Monthly Archives: May 2012

Grim Thoughts: Divining the Future of Football part 3 – The next twenty years.

The future influences the present just as much as the past. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Gooners; firstly an apology. This third part is late, I wrote the majority ready for release on Saturday and then ATT decided to switch off my interwebs early because I’m moving in a few weeks. Thusly has this been sent from work today as Monday was memorial day here in the USA one of the scant few holidays’ we get here as penance for living in America. I’m pretty sure Tim the Enchanter is going to explode me for ruining his excellent blog, so if the last part fails to appear it’ll be because I’ve disappeared in a puff of smoke.*  I’ve been inspired to write this multi-part series by many a twitterfight with fellow fans that are in my opinion looking at the whole Arsenal vs. the world in the wrong light – we need to look at Arsenal’s place in the future as well as in the here & now. If you haven’t read the first two pieces then please click here for part 1 and here for part 2, as this will make much more sense with the backdrop. I’d like to reiterate that I’m not here to argue about whether any of this is good or bad, nor is anything I’m saying to be used as a Wenger we trust/rust argument – I am simply stating the facts in a timeline as I see them and understand them. Now with that as a backdrop let me get a few things out of the way so that I may write clearly for the rest of this piece: The Stoke fans that booed Aaron Ramsey last season have proven to me the true meaning of the word cunt.

They are off the cuntometer scale; a completely new measure of cuntery needs to be invented because the level of CUNT reached by those fans has grown so immense it’s become a singularity and ripped a hole in the fabric of spacetime itself – a central mass of such irresistible cunt that nothing, not even class, decency or literacy, nothing that we hold dear can escape. I am going to call this Stoke-hole-Syndrome and ask that it be added to the lexicon.

What’s coming?

OK – enough of those shitbags, back to the weird and wonderful world of Football Futurism… Some of the ideas to follow in this part and the one to follow are in my opinion pretty likely, some are inevitable and some are downright just me chucking a dart at a dartboard while blindfolded, drunk and after being spun around a few times. Take them for what they are. I’m going to break it up into near future (the next ten years), mid-term (ten to twenty years) and beyond in the final part which is a bit all star-trek. I’ll try to keep to the general trends of that which I’ve been speaking about already, but if I go a bit of track then you must forgive me because I have a tendency to do things like that… I have a bit of crazy in me when I start thinking about the future. This hopefully will be about the great game itself, the league/s, the audiences, rules, players, clubs and how they are all intertwined. Let us press on.

The near future is the easiest bit because I think the writing’s on the wall already. Players are going to continue to become more important than the clubs they play for as more and more fans (die-hard Gooners may find this hard to stomach) follow more than one club. There is a dilution in the fan base that’s been occurring since TV coverage got bigger and more global, most clubs have something like 70% of their fanbase outside of the country they play in. Here in California you cannot kick a ball in a park without seeing Farca, ManUre or Madrid jerseys, usually with the three great predictable names on the back; Messi, Rooney, Ronaldo. Also take a look on your twitter feed (if you’re on twitter); if you follow anyone not from England then quite often you’ll see split loyalty. “I love FC Club Local AND Arsenal till I die.”

This is a massive switch from when I was a kid. Picking MORE THEN ONE TEAM? We are in an era of what many call ‘plastic fans’ aka casual supporters. I’m personally torn on the good/evil of this because on the one hand my one-club-heart finds the concept abhorrent but on the other it’s impossible to ignore the way the wind is blowing, like it or not. If we live in a democracy (assuming you do if you can read this – too much swearyness for non-free countries methinks), and democracies are supposed to be ruled by majority (apart from all this 1% business of course) then ‘plastic fans’ will rule no? There are far more casual supporters then die-hards – and they outnumber hard core fans maybe 5 or 6 to 1.

Players will call the shots, hold all the cards and are the brands of the future. Look at Edin Hazard; 21, no doubt talented but far from the finished article yet seemingly able, in the public mind at least, to hold clubs to ransom for money he thinks he has already earned. Fans are waiting for him to make a decision with baited breath! WHAT. THE. FUCK?

This is becoming more common as the latest players to come out of France, Brazil, Argentina, Spain etc. all thrive on the speculation surrounding them while their agent’s rub their hands with glee like a cheesy cartoon villain and cackle uncontrollably.

