Have Arsenal Sold Star Players Because They Needed The Cash? Short Answer: No.

There are some people who genuinely believe that the reason Arsenal seemed to get into the habit of selling their best player every summer for several years in a row was because they needed the money. This kind of belief really demands a willingness to ignore facts that must give hope to extremist politicians everywhere. There is one reason and one reason only that Arsenal sold the likes of Henry, Van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri: they wanted to go. And when a player wants to leave Arsène Wenger is not going to stand in his way. That’s partly why Arsène’s ex-players never have a bad word to say about him. He’s a nice guy anyway, but one of his traits is that he doesn’t like confrontation. He’s no Fergie, kicking boots around the changing room and smashing teacups; nor is he a Mourinho, shouting at his players and accusing them of betraying him, as he reportedly did at Madrid. Arsène likes a harmonious dressing room, so he will let people go if they want to rather than disrupt that, and he does all he can to stay on good terms with them.

But, you may argue, surely Arsenal did need the money, what with paying for that stadium move. If you’ve read all my previous blog posts, you’ll know that just isn’t true. There was only one year during the whole process of moving and since that Arsenal had less cash than if they’d stayed at Highbury. So if they didn’t need to sell their best players at Highbury, then they certainly haven’t needed to sell them since. Here’s a repeat of the table with Arsenal’s available cash year by year compared to what it would have been at Highbury:stadium net cash effectThe full post that table comes from is here.

But, you may also point out, without the cash brought in by transfer profits, Arsenal would have lost money some years. Technically this is correct, but it’s still not the reason for selling the best players. Players who were surplus to requirements were sold because – guess what – they were surplus to requirements, and top players were sold only because they wanted to leave. If a few hadn’t wanted to go the books would need to be balanced, but that’s easy enough: retaining any player means at the very least you don’t need one other, so you sell someone else (albeit for less) and if possible get some other dross off the payroll a bit earlier, and you don’t need to buy a replacement (such as Park, Santos or Gervinho). If all else fails then just stop awarding such huge contracts to the undeserving likes of Almunia and Bendtner.

Arsène can only play with the money available, it’s true; he would just have to curtail his spending on second-raters to balance things if, for example, Nasri hadn’t decided to leave. But of course by the time the likes of Cesc and Nasri left anyway, not to mention RvP, Arsenal were well on the way to building up the cash balance, which has now reached a massive £140m. As we all know, not all of that is available to spend on new players as quite a bit is needed to pay the ones already there, but Arsenal aren’t going short. The cash balance topped £100m in 2011, so hardly proof of needing to sell anyone for quite a few years.

Let’s just look at who’s left since 2005. Did you think any of these had to go to balance the books?
2005 – the biggest sale was Vieira for about £14m. He was past his peak by then and we’d had an annual ‘will he, won’t he’ for several seasons. He wanted to go, and we can just be grateful he didn’t insist on it being to Man Utd.

2006 – amazingly Pascal Cygan was sold for £2m. Now that’s the kind of offer you can’t turn down, but doesn’t make a huge difference to Arsenal’s books.
Ashley Cole went to Chelsea for £5m plus Gallas, but it’s extremely well-documented that Cole wanted to go. No other big sales.

2007 – Thierry Henry for £19m. I think we all know that Henry wanted to go. That wasn’t a decision that the Board or Manager wanted to take. In any case some reports say no money was actually received up front, and the first payment wasn’t until 2008, which if true is hardly evidence of a forced sale for financial reasons. Reyes also went for £8m, but he was definitely deemed surplus to requirements and went for a loss.

2008 – Alexandr Hleb to Barca for £12m. His head was turned. Wanted to go and is known to have regretted it since. It’s worth noting that in the accounts up to the end of May 2008, before Hleb was sold, Arsenal had a cash balance of £93.3m, up from £73.9m a year before. So hardly struggling, even given that £23m or so needs to be held under the terms of loans to cover the repayments.

2009 – Adebayor for £25m and Toure for £16m, both to Man City. Adebayor definitely wanted to leave, and his behaviour over wages since amply demonstrates that money was a big motivating factor for him. To be honest, the money Man City were offering Arsenal was about five times what he was worth, so from that point of view you could say he was sold for money. You’d have to be a blithering idiot to turn down that sort of wedge for a troublemaker like him, who plays well for about a quarter of each season.

Toure was sold just after Vermaelen was bought, so he was clearly deemed surplus. I’m still amazed that someone would offer £16m for a used car salesman, but Man City seemed to be in a phase of collecting as many players as possible with Premier League experience, probably for the twin reasons of strengthening their team with players who wouldn’t take long to settle, and simultaneously weakening their rivals. The fact that the £40m for this pair to City was not invested in improving the Arsenal squad during the same or even the next transfer window was the most obvious sign that Arsenal were building a cash pile – it was up to £99.6m before these sales and £101m by November. The following May, before the 2010 transfer window, it had reached £127.6m.

