary duty of a manager to ensure a club does not exceed the limitations of its own revenue stream. He is fond of the term financial doping, and there is always a zephyr gleam of malice in his manner when he talks about clubs who spend lavishly and inflate the transfer market.
In this, he resembles the self-made millionaire who sneers at and abhors the rich kid with distorted values and a sense of entitlement; whose days were not spent grafting in rational self-interest for stability and success, but rather, covetously eyeing the produce of others and expropriating it for themselves.
That was why the offer of a move to Real Madrid was never really likely to turn Wenger’s head, and it’s why Manchester City can eye him up all they like – he, quite simply, is diametrically opposed to the philosophies of both, and would surely equate any offers from them as sinful temptation.
Of course, Arsenal are actually £400 million odd in debt, but rather than being the result of grandiose and unsustainable transfer schemes, their sizable loans were initiated under the auspices of sound financial principles: speculation with a view to accumulation. Investing in the Emirates and selling off property developments on Highbury (although currently affected by the financial climate) was initiated in a bid to increase revenue and enable the club to compete at a higher level.
Wenger is held in high reverence in business circles. At an LMA summit last year aimed at expounding upon and furthering the links between football and business, many a gushing businessman cited the incredible profit he has generated at the club over the years from player transfers.
Buying someone for £600,000 and selling them on for £24 million, as was the case with Nicolas Anelka, is the sort of economy that makes rich suits flush in the face and sweaty palmed. Equally, the sales of players like Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, and Kolo Toure were all done to massive profit. And he has rarely bought big, in fact, the only times he has, he has been stung quite badly. Think Francis Jeffers and Jose Antonio Reyes.
For Wenger, the difference in satisfaction and enjoyment is the difference between instant gratification and delayed gratification. Which would please you more – buying David Villa for 40 million or developing Lionel Messi from the age of 12? Pride, such a formidable motive power, is surely stronger when cultivated in the bosom of the latter method.
But Wenger is never really acknowledged as a bastion of principle and sound practice; instead he is often lambasted for the length of time it takes his projects to come to fruition.
Spend spend spend cry the newspapers and the fans: on defenders to plug the gap left by Sol Campbell’s departure in 2006; on midfielders to plug the gap left first by Vieira, then by Flamini last year; on strikers to plug the gap left first by Henry, then by Van Persie this season.
The whirlwind of accusation that follows defeat to expensively assembled teams like Chelsea or Manchester United, is seldom measured against the principles of the club and its manager.
What’s really interesting to speculate however, is that as a fan – which would you prefer? High profile signings and – possibly – instant success, but the instability of foreign ownership and dubious loan schemes, or the nurturing of youngsters toward an eventual goal, that may, or may not yield success – definitely not in the short term – but that will ensure the stability of the club and the traditions you hold dear?