Last night was the annual Supporters’ Q&A with Arsenal’s Chief Executive, currently Ivan Gazidis. This was started as an AST event back in the days of Keith Edelman. When he left Ken Friar kindly stepped in for a year, and more recently Ivan has become noticeably more reluctant to maintain the event in anything like its original form. It’s now for a number of supporter groups including fan club branches, AISA and REDaction as well as the AST and Fanshare members.
In a further change this year, Arsenal wheeled out some ex-players to share the stage with Ivan, and a compere apparently called Nigel Mitchell. This has mutated the event from a Q&A mainly on governance and ownership matters (the original AST remit) to a PR exercise supposedly about giving benefit to fans, but actually just to give the appearance of benefit to fans. It allows Stan Kroenke to say he’s fulfilling his stated obligation of meeting and listening to supporters.
On stage alongside the compere and Ivan were Pat Rice, Perry Groves and Graham Rix. Huge applause and a standing ovation (led by @FKhanage) for Pat Rice obviously, given his health problems in the last year. It was good to see him looking well, not at all frail or underweight. Slightly less applause for El Pel and Rix, and a bit less again for Ivan.
The headline news from the evening is there’s no headline news. Nothing the least bit startling emerged.
The first few minutes were taken up with a video of the season highlights, then the compere got straight into some tough and challenging questions for the CEO. No he didn’t – he spent ages talking to the panel about their views on the season, their experiences of playing at Wembley (including Ivan, believe it or not, as a schoolboy), Aaron Ramsey’s form and deserved Arsenal Player of the Year award, and the development of youth players. Rixy went off into stories of his time working at Glenda Hoddle’s coaching academy in Spain. Then we got to some subjects that audience members might actually have asked about: why do we have so many injuries, and when are we signing someone?
Ivan said that all the medical staff, trainers, fitness coaches, masseurs, physios and anyone else remotely connected with the well-being and fitness of players are absolutely at the top of their profession, and in no way the cause of the temporary bad run of injuries we’ve had for the last decade. He also said that they’ve made progress in solving the non-existent problem of our injuries, so great news there.
As far as transfers go, he said, “We’re deep in conversations on many different fronts.” He was careful to make no bold statements about the probability of spending large amounts of money on new players, given he has no power over that whatsoever.
After 40 minutes of the scheduled hour, the audience was allowed to ask questions – as long as they gave their name and which group they had been invited along by, presumably so they could be blacklisted next year if they happened to ask something too impertinent.
Question 1 came from a gentleman from Maidstone, who asked how everyone felt about playing on 3G artificial pitches, given his local club has just been cleared to play on one in their league. The panel’s consensus was that they were great, but top clubs have great pitches anyway so didn’t need them.
Q2 was about the inevitable day when Arsène leaves – is there a transition plan to avoid doing a Man U? Ivan claimed it’s all about getting what he referred to as the infrastructure in place. It’s not though. It’s about reducing reliance on one man. Lyon have been doing it for years; Swansea have done it successfully at their level and West Brom have had a go – you build an off-field team that can run successfully no matter who is at the head. You could argue that even Chelsea and Man City have done this – they’re still likely to win trophies whoever the manager is – but of course it’s easier when you can outspend everyone else. However, giving all the power for every football decision to one person doesn’t seem like the best way of keeping any success going after that man goes. We shall see in three years (or five, or six . . .).
Question 3: Last summer’s transfer window was a shambles. What are you going to do to improve on that?
Ivan went on the attack. If duelling was still legal he’d have offered the bloke a choice of swords or pistols. Last summer was NOT a shambles, they worked for months on the Özil deal, these things don’t just happen overnight you know! Arsenal should get more credit for their transfer dealings.
Hmm. So Arsenal worked all summer to sign a player in a position that clearly wasn’t the priority when they were bidding for Suarez and Benzema? In the last three transfer windows we’ve signed a couple of freebies, both injured, and one first team player, with £100m still sitting in the bank. I’m not sure about credit; a slow handclap is more likely. Moving on . . .
Question 4: Given that we don’t want Cesc to go to another English club, shouldn’t we just sign him to get him off the market?
Well what is Ivan going to say to this? Clearly he can’t say a lot, as even if he had any power over transfers he’s not going to talk about individuals. He could probably have said nothing faster than he did, but we got there.
Q 5: Will FFP work?
The short answer to this was that Ivan didn’t know. He was waiting to see. It might take a couple of years . . . Rixy pointed out that fining clubs with oil money behind them was a bit pointless – thanks Graham.
Q 6: A Hungarian gentleman wanted to know if Arsenal were doing a training camp in Europe this summer, as Arsène is known to be keen on. Ivan responded that the team might do a few days, but once the World Cup is over and they’ve had a break, there’s the Emirates Cup and Charity Shield, so not many free weekends.
Q 7: The co-ordinator of the Gay Gooners got up to thank Arsenal for their enlightened attitude to his group and then turned it into a question by asking when the panel thought homophobia would be eradicated from football. All the panel pointed out the progress made in recent years and made comparisons to racism, which has come a long way since Rice and Rix played. Perry said he was proud of what Arsenal have done as his stepson came out as gay as a young teenager. Then Pat Rice ruined it by joking that in his playing days they never knew Rixy was gay. Oops.
And that was all we had time for, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much for coming.
But in a different turn of events to the norm, we weren’t all chucked out immediately. Ivan was as usual surrounded by people anxious to engage him in conversation, and stayed for quite some time telling those who cared to listen that he’d be gutted if Cesc went to another English club, and various other things of frankly minor importance.
What did we learn? As usual that depends what you knew before. If you have a good idea how Arsenal works, you don’t learn much from these sessions because Ivan is great at deflecting questions and talking without saying anything – and yes, I accept that in some cases that’s part of his job, it’s just unusual for a CEO of any company to have so little power over the core business. But as long as we’re Arsène-al that’s the way it is. We’ll only learn more if we get M Wenger himself on stage, and that no longer happens since the Silvestre incident.
Maybe we should have one of these sessions at the end of the transfer window, then Ivan can regale us with tales of how splendidly it’s all gone. Here’s hoping.