Super League

One of the most interesting aspects I think we’ll begin to see is just how important Europe is to big clubs. Liverpool is the prime example here. For years touted as better then Arsenal (how many times have you seen Liverpool to finish in top four and Arsenal not?) and for years failing to deliver. When they fell out of the top four it began a spiral descent that I can’t see improving any time soon. This is partly down to the financial penalty for falling out of the elite competition and partly because it makes recruitment harder as the best players want to play in the CL; and this is VERY important to remember.

It’s harder than ever to finish in the CL spots in the Premier League, and although we’ve not won anything in blah, blah years AFC’s 15 years unbroken in the competition is truly amazing. However the real importance of being at the big table is that I suspect that within 15 years we will see a new European Super League start up.

There are many pointers towards this super league, one of the biggest being just how much cash the CL generates and one of the soundest ideas in any process of prediction is; follow the money. Where it goes so too will trends. The second pointer is the current predictability of the domestic leagues. Even with the Rich buying leagues, the last 10 years has seen the same names dominating their leagues – in La Liga it’s the usual suspects barring the odd aberration. The Premier League has only been won by 5 clubs since its inception. How about the Bundesliga? Yep – 5 clubs. La Liga? 3. Ligue 1 – 5. Serie A – 3. Eredisivie – 4… Are you getting the picture yet?

You can bet that the clubs would be up for it because the global audience prospects. The players are always going on about playing against the best clubs and it probably gives Platini & those at UEFA a full on boners to think of the money potential. So what am I talking about; a bigger Champions League? Well no, because the CL is NOT a league — it’s a copy of the World Cup format — I mean a League. Top three from each country go in; three relegated from league every year, or something. Obviously it’d be tough because you’d have periods where countries would be particularly dominant and would saturate the league, but I can’t help but see things going in this direction. The domestic leagues would be hacked off for sure, but experiments like the Premier League itself have shown how a super-league could work.

Rising football powers

It’s a common misconception that Football, aka Saaaccccceeerrrr, in the US is non-existent. It is overshadowed by just about every other sport in audience power and revenue generation, but it is growing. You have to see it to believe it though, school fields are saturated with kids playing the game from every age and both sexes. I know this because my Marin League team (the amusingly named West Tam Utd – after Mt Tamilpias in Mill Valley) gets regularly kicked off those same fields. Also the professional game in the US is growing. Major League Soccer (MLS) is probably pretty laughable to most Europeans, but it can be very entertaining, and the fact that it exists at all is testament to those that run the MLS.

In Europe you don’t have; NFL (which dwarfs all of Football in revenue generation), NBA, NHL, MLB etc. All of these major sports compete with each other for audiences. The fact that MLS exists at all while facing this competition for money/attention is amazing.

Ans now MLS is starting to attract numerous players in the ‘twilight’ of their careers. Obviously Beckham’s been plying his trade here, Henry too and there are quite a few others. These help draw in the crowds and give kids something to aim for out of the college system.

You see, college is where football in the USA has fallen down. I play with some very talented guys on my Saturday league team, many of whom played in college to a high level. But when they graduated they had no opportunity of a league system to go into. Now there is one, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see a home grown superstar player. No, not Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey, good players both, but I’m talking about an American Messi/Ronaldo/Zindane/Pele/Maradonna. Someone that’s so much better than everyone else he’ll provide that break out moment. Mark my words, when that happens Football will explode over here, American’s love a winner and there isn’t another country on the planet that can promote a superstar like they can here. This would be the MLS Linsanity moment.  I’d like to suggest that with big players headed to China fairly regularly that something similar is happening out there also but as I know nothing of the game out there I cannot comment on it – anyone that wants to contact us to enlighten me would be welcomed.

Audiences, TV & Technology

The next 10-20 are going to be most shaped by more globalisation, larger audiences and more money but in order to do this it will have to adopt technologies that FIFA/UEFA currently baulk at. I think this will happen with that wrinkly old corrupt fool Septic Bladder finally steps down as he’s been on some sort of crustade to stifle any sort of new technology getting into the game.

