This evening was the annual Q&A with Ivan Gazidis and members of various fan groups and small shareholders. There will be many blog posts about this – quite a few were on laptops during the event – not to mention the tweeting. Personally I was writing notes on paper, tweeting and listening to @DarrenArsenal1 tutting next to me at the same time, with occasional outbursts of indignation from Pedro of @LeGrove in the row behind me. It was a sensory overload.
Here’s my summary anyway. There is some paraphrasing.
As last year we had a short film of season’s highlights (no comment), followed by a personal video message from Arsène, who loves every one of us and values our support (translation: he’ll be signing a new contract).
Ivan’s intro was also shorter than last time, as he attempted to head off criticism of him using all the allocated time before a question was asked. He also said “I’ve been told to keep my answers short,” at which point Darren applauded and several of us laughed.
IG stressed that AW has “seen us through what could have been a very difficult period”; “We (the Board) don’t believe there is anyone better than AW for his role”; talk about a new contract for the manager “will be done quietly”.
After just a few minutes we were into the questions, firstly from shareholders.
Q1 – Since you have been employed here Ivan, our first team has turned into a second rate team. Will super quality players want to join us? What evidence is there of us being able to make super signings these days?
IG: “We haven’t got better or worse in the last few years we have held steady.”
Well, we’ve managed to cling onto top four, but I think most would agree we’ve got a bit worse. Ivan continued his answer with comparisons to Bayern as our turnover increases. To be fair, there was no direct way of answering the question unless he was going to bring Wayne Rooney out from behind a curtain.
Q2 – Why did we ‘hand the title to United’ by selling them RvP?
IG: “There were no good choices in that situation. It hurts everyone, me included, to see him score for Man U. It is possible to hold players to contracts, but they all react differently, some you can do it with, some you can’t. Now we need to look forward.”
Question dodged really. Personally I don’t blame RvP for going to Utd, though his statements rankle. But why Utd? Sell him abroad or keep him a year.
The questioner seemed to think it was all about money with RvP, so why not incentivise him with £10m to get to a cup final? Ivan disagreed that it was all about money.
Q3 – Can you guarantee AW will spend big this year?
IG: “AW isn’t scared to spend money, but it’s up to him to get the players he believes in. AW has done a very good job with this overall. He wants a cohesive squad that he believes in.”
So basically IG can’t guarantee anything about spend, because it’s AW’s job. Which anyone who listens to anything I say would know already.
Q4 – You’ve previously said the wage structure needs attending to, but AW has come out this year talking about how he likes the ‘socialist’ model – are you doing anything about it or not?
IG: “Where we start with every player is an assessment of talent. AW makes decisions on talent. Once he identifies talent he wants then we talk wages. The right decisions on wages follow the talent assessment.”
To translate: In my years here I have not managed to wrest an ounce of control of team spending from Arsène. He does what the hell he likes and will continue to do so, whether anyone agrees with it or not.
Q5 – Why can’t we seem to do any major business early in the transfer window?
IG: “We strive to do business early, but have a disadvantage compared to the clubs with basically unlimited funding. There is less uncertainty this year on funds we have available. With several top clubs changing managers it’s unclear how transfer business will go, and also most clubs are taking FFP into account, and the effect of that is unknown.”
Again, what else can he really say? He’s waiting for AW to make a decision.
Follow up: Do we need to wait to ensure we are in the CL group stages?
IG: “No – no player has made that a condition.”
But he avoided the club angle here: is the club prepared to spend before it confirms the CL place?
Q6 – How long will it be before FFP takes effect?
IG: “The wage cap is already in place (wages can only go up in line with commercials). We are okay because our commercials are increasing and can cover wage rises.”
Q7 – What is your role, and that of Stan Kroenke and Dick Law?
IG: “I’ve been asked this question rather less politely! I am responsible for everything off-field, including developing revenue streams, the reputation of the club, supporting the manager however he needs it. SK as an owner is mindful of not treating the club as an extension of his ego, is respectful of tradition. Some of our commercial successes have been as a result of SK’s vision. Dick Law has decades of experience in professional football. He speaks five languages and continually flies round the world negotiating deals. The division of responsibilities is very clear: AW is in charge of everything on the field, but we help with analysis of what he needs.”
Everything you would expect him to say, plus Stan is apparently helping us win commercial deals! Is he? What exactly is he doing then?
Q8 – Some fans turned against you and AW mid-season; how does that affect you?
You have to ask if this question is for real. Darren next to me almost fell off his chair, and the explosion of air from Pedro behind nearly blew me onto the stage.
IG: “We all give everything we have to put this club at the top of world football. All our time and energy goes into it. We all get frustrated with losses, and angry – particularly matches like Bradford and Blackburn. We are building a football club to compete at the top of the game.”
I think this answer went on a fair bit longer without telling us anything useful.
Q9 – Do you and will you actively support initiatives to help away fans and stop them getting ripped off?
IG: “We’ll do all we can, in conjunction with other clubs, though this isn’t easy to resolve.”
In other words, “I can’t promise anything”.
And that takes us to halfway. Join me tomorrow for the conclusion. Feel free to leave a comment, but preferably not the one about me banging on about the wage structure (as though I’m the only person who thinks there’s something amiss with it).