On Saturday Le Grove did a blog ‘revealing’ that Arsenal don’t actually have a lot of money to spend. I was surprised. Not by the revelation, but because I didn’t really think this was news. I thought everyone realised that there wasn’t a huge pot waiting to be spent on whoever the latest superstar is.
As we all know, Arsenal are self-sufficient. There’s no money pumped in by any friendly passing billionaires. In fact Arsenal are much, much better at being self-sufficient than nearly every other English club. They don’t get extra money in but they don’t build up debts year on year either. They have debts, caused by building an expensive new stadium, but the debts are getting paid off on schedule and the annual repayments are well under ten per cent of turnover, so no big problem. Of course it would be nice to have no debts and save that £15m-£20m of interest and repayments each year, but it’s hardly an unsafe situation.
But contrary to popular opinion, Arsenal spend the money they make. It may not seem like it to people who can’t be bothered to check the facts, which let’s face it is most people, but they do spend it all. I won’t bother going into the details of the accounts, but if Arsenal are going to make profits then they generally come from transfers. They come from a manager who likes to buy cheap and ends up selling (relatively) expensively – at least enough of the time to get a reputation for it. As an aside, this is a bit odd really: Wenger gets criticised for making a profit on transfers, even though he clearly doesn’t want to sell some of the players who go. “Well why doesn’t he spend all the money he makes on transfers then?” ask quite a lot of people. The truth is he does.
At the start of the year both the AST and Swiss Ramble concluded that Arsenal had some money to spend, given the state of the accounts and the comings and goings last summer. There may not have been exact agreement on the amount, but there was a ballpark figure of about £50m. Let’s call it that; it’s a round number. And if you look at the transfers in and out for the last few years the picture supports a figure of £50m quite well. Since 2008, and including the signings of Podolski and Giroud this summer, Arsenal have made a profit on transfers of just under £20m. Before the latest purchases, it was a bit over £40m. And this includes the big sales of Fabregas, Nasri, Adebayor and Toure, all as much or more than we have ever paid for a single player. This always seems to surprise people who think we make a vast profit year after year on transfers that never gets spent. But look at the table of paid transfers since 2008 – £119m in and close to £102m out – and that doesn’t include Miyaichi, who never has a fee quoted though it seems unlikely he was free.
So if you accept that the rest of the business pays for itself without generating very much of a profit or loss, then you have to accept that there is only £20m-£30m left in the kitty – and that is entirely due to achieving that last minute third place and Champions League money for next season, without which you can bet that Podolski and Giroud wouldn’t have been bought. Even £30m is not going to buy Messi’s weaker foot, so although there may be more signings even if RvP stays, they won’t be superstars: it will be one player for up to £20m or up to two in the £10m bracket – but even that is unlikely, one would be more plausible.
Quite why Arsenal spend so much money is a good question. The ridiculous wages policy being one reason of course, along with increasing costs all round, and the mysterious ‘other expenses’ of about 20 per cent of turnover in the accounts that has never been satisfactorily explained.
You may say, why stop at 2008 when looking at transfers? Why not go back further, as Wenger has been making profits for years. Well it’s an arbitrary date of course, but it’s pointless to go back further because transfer funds aren’t ring-fenced anyway, and the total available depends on all the ups and downs elsewhere in the balance sheet, which can fluctuate enough to make a difference from year to year. Wages up each year, ticket prices up occasionally, utility bills up quite often (has anyone ever been to the stadium on a non-match day and the vast array of artificial sunshine lights on the pitch hasn’t been on?), directors’ expenses up recently, commercial income – well, some don’t move much. I was just making the point that there are a lot more purchases than most people remember, and vast profits aren’t generated continuously from player trading.
Le Grove’s second point was that Arsène isn’t given all the money he generates, to spend on the team. Well I’m not sure about that. He’s got a surplus of less than £20m since 2008, and wages have gone up by that amount since then, so it looks to me as if he’s getting everything he generates. And as more and more people are pointing out these days, Wenger himself takes a nice fat wage, bigger than nearly every other manager in the world. All this player trading expertise doesn’t come cheap, you know.
So what’s the conclusion of all this? Well mainly: don’t expect a big signing in unless a bigger one goes out. And even then, it’s not Wenger’s style to buy big, so don’t expect it anyway.
I’m just surprised this is seen as news.
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