As audiences outside of Europe grow so does the shift of influence – again follow the money. By technology I don’t just mean for to help those poor hapless bastards that referee games, I mean how the game is watched, on what, and other such things, I’ll leave augmentation until the next piece. We all know technology can solve all the issues with the amount of cocks ups that the refs currently deal with but there is a real fear that it will allow ads into the game and this is an important point. The NFL was built for TV, every time a play stops they go to an ad break. This is why NFL is so rich. But I think it really does detract from the experience itself.

NFL, aka ‘American Football’ to those not here, is a breathtakingly brutal sport where players are encouraged to kick the snot out of each other. Don’t let the padding fool you, it’s there to allow them to hit harder and two 300lb guys hitting each other at high velocity is cringe worthy in the extreme. The reason it doesn’t catch on outside of America is, I believe, the ad breaks. After almost every play there’s 20-30 seconds of ads, it breaks up concentration and is really annoying. The DVR is changing this, most people I know that don’t go to a bar watch games on DVR-Delay and zip through the commercials. This is technology directly effecting the game because sponsors don’t want to pay a bagillion dollars to be zipped past.

Football must avoid anything like this happening; this is fear of destroying the ‘flow’ that those old farts allure too which is why we still don’t have instant replay in football. Stupid as the phrase ‘instant’ should give it away and it’d be easy for a 4th official to be able to watch the TV and make a decision. Some would STILL be wrong as it’s quite obviously down to interpretation of the rules, but the howlers would be gone and I’m sure there’s something technology can do about linesmen.

How about other technologies? Wearable technologies? As gadgets shrink they offer options that weren’t available before. How about cameras embedded into the turf? A ballcam? Instant computer analysis of trajectories and how hard the balls being hit? Info-nerds like Tim already love this stuff – but new cheap sensing technologies could make the availability of data-points explode.**

The last point to this is how our viewing habits will change. TV is the largest source of income for all clubs these days and this is only going to get bigger in my opinion. If you look at the disparity between Barca/Madrid in the Spanish leagues and the third placed team, you can see the corrupting influence. Barca and Madrid are allowed to negotiate their own TV deals whereas everyone in the Premier League does it via the league. This will change sooner or later and when clubs control their own rights their success or failure on the pitch and consistency will be even more important as will a Global fan base. This is why Arsenal’s efforts to appeal to Asia, Africa and the US are vital to the clubs future. There is a danger to relying on TV money – the interwebs. The internet is begging to take over regular TV, a point most obviously seen with the rise of Smart TV’s. If I wanted to here in the US I could pay $20 a month and watch Fox Soccer on my phone, my tablet or my laptop. I don’t have a Smart TV yet but when I eventually do, why would I then spend the same $20 a month to have the TV channel? This blurring of the lines between TV and Internet will revolutionise the way the game is watched and in doing so revolutionise the money involved. Why do you think the illegal streams we all used to rely on for non-televised games have all been crushed in the last 18 months? Ask yourself this – if there was an Arsenal channel that you could get ALL Arsenal games from Academy to the First Team in all competitions, would you buy it? I would and the first thing to go would be Fox Soccer and they’re irritatingly biased commentary.

This is the way it’s going people… but for the truly weird you must wait until the last piece on this that’s going to speculate on the truly strange.

Grimbo

*Ed. Note: Don’t be ridiculous, I’m no simple enchanter. I am Evil and I have the knowing of many things, even washing machines.
**Ed. Note: you will see an explosion of infographics and data laden analysis next season as several new programs hit the market.

What do you see?

Arsenal 2011-2012 Top Ten: 7 – Falling Down

We hate Tottenham, we hate Tottenham, we are the Tottenham haters. Yes.

I also know what we think of Tottenham, thank you very much.

But what do we think of Chelsea?

News broke this week that Chelsea signed Eden Hazard for £80m, which include ludicrous “post tax” salary requirements, and at least £6m in agents fees as the player was shopped around from team to team; playing Man U off Arsenal off Man City off Chelsea just like Samir Nasri did last season. This just after the club paid a record £50m transfer fee for Fernando Torres. After a season where they bought a world class playmaker in Juan Mata: stealing him from under Arsenal’s noses with offers of insane contracts and agents fees that would make the average working man wonder why he’s paying £100 to watch a football game.

