Arsène Wenger has had a tough time in front of the media over the last few years. Arsenal are still playing the high class, crisp passing game everyone loves (or loves to hate), but silverware has not been forthcoming. Recently the economic figures have been released, revealing that Arsenal’s turnover is exceeding Premier League records, and this in itself can be seen as a step forward.
However, the harshest critics are those who completely lack perspective. The easiest way to visualise the project that Arsène Wenger and the back-room staff at Arsenal have been working on is to split it into three stages. The first stage was the moulding of the club in Arsene’s image, and the transformation of Arsenal from a good team into a successful, world class team. This was completed, with many years of silverware, and high achievements.
The Second Stage
From this point the club then required the second stage of development. This stage involved turning Arsenal into an economic powerhouse, to parallel the achievements on the football field, and maintain sustainable success for the long term.
This second stage began in 2002 with the re-branding of the club, a new logo, and the plans to build Ashburton Grove, or the Emirates. Stage two is arguably the most difficult transition for any club to undergo. There is the financial risk surrounding debt accumulation, and the requirement that success be maintained on the field.
This transition was meticulously planned, and the nature of the sustainable growth meant that the squad development would rely more on nurturing talent rather than buying in an overinflated transfer market. Moving to a new stadium is hard for many clubs, most suffering loss of form, relegations, debts, just look at Valencia or teams such as Leicester, or even the calamitous Wembley project.
Instead of this, Arsenal have maintained a Champions League place, albeit precariously at times, over all the years of hardship, and have managed to mount title challenges in 07/08 and 09/10. Not only this but the team have reached the Champions League Final, Semi final, and Quarter finals twice, our best ever record in Europe. I will accept the arguement that players like Cesc agitating for a move could be partially a result of this transition, but how else should the club be grown? There are of course other ways of analysing the economics too.
This record may not equal silverware, but put in perspective it is an impressive achievement. Now the success is off the pitch. Arsenal capitalised on their boom years, and now play in arguably the best equipped stadium in Britain.
To top this off Arsenal’s debt is being paid off very fast, over £100 million out of roughly £350 million went in early 2010. The recent figures though are the greatest vindication of the project that is two thirds into completion. Arsenal now have a turnover of £316 million, a Premier League record, and certain qnly one of the worlds largest. Debt is not only being paid off quickly, but is sustainable, and is only 8% of the Premier League total, Man Utd and Liverpool combined represent almost 40%.
In addition wages are held at an astounding low of 32% of turnover, which is unheard of in the Premier League.
This is the second stage of Arsenal’s transformation well into completion. The club is turning into an economic powerhouse, whilst maintaining consistent (although a little unsatisfactory) performance on the pitch as a price for the painful transition. Once stage two is complete, the third and final stage is to then accelerate the club’s performance without the hindrance of debts. Arsenal can then move up a gear as one of the world’s richest, but also most sustainable clubs, with success on the football field increasing.
The three stages see Arsenal move from successful, to rich, and then to becoming very successful sustainably.
Do not forget that the most difficult second phase has also come at a time when foreign investors have been loitering, in a time when clubs like Man Utd and Liverpool are saddled with debt, the strains of which finally showed this season. This type of ownership has also seen teams such as Chelsea and Man City over inflate the transfer market and create extra competition at the top of the Premier League.
Meanwhile Arsenal have been quietly building on a fantastic model, which will deliver the goods in the long term. Take a team like Liverpool, they have had arguably more success than Arsenal since 2005 – winning the Champions League in 2005 and the FA Cup 2006, compared to our FA Cup (2005), and finishing higher in the league on several occasions. The difference is, that although Liverpool have achieved a greater triumph than Arsenal ever in the Champions League, they are now mired in debt, with little money for new players, possible mass exodus mooted, no new stadium built as promised, a disappointing year in the League and Champions League, and now finishing 7th.
Arsenal may not have had hands on the Champions League trophy yet, but the club is arguably in a much better position to go on and challenge for it once again, and each year Arsenal do so they do it with improved finances, and improved young talent. Don’t forget that the new Premier League rulings on home grown players may also work to our advantage regarding youth players.
The most crucial step now is making sure that key players can keep the faith, specifically I mean Fabregas. If Cesc leaves then he is replaceable, but the blow will be massive. Never before has Wenger lost quite such a talent in his prime. The team needs to be united, and requires continuity to progress into a new era where Arsenal can dominate in competition and economically. The situation is improving year by year, but there is always pressure to balance this with results, and specifically silverware.
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