2010 – The only relatively large sale was Eduardo for around £6m. Personally I always thought Eduardo was not a particularly effective Premier League striker, even before his injury. To me he was another Wiltord, mainly scoring soft goals against poor teams. Either way, £6m isn’t much in the grand scheme and even Eduardo’s biggest fan probably didn’t accuse Arsenal of selling their best player when he went.

2011 – In May 2011, before the transfer window, Arsenal’s cash balance stood at £160.2m.
Fabregas went to Barcelona for £30m plus various bonuses. Does anyone want to argue that Fabregas was deliberately sold by the Arsenal Board or Manager because they wanted the money? Thought not. Even ignoring the enormous cash pile, his hamstrings had virtually gone on strike for a year before he left, and the fact he only wanted to go to one club put Arsenal in a poor negotiating position; by common consent we’d have got closer to £50m in an open sale.

Nasri to Man City for £25m. Not quite as clear cut as Fabregas, but again who in their right mind is going to claim that Nasri didn’t want to leave? Arsène ended up having to swallow his own statements on ‘big clubs’ when two star players in one summer decided they’d had enough. Nasri’s departure was swiftly followed by the 8-2 Old Trafford humiliation and the infamous last minute trolley dash to bolster the squad. Arsène believing that his stars were going to stay and failing to prepare meant that our Premier League challenge was over before it had even begun that year. Great effort to recover enough to get into the top four, but he shouldn’t have put the club in that position at the start of the season.

2012 – Robin van Persie to Man Utd for £24m. Van Persie was very public on his desire to leave. Anyone think he was pushed out because Arsenal needed money? Anyone at all? No. That was the player’s decision. Cash balance before he left: £153.6m.

Alex Song also swanned off to Barca for a frankly amazing £15m. He’d had one great season of providing marvellous through-balls to the forwards and suddenly he thought was Zinedine Zidane. Good luck to him. But as there was now well over £100m of available cash to spend on any player in the world, no one can possibly claim he was sold because we were a bit short.

More details of Arsenal’s ever-growing cash balances here.

More myth-busting in my next post.
Follow me on twitter: @AngryOfN5


19 thoughts on “Have Arsenal Sold Star Players Because They Needed The Cash? Short Answer: No.

    • I wish I knew. It would be easy to blame it on Stan, but the trend started before he took over. It’s almost certainly a combination of factors, and it would cause endless debate to speculate on which factors had the most weight.

  1. Thank you for enlightening us. However this post would have been more encompassing had it told us why those our best players wanted to leave. Was it because they didn’t love Arsenal any longer, or for financial reasons, or for sporting reasons? If we assume they left because they wanted to go elsewhere to win trophies(and they were vindicated in some cases, Nasri, Fabregas, van Persie), why did Arsenal not strive to do what was required to win things and keep their best players?

    • I’m sure they all have their own reasons. For example I would say Henry left partly for sporting reasons – desire to play for Barca and win a CL, feeling he’d won everything he could win with Arsenal – and partly for personal reasons – marriage breakdown. Adebayor’s motives were probably more financial. Cesc’s main reason was to ‘go home’. They’re all different.

  2. What I haven`t seen in your very nice figures is Debt of £216 million through bond issue (For which only £200 million was received). I see your repayments of £6 million per year,a total of £48 million repayments. So that makes £216 million less £48 million, a total of £168 million still outstanding and on which interest has to be paid
    So your accumulated NCE of £124 million less £168 million would leave a deficit of £44 million and interest still to be paid of around £13 million a year
    Perhaps your figures are wrong or have I missed something ?

  3. Ok, another interpretation to say that Wenger didn’t spend $$ because, he is tight or something.

    Honestly I don’t know why an employee can be so tight with $$ that isn’t his if he is drowning in it literally as you are clearly implying.

    But Wenger has always gone on record that he is under pressure from revenues rather than cash flows. You look at cash. He says the creditors look at revenues. He said, on Arsenal Player no less without any denial from the hierarchy, that he needs to make 30M on revenues annually.

    Nasri has since reiterated it, Ray Parlour has hinted at it. Seriously all the old timers simply stated that the Wenger’s hands were tied when it comes to buying players. Maybe the reason for tying Wenger’s hands is wrong. But that doesn’t change the fact that his hands were clearly tied.

    I think that he could have spent that $$ better. But stop beating this drum of Wenger saving that pile of dosh for his payoff or something.

  4. Cash is not available. It is a reserve to pay off debt and how that cannot be relevant to the point of your article is beyond me The board authorised the move to the Emirates on the basis of incurring no debt. The Finance Dept. screwed up and the bonds had to be issued with an interest rate of approx 6 1/4%.
    There are still (according to your article) £168 million pounds outstanding.
    The cash reserve against debt is only there because Wenger had to sell players and not buy new ones. The players he did buy were at the cheap end of the market.
    Wenger was able to buy Ozil because he and the board had made previous savings and revenues were increasing like sponsoring deals and sales of kit
    You want a list of the clubs who disregarded debt, just a few Leeds, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Glasgow Rangers
    So debt aint important ?
    I think I`m wasting my time reading your blog I`d rather read something more grown up

    • Oh dear.
      At no point do I say there is £168m outstanding. In fact there’s more, as you would know if you knew anything about this subject, which you clearly don’t.
      However, the relevant point here is that the debt is structured such that repayments have been fixed for the last 7 years and are fixed to 2031. So it’s quite easy to see their place in the overall picture and incorporate them into forecasts. Cash isn’t being saved up to pay the debt off faster, and only about £23m of the cash needs to be reserved under the terms of the debt agreements.
      I don’t know where you get your information from, but I’d like to talk to the person. I’m sure it would be most entertaining.