Chelsea have wanted to be Arsenal for all 9 years of their glorious history. They haven’t found a player on their own, they haven’t developed a player on their own, they haven’t even created their own playing style; they have simply stolen any idea that Arsenal ever had, threw 100x the money at that idea and watched it grow into trophies. So, while I do hate Tottenham and when I think of shit I think of Spurs, I can’t help but hate Chelsea more.

This hatred is compounded by geography. There is one Spurs supporter here, but there are hundred of Chelsea supporters. And they are all horrible people. The kind of people who call John Terry “a treasure”.

So, if anything, Arsenal beating Chelsea 5-3 at Stamford Bridge, with John Terry falling down to concede a wide-open goal, should be higher than number 7 on the top ten moments of the season. That it isn’t is more testament to just how crazy this season was and detracts not one iota from this marvelous match.

The game started wide open. Ramsey got behind the Chelsea defense on a throw in and as he got to the end line dragged the ball back. Fortunately for Chelsea, it fell harmlessly to Ashley Cole who cleared easily.

On the other end of the pitch both Cole and Sturridge were abusing Arsenal’s makeshift fullbacks first with Cole forcing Mertesacker into a sliding clearance and then eventually Sturridge getting free and playing what should have been the opener to Torres, but for some nervous passing on the Englishman’s part.

It was end to end action as Theo was put into a one-v-one with A. Cole and he beat the former Arsenal man easily, placed a perfect cross, only for Gervinho’s infamous finishing to let him down. A minute later, another cross from Theo, this one curled deliciously from the top of the box in to Robin van Persie, went to nothing as Robin missed an open chance. Warnings were chimed, however, Theo, Robin and Gervinho were in the mood and Chelsea’s back four looked suspiciously like they were rattled by revelations that their captain and savior is a racist (allegedly).

Unlike, Gervinho, Frank Lampard wouldn’t miss. Arsenal had targeted Juan Mata to replace Cesc Fabregas this summer and in this game you could see why. The diminutive playmaker opened the Chelsea account with a wonderfully curled ball that just dipped over Mertesacker’s mistimed/misjudged clearance and fell to the massive square head of a diving Frank Lampard who placed his shot perfectly into the corner.

It was 1-0 to the home team and I felt it was going to be game over for Arsenal. I’ve just seen it too many times where the Arsenal are opening the opposition up like a can of tuna and letting glorious chances go begging, then on the other end of the pitch they get a goal off some sloppy defending. The Arsenal team then go into their shell and if we have learned anything about Chelsea it’s that when they get a lead, they will kick you into the ground to keep it.

And if Sturridge’s one-v-one with Szczesny, which came while Arsenal were still in shock from the opening goal, had gone anywhere near the target we might have been talking about a different result and a much different end of the season.

There was a weird atmosphere in Stamford Bridge. The nearly sold out crowd was quite subdued, almost as if they thought they had this game in hand. So,  when Ramsey played a great pass to Gervinho who chipped the ball back around Cech to Robin for a wide open goal the fact that Stamford Bridge was mostly quiet was a bit eerie.

Cool as you like, Chelsea justified their supporters’ demeanor and came right back as John Terry bundled home a corner kick to get the game 2-1. Mertesacker was again caught flat footed in the box and looked amateurish.

In fact, Per looked like he couldn’t make his mind up how to play the ball in the air all afternoon. I remember lamenting how a man of his size could be so terrible in the air? But after looking at the stats and seeing how all of Arsenal’s center backs take a year to adjust to the aerial game in the Premier League, I have decided that he will get better as he bulks up a bit (like Koz did), learns to use his body more effectively, and times his jumps better. The Bundesliga teaches defenders to stop pacy dribblers with good positioning and tackling, the Premier League is a place where hoofball teams like Stoke City can be successful. Per needed a year to get acclimated.

The first half ended like that, with John Terry leaping into the open arms of Frank Lampard in a contrived celebration of “relief” at the “hell” Terry had been through. In case you had forgotten, the story that day was how much mental strength it took for Terry to play so soon after he had been accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand.

