You have probably seen Ivan Gazidis popping up in various places in the last week giving interviews as though his salary depends on it. Which it doesn’t. But a bit of good publicity never goes amiss, and the accounts are about to be published, and a transfer window profit has been made and needs to be justified, so why not sit in front of some friendly journos and put the world of Arsenal to rights?
Here’s Ivan sitting in some very boring and grey location, as pictured by the London Evening Standard, and lucky for him he got a VERY friendly journalist to talk to in James Olley, Chief Football Correspondent. I am also amused by the way the headline is arranged – the bit on the next page said ‘That is absolute rubbish’, but opinions may differ on the truth of that disclaimer!
The headline is down to the sub-ed of course, but in the interview itself James Olley decided not to challenge Ivan very much on some of his statements, even if they are questionable at best. Olley has also got a few facts mixed up.
He starts by saying that Arsenal’s “self-sustainability” – and I’ve got to immediately stop him there, because it’s not self-sustainability, it’s just ‘sustainability’, or a ‘self-sustaining’ model and it winds me up no end when people say self-sustainability – anyway, Arsenal’s “self-sustainability has rendered them impotent when battling for players,” he says. Has it? No it bloody hasn’t. The manager has decided that firstly he must pay everyone in the squad an almost equal wage, wasting tens of millions of pounds a year, and secondly he doesn’t spend all the money available, which makes Arsenal look impotent when in fact they shouldn’t be. We can’t compete with a couple of clubs, that’s true. But only a couple.
He goes on: “The only way Arsenal can compete and stay faithful to their financial model is by increasing their revenue.” No, they could spend all the money they’ve got for a start, and then concentrate on spending it more efficiently. Even if you think it would be impossible for Wenger to be more efficient, it’s perfectly possible to compete better by SPENDING THE MONEY THAT IS SITTING IN THE BANK.
A bit later, Ivan is quoted as saying, “We get accused of a lack of ambition or complacency because apparently the board are only interested in the top four – that is absolute rubbish. This is the most ambitious club I know.” Just to repeat that last bit: Ivan says, “This is the most ambitious club I know.” Not a shred of evidence is provided for this statement, and worse than that Olley doesn’t even question it! Yes, Arsenal built a new stadium and that was certainly ambitious – albeit taking advantage of Arsenal’s fortunate geographical location, which meant the old stadium was luckily worth about 20 times what, say, Liverpool’s is – but what level of ambition is being shown now? All the signs point to lack of ambition lately: net transfer profit, successive captains being sold to domestic or European rivals and NOT EVEN SPENDING ALL THE MONEY AVAILABLE.
Speculating (just a little, I’m not Peter Ridsdale) to accumulate the odd trophy would be ambitious. Sitting on a pile of cash isn’t. Admittedly the lack of spending is not Ivan’s fault, and he would probably be happy to see Wenger get the chequebook out, but he is the one who has to sit there and pretend it’s a good idea. Not that I feel sorry for him, he is paid well enough – including bonuses for . . . er, I’m not sure what exactly, but clearly not for winning trophies or increasing commercial revenue. But he has a silent and detached boss 4,000 miles away and a football manager who started doing exactly what he liked as soon as David Dein left the building, and cemented that position further when Danny F departed this mortal coil. Poor Ivan. I guess we all have our cross to bear.
Back to the salaries: “Can we compete at top salary levels? Yes, we can but we have an ethos at the club – the way Arsène expresses it is that it is not about individual players, it is what happens between them.” I find this a bit cryptic. Is he talking about the infamous equal pay structure mentioned above? I guess he is. So he’s saying the board would be quite happy to pay any superstars they could attract to Arsenal huge amounts of money – maybe even as much as Arsène himself gets paid – but Arsène doesn’t want to do that (though he doesn’t mind taking it himself).
The piece concludes with this: “Gazidis believes Arsenal stand on the brink of joining United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich as financial giants of the game. Then everything will be in place to provide a framework for domination on the pitch too.” Again this statement isn’t challenged. Gazidis may or may not believe it completely, but is it that simple? He’s relying on FFP working absolutely 100 per cent from the off.
While it’s true that clubs are taking notice of FFP, you can still make losses under it – if you have someone to fund them, like a Sheikh, for example – and still be within the rules. So if Man City make a £30m loss and don’t need to pay £20m interest on their debts (because they don’t have any), then they still have a £50m advantage over Arsenal. So Arsenal need £50m more from commercials or gate money than Man City make in order to be level with them. And Man City’s commercials will probably continue to be at Sheikh’s mates’ rates – £400m for stadium naming rights, yes that’s worth it – while Arsenal scrabble about for relative pennies. So although we have a fair advantage in ticket revenue, we still have a disadvantage everywhere else. How is the self-styled most ambitious club in world football going to address that?
John Pickford (@theN5er) did a quick survey a couple of days ago, publicised on Twitter, about Ivan. The options were a bit tongue in cheek but it went like this:
Although it was a small sample and the options weren’t entirely serious, it’s notable that a quarter of voters are at one of the extremes. If that can be extrapolated, then a quarter of all Gooners are extremists and the two ends will always be arguing with each other! Sounds about right.
Most occupy the middle ground, but it’s fairly evenly split between those who think it’s all a matter of time till it comes good and those who think something needs to change first.
The thing about football is that as long as you don’t get relegated then every year you get the chance to wipe the slate clean and start again, saying ‘This will be our year’. Most businesses don’t have that luxury. In football, every May there is a moment of truth, but it can largely be forgotten in August with a bit of spin, and we start looking towards the next May. There’s a bigger FFP moment of truth approaching for Arsenal, though. Ivan Gazidis is a great talker, but even he will have trouble talking his way out of it if 2014 delivers nothing. And even James Olley might start asking more probing questions.
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