  5. Wow, Terry. Odd reply, this is clearly a grown up blog, backed up with, you know… Facts. The point was to highlight funds in the coffers, and debt isn’t part of the point Angry wanted to make & succeeded.

    Read his reply re: info about debt and it’s place in the structure. It’s all there.

    There are plenty of opinion based, childishly written blogs for you to enjoy.

  6. I believe you are way off-beam on this one. The fact that there was money in the bank proves nothing. Howard Hughes was a billionaire – but he lived like a hermit. Of course top players wanted to leave Arsenal!They were ambitious. Why stay at a Club where no nett money was spent on transfers, where the manager had to sell to buy, where the transfer/wage budget meant the more spent on wages, the less on transfers (and vice versa). Small chance of winning anything there. I can think of a dozen reasons why the money was unspent that are more credible than that Wenger wanted value for money. Here is one. The owners imposed an austerity programme. They need not have done, they could have raised cashfor players by, say, a Rights Issue. It is fair to assume that their goal was to make as much as they could from their shares. A good reason for keeping money in the bank. Keeping Wenger n board was vital. That is why they had to pay him handsomely and give him pretty much a free hand on the football matters. There is no need to look further for why we were where we were when Kroenke became majority owner. He was aware of the Emirates debt, he paid less for the shares because of it – in other words he bought the debt. HIS responsibility, not the fans. Yet he raised prices, sold off our best players. A truly appalling record, thus far, at any rate. The manager carries the can (with fans), but history proves that the main culprit is invariably the owner. And nothing will change until the paying customers do something about it. For me the answer is an Association of Season-Tickets Holders, and their first demand should be a 50% reduction in ticket prices. Even Silent Stan will not be able to cope with that.

  7. That’s a reasoned enough appraisal of transfer activities over the last few years which doesn’t support the contention that Arsenal ‘seemed to get into the habit of selling their best player every summer for several years in a row’. Players past their best aren’t our best players. What the appraisal misses though is that, following changes in player contract law in 2005 and revised in 2008, there is nothing you can do to stop a player who wants to leave from leaving once he is in an unprotected period of contract – no matter how many years are still left on that contract. That was the position with Hleb, Cesc, Nasri and RvP. So it isn’t a matter of Wenger being either a nice guy or nasty guy or the board relishing the cash because neither has any choice other than to agree the best deal they can if a player with an unprotected contract wants to leave. Understanding that simple reality puts of both Wenger and the board into proper perspective.

    • The simple reality is that the owner(s) did not use the money accumulated by sales of Cesc, Nasr, RvP, etc to bring in players of equivalent quality.

      • An equally simple reality is that there were few players available of equal quality – but it’s worth noting that in the last 3 seasons, since Kroenke too control, we’ve spent more than in the previous 8 seasons combined so the money have been and is being used.

  8. Forget the claptrap that Phil has written!

    The Heads of Agreement with the Stadium Bond Holders states (Page 94)

    (k) AFC must ensure that, if it transfers the registration of a member of the playing staff of AFC
    to any other person, not less than 70 per cent. (adjusted for tax) of any transfer receipt is
    deposited in a Transfer Proceeds Account, with amounts standing to the credit of any Transfer
    Proceeds Account available to be drawn by AFC only for certain specified purposes, including
    the purchase of certain fixed assets or registration rights of a new member of playing staff for
    (l) AFC will not enter into any employment contract or other contract for services providing for
    any payment for services on any date which is more than nine months after the end of the
    football season during which the relevant services are provided;


    IF the Arsenal had remained at Highbury, the stands , one by one, would all require to be refurbished. A cost far exceeding the new stadium.


    there has been no increase in the cash balance since 1st June 2011. There should be an increase in cash balances on 1st June 2014

    (a) circa £20 millions from Barratt and
    (b) increase revenue from the broadcasting side, LESS the costs assocaited with this increase revenue.

    Phil , is a member of the committee that manages the AST. Enough said!

    • What is your point here exactly? The cash balance HAS increased since 2011, as the accounts clearly show.
      I have no idea why you are talking about the Transfer proceeds Account. Are you claiming that the money from sales has been reinvested in buying players, or will be? It’s not clear from your comment. Either way, you do know that transfer proceeds can be spent on wages, don’t you? And you do know how much the wage bill has gone up since 2006, don’t you?

  9. Pingback: Arsenal’s ‘Restricted’ Spending – The Truth | angryofislington

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