From what I understand a new culture had been forged at Arsenal under Robin’s leadership. This is a “Dutch” culture, one in which players need to be free to speak their minds and call a player out when they feel he isn’t giving his all to the cause. I also heard tell that there was a meeting at half-time of the Chelsea game among the Arsenal players and that stuff was said.

It’s evident that something got this Arsenal team riled up because they came out of the tunnel roaring to go and this time it wasn’t just offensively, they were pressing all over the pitch as well.

Arsenal’s second goal came off a Chelsea throw in. The Stamford Bridge crowd were sleepily tucking in to their Headhunter’s Cheese and Pickle sandwiches while Djourou dispossessed Lampard on the throw, passed to Song, who took one touch around Mata and passed one of his 11 assists into acres of space where St. Andre was running. The Brazilian took one touch and nutmegged Cech, then did a simple Samba in front of the Arsenal supporters.

Chelsea still played like the game was in hand and in a way it was. A sleepy little chip from Lampard played Sturridge in behind the Arsenal fullbacks and Szczesny came rushing out of goal to clip the attacker. Andre Marriner gave a yellow card to the keeper and truth be told, Szczesny was a bit lucky to stay on the pitch after that.

But Arsenal came right back and after A. Cole fouled Walcott, the free kick was taken while Cole was still moaning like a drain at the official. Walcott tried to dribble past Cole, only to have his legs taken in what was clearly an angry foul by the defender. But Marriner waved play on. Theo stayed on his feet like a prize fighter who has been rocked but refused to go down. Then he sped past that great cunt of a man (A. Cole of course) and lashed in a wonderful short side goal. The whole sequence betrayed a Chelsea side who are old, whiney, and not nearly as good as they think they are.

Arsenal were out front for the first time in the game at 3-2 but it wouldn’t last long. Santos gave the ball away easily and then was boxed out by Mikel as Mata dribbled through the Arsenal midfield. Song came sliding in to take the ball but it looked like Mata got the shot off just a millisecond before the tackle and his looping wondergoal put the Blues level at 3-all. It’s a wondergoal because it’s the kind of goal that I just wonder about. How do these goals just keep happening to Arsenal? And in big games too? Danny Rose, Tiote, Essien, all scored long range shots that should never have gone in. But they did and still do. Despite controlling possession and limiting the opposition to the fewest shots in the League (for several years now) Arsenal have a propensity for allowing the opposition the worst shots per goals ratio. Teams don’t get a bunch of chances on Arsenal, typically, but they score goals anyway.

Then IT happened.

Now that the season has ended, I’m convinced that John Terry fell over on purpose. Knowing that he couldn’t beat Robin for pace and not wanting to look like he didn’t try, he just took a dive. “Sorry lads” he could say while giving Essien a wedgie “that bloody groundskeeper should be fired for watering that part of the pitch too much.”

I came to this conclusion because of what he did to get sent off ahead of the Champions League final. There is no other explanation for why John Terry, a player who has played in well over 400 games as a professional, would intentionally knee Alexis Sanchez except that he didn’t want to play in that final. He had to know that the cameras were watching. He had to know that Sanchez would complain. He had to know that he wouldn’t play. And he had to bank on the good will of his teammates to let him play dress up and parade around with the trophy if they did win.

Which they did.

And people wonder why I hate Chelsea.

Robin rounded Cech and coolly tapped in the 4th goal. Then got the 5th as Arsenal broke from a set piece: Rosicky tapping to Arteta, who drove the team forward, and played in Robin at the perfect moment for him to destroy Cech with a wonderfully curling effort.

It was a game that had everything and it was remarkable not just because of Terry falling over, not just for the Mata wondergoal, not just because Robin scored a hat trick, not just because Theo Walcott destroyed A. Cole twice, or because Song’s wonderful pass gave Santos his first Arsenal goal, but because winning at Stamford Bridge is always something I love seeing Arsenal pull off. And I don’t care if it takes two offside goals from Robin, John terry falling down, pieces of Sputnik raining down on the pitch and injuring all XI Chelsea players, or even if Arsenal have to allow three goals to get five. Just beating them and their billions of pounds in front of their celery tossing supporters is always going to be a golden moment.

And it was only my 7th best moment of this season.

Qq

Grim Thoughts: Divining the Future of Football part 2 – what’s happening now.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs

Happy Geek Pride day Gooners: This is part two of a piece I’ve been inspired to write by many a twitterfight with fellow fans that are in my opinion not looking at the whole Arsenal vs. the world in the wrong light – we need to look at Arsenal’s place in the future as well as in the here & now. If you haven’t read the first piece then please click here as this will make much more sense with the backdrop. Again I’d like to reiterate that I’m not here to argue about whether this is good or bad, nor is anything I’m saying to be used as a Wenger we trust/rust argument – I am simply stating the facts in a timeline as I see them and understand them. Now with that as a backdrop let me get a few things out of the way so that I may write clearly for the rest of this piece: To all those Totteringham fans out there that were gloating earlier in the year with the “Mind the Gap” bollocks – Karma’s a bitch eh?

In the last piece I gave you some background to what I’m going to say in this part of the divination but please read this follow on with an open mind. Futurism is something I do for fun in my work life. I have many thoughts based on the observations of not just Football but Sport & the Entertainment business in general, so some of the platitudes are going to come from outside the game, and some of it will concern how you & I watch the game. So I’m aware some of this will read weird, but just bear with me, it’ll make sense in the end. At the heart of all of these ideas is one universal constant – no not the speed of light in a vacuum (three Geeks are laughing at that), something man made and very dangerous: Money.

The global-world-wide-interweb-super-information-highway

Actually that’s a bit misleading; money is the root cause of a lot of these predictions but only in tandem with the biggest thing to hit human society since the printing press, the interwebs.

The web is impacting everything we do, watch and interact with. It might sound like a rather obvious statement but people (especially you young whipper-snappers) take the web, smart phones, social networking, twitter etc. completely for granted and don’t seem to realise how it changes our behaviour, our viewing habits, and how it even impacts the game.

The internet is powerful but can it change a clubs ownership? Get a manager fired? How about we ask Hicks/Gillett how they feel about that or England’s new manager? Of course it’s oversimplification to say that the interwebs did that by itself; the fans booed & blogged, the press went bonkers, and it all forced public opinion against the consortium and in turn the confidence of the banks that held all the clubs debt against Hicks/Gillett.  The internet didn’t push them out, but it DID allow the organisation and distribution of the antagonism that did. Has the penny dropped yet? If you think the web’s powerful now you wait until the next stage – the internet of everything (now we’re getting into my work world) – Google it, if you’re like me you’ll freak out a bit.

It will connect everything with everything, everyone and every place, with the web. The web has given us all a voice and I think it’s positive, mostly. It has opened the football world to scrutiny from all sides, with the nasty side effect being short term-ism; win now, pay later. This is unprecedented in the game – that fans could oust a manager or a whole ownership structure by will of words.

Money, money, money

OK – back to money. Money is the big polluter in sport. When a game goes from Amateur to Professional it stops being about the sport and starts being about the money. In the first piece I alluded to the 1, 2, 3 program of club growth that Mr. Abramobitch totally fucked up, but there are other effects of this influx of cash: The Contract cycle.

Now that there are clubs out there that can essentially afford anything a player might ask financially speaking it has upped the expectation of ALL players. Let’s take Robin van Persie as a case in point. RvP is a player I love to watch, so this is no reflection on his character but I keep reading that he has ‘earned’ his possible 130k a week contract and I have a hard time justifying it in context to the club. When Henry earned his bumper contract, he had in fact EARNED it – he’d played his socks off for 7 years and had been instrumental in the most successful run we’d had in recent times.

RvP has been on the treatment table for a large chunk of his time with us and has had an 18 month purple patch – and yet people think he’s earned it? I’m not saying his injuries are his fault, but neither are they Arsenals. The only reason he’s being offered this money is so that he doesn’t do a Flamoney and fuck off for free next year. In context of what he’s done on the pitch, he has NOT ‘earned’ it, but in context to the fact that he can earn double elsewhere with the mindless cash clubs like Citeh or Chel$ki paying whatever, then he has earned it.

This is how the limitless funds available to the nouveau riche are completely fucking up the system. They force fiscally responsible clubs to break wage structures just to keep their good players – essentially rewarding potential over actual performance. It also forces the clubs to offer ever more lengthy contracts and at a younger age. This is why we keep getting lumbered with Bendtners – fear of them doing a Na$ri. Again – the players have the clubs over a barrel and know it.

The side effect of this is that ALL clubs barring those with bottomless pockets are now ‘feeder’ clubs, yes there I said it. ALL clubs – that includes Madrid and Barca too, because now that they can’t be bailed out by the Spanish Government any more their days of limitless spending are at an end… this is why Barca have reverted to tapping up players (looking at you Cesc) because they can’t afford to pay true market value (i.e. potential value vs. actual) against the fiscally irresponsible numpties who will pay someone like Na$ri  170k a week. Don’t get me wrong, I think Nasri has the potential to be a great player (I just threw up a bit in my mouth), but how does a six month hot streak justify that outlay?

The problem is perspective; you and I would probably not dream of dropping 60k on a Breitling watch, but if you had 100 million quid in the bank, 60 grand is about 2 days compound interest – this is why Citeh pay stupid money for players. The rule of thumb in this and any business is: you can only ever be as profitable as your most stupid competitor and unless FIFA/UEFA grow a pair of balls and introduce salary caps or some other method of player market stabilisation it’ll carry on getting worse.

Business models

So what does all this mean for us? There are two choices in modern football – copy the Citeh Model and try and find a benefactor that will pump silly money into the club, or constantly reinvent the team. The latter is the approach that’s been taken by pretty much every club in France who are seemingly picked apart every transfer window, because they cannot hope to compete, even with the responsible members of the rich list such as Arsenal. With Arsenal being such a well known club it’d be a very expensive proposition for a billionaire to outright buy the club – that’s why Usmanov hasn’t just dropped a couple billion on us already, and while on that subject don’t expect him too. Also I don’t expect us to get the Citeh/Chel$ki treatment, from anyone.

The buy the league model is based on two key factors: 1) buy a mid league club with half decent facilities 2) throw money at it. It’s not just that the costs involved with buying an already successful club are prohibitive, but that the PR value from buying an underdog and making them top dog will trump buying a success and continuing that success ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. The established clubs are instead being bought by Sports Businessmen such has been the case with ManUre, Scouserpool and ourselves.

On that point Usmanov is nothing like Abramovich in my opinion. Abramovich is a control freak egomanic and Chel$ki is his personal plaything, something he may well actually take pride in the way Dr. No liked his piranhas. Usmanov is all about making money. Abramovich’s motivation surrounds the fact that owning Chel$ki gets him the sort of attention and notoriety that’s usually reserved for complete media-whores like Donald Trump, but without him having to resort to the humiliating Cuntery that Trump is well known for (those in the US know what I mean – anyone outside won’t have his perma-tanned visage shoved down your throats as much).

The alternative is to be a selling club for now and continue to grow the club organically until we can compete with the Citeh’s using our own resources, think of the tortoise and the hare. Arsenal can still attain the cash heights of Clubs like Madrid through steady growth, shrewd business plays and out thinking the opposition. Selling club is used as an insult by other fans, to which I say Bollocks – you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you cannot win against big spending by fighting fire with fire, you have to take a different strategy and walk to the river to find a bucket.

So if we can’t compete on level terms then we have to accept that we have to let go of a few concepts like player loyalty and the expectation that we’ll be in the market for a Ronaldo, Aguero or Hazard in the short term at least.

However, it has to be said; have we ever been? The Arsenal way has never involved buying the talent at its peak and having an array of stars, that’s ManUre’s business model and I think the Citeh/Chel$ki situation will hurt them far more then it will us. They are way out of their depth in debt and losing the league the way they did this season will have a knock on effect to their bottom line as will going out of the CL at the group stage. ManUre’s business model was based on always winning, and it worked for a short while, but they didn’t win squat this season and stand to lose a BIG chunk of change. This is why they’re being floated again but in a world where Facebook stock can take a shit, and Europe looks like it’s tanking again who’d want to be public? Yeh they’re being floated in Singapore, but anyone in the markets will tell you that they’re all co-dependent.

Gooners should NOT despair at not being able to compete with the stupid money clubs because there is a inherent risk in playing that game – escalation. Citeh were bought as a direct result of Chel$ki’s success. It’s my belief that the Abu Dhabi consortium saw what Abramovich got for his money – global fame, PR worth Billions – and they wanted the same for themselves. Ask yourself, who the fuck had heard of Abu Dhabi before they bought Citeh? How about Etihad airlines? Did you know they were the richest of the United Arab Emirates? I did because they bought the manufacturing operation of Chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) a few months before they bought Citeh and the cynic in me cannot help but think it’s a very big marketing exercise. We’ve already seen others come in any try to do the same thing; QPR is owned by the same guy as the Caterham (Lotus until last year) F1 team, Blackburn by the Venky’s, though neither of those is working out because they’re not prepared to go all out and remove the limits on spending. Someone will though; Paris Saint Germain are 70% owned by a Qatari investment company (notice the Oil link here?) and will probably succeed in winning Ligue 1 sooner rather than later. How long before the REAL oil men in Saudi Arabia come in? They’ve got enough cash to buy Abu Dhabi AND Qatar.

If the club-buying continues I think we could see a situation similar to what happened to F1 in the last decade or so. Manufacturers watched in envy as Ferrari got so much publicity mileage out of the Schumacher era winning 5 titles and wanted a piece of the action themselves. Honda, Toyota, Ford, BMW all bought teams and started pumping hundreds of millions into them until two things happened: 1) they didn’t win 2) they realised that the returns were not worth the outlay. Then they started getting out in the same scrambled manner as particularly violent fart victims escape a lift.

Chel$ki and Citeh are the early adopters and have proven that buying the league can not only be done, that it can be done repeatedly – same now goes for the Champions League. However, success breeds imitation and if others start to buy up other mid-table clubs and inject untold millions into them the already tough Premier League will become a VERY difficult place indeed.

The other issue with the Abu Dhabi money is my suspicion that if this is indeed a marketing exercise, then it’s going to be short to mid-term at best. You see marketing is a tool that does a job, when that job succeeds and the job is done, the tool is usually abandoned – you see this in marketing cycles all the time. Let’s say Citeh keep winning everything for the next 5 years – will Abramovich stick around and continue to sink his money into Chel$ki? How about if Chel$ki win everything – or we finally get a break from goalposts, referees and linesmen? Food for thought no?

Players, players, players

And so to the players again: as with any power struggle there are knock on effects. Cause and effect. Cold War = Industrial military complex. Rise of Terrorism = Boom in security technologies. Clubs who don’t value money = mega agents. The above has been recognised by players and their advisors and is in turn leading to the end of the one-club player, players that are not interested in us fans at all, not interested in their countries and are just interested in PERSONAL silverware.

Players like Tony Adams are already a thing of the past, hell players only playing for 2 clubs are going to become a thing of the past – and in their place? It pains me to say it but Ibrahimovich is the model that young players may well aspire too. He’s won almost everything on the club scale and is the ultimate expression of mercenary player. He’s made several high profile, big money moves and has made his agent/agents a FUCKLOAD of cash. This is not to judge it because as much as I don’t personally like him, you can’t deny he’s a hell of a footballer and HAS won almost everything. He is only 30 years old and has played for 6 clubs already – 5 of those being CL teams; FIVE! No don’t hate the player – hate the game, even if the player is a lanky, big nosed twonk.

The fact is that players used to compete for the attention of clubs. Now with almost every league in the Universe being televised, the player has become a commodity to be bought & sold around the globe. Like any commodity you milk the hell out of it while the stock’s high and while you can. Modern players realise this, they have 20 years on the outside edge to make their impact on the game. In that time they hope to etch their names in the history books alongside the greats but what they don’t seem to realise is what made players great is not what they seemingly think. They want to be universally admired, not by one fanbase but by the world. What happens if you ask fans of Malmö FF, Ajax, Juventus, Internazionale, Barcelona and Milan if they think Ibra is a Legend? I think you’ll get “he was a great player but not a legend” – see my previous post on defining legend for my thoughts on that.

So business models are evolving, players are in charge and the worlds going to hell in a handbag – what does this mean for the game at large? Well for that my dear friends you must wait on part 3 where I’m going to go all weirdo on you and postulate on the trends of money, technology, and globalisation.

Adios Amigos

Grimbo