France Football released their list of the highest paid players and highest paid coaches in world football today and you might be surprised to learn that Robin van Persie did not make the list while Arsene Wenger is the fourth highest paid coach in the world. Alternately, if you have followed Arsenal for any time and have been moderately awake for the last 10 years then neither of those facts will surprise you but they might instead cause you consternation.
One would have to be intentionally obtuse to see Robin’s omission from the world’s top 20 highest paid players as anything other than a function of his career arc combined with Arsenal’s salary structure. There is no doubt that Robin is in the top 5 players in the world right now in terms of quality but the reason he’s not in the top 20 in terms of salary is down to the fact that in the years leading up to this, he spent far too much time injured to warrant a new contract.
Robin van Persie’s previous career high in terms of appearances came in 2008-2009 where he made 44 appearances and scored 20 goals. After the success of that season, van Persie signed a new contract with Arsenal. He then spent the next year and a half sidelined with various injuries, including a broken foot caused by Georgio Chiellini whilst playing for Holland in an international friendly. From June 2009 — when he signed his new contract with Arsenal — to January 2011, Robin van Persie would score just 11 goals for Arsenal in 30 total appearances.
We don’t know what could have been had Robin been healthy for that year and a half. Perhaps he would have scored 20+ goals a season in each of them and been rewarded last year with another, bigger, contract extension. What we do know is that he was injured, he wasn’t producing goals for his team, and that Arsenal had no logical reason to give him the bumper contract.
Robin has emerged from his injury hell not only as one of the top footballers in the world but also as one of the best captains in world football. The power duo of Robin and his wife Bouchra deserve massive credit for Arsenal’s turnaround this season. If Arsenal secure fourth or third in the League this season, Robin and his wife deserve a share of the credit.
One final thought on van Persie: Arsenal should take note of some of the salaries on that table and especially the fact that they combine salary with endorsement deals. I know that Peter Hill-Wood said that for Robin “salary doesn’t matter” but if you’re a player and you see Kun Aguero earning £300,000 a week (£16m per annum) you might be disappointed if Arsenal come in with some ridiculous low-ball offer.
Unlike Robin van Persie, Arsene Wenger has been very consistent for the Arsenal board for 14 years running which at least partially explains why he is earning €9m - or £7.5m- a year.
The temptation is to look at the names on the list of the top 10 football managers and wonder how Wenger is earning his keep when he “hasn’t won a trophy for six years.” After all, you see Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, and Sir Alex Ferguson on there, earning top dollar while winning trophies and it’s an easy association. But here’s the list:
- Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid) €14.8m
- Carlo Ancelotti (PSG) €13.5m
- Pep Guardiola (Barcelona) €9.5m
- Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) €9m
- Guus Hiddink (Anzhi Makhachkala) €8.6m
- Fabio Capello (England, formerly) €8.5m
- Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) €8m,
- Dick Advocaat (Russia) €7m
- Jose Antonio Camacho (China) €6.1m
- Roberto Mancini (Manchester City) €5.9m
If you ignore Pep, Jose, Ancelotti, and Fergie for a moment there are a number of names on that list who haven’t won much in the last six years. Hiddink is seen as the savior of Chelsea and yet his only trophy for that team was the FA Cup. Capello won la Liga with Real Madrid in 2007 and his two previous trophies with Juventus were both revoked because of the Calciopoli scandal. And Camacho’s only trophy is that he won the Portuguese Cup in 2004.
I would argue that those teams are paying for how good they believe that coach to be and that in most cases the belief doesn’t match the reality. Capello, in particular, is easily the most overpaid manager on that list. For a guy whose job was to manage just a handful of games*, £7m a year is obscene.
With Wenger, though, those who are drawn to criticize the manager will point to his salary, the lack of trophies, and the poor performance in the early part of this season and will say things like “if I performed that poorly on my job, for that salary, I’d be fired!”
The problem with that criticism is that it doesn’t take into consideration all of the factors that are considered for Arsene’s pay package. For example, Wenger’s high salary is almost certainly tied to the fact that he is the most successful manager in Arsenal’s 125 year history, the fact that he has built that success on the back of a financial model which no other coach apart from Fergie could accomplish, and on the financial results he’s able to deliver to the club.
I don’t know too many people who could argue that Arsene isn’t the most successful manager in Arsenal history: two doubles, the Invincibles, 2 more FA Cups, 4 Charity Shields and 14 consecutive Champions League seasons leaves Arsene Wenger peerless among Arsenal managers. That leaves people with the last 6 years without a trophy to beat the man with. Which is fair enough as I’m sure Wenger would criticize himself for a lack of trophies over the last six years.
Wenger would, however, ask you to consider the context of those last six years. It’s been a period of growth for the club in terms of building a new stadium and a period in which the League has seen explosive growth in player salaries, transfers and in the cost of running a Premier League club. In that context, Wenger has been asked to operate the team with a limited budget and in fact, has been expected to turn something of a profit in order to help pay down the stadium debt.
Arsenal’s financial results are well known and freely available for you to download so I’m not going to cover that ground once again. I would just like to point out that operating profit from football (excluding player trading, exceptional items, and depreciation) was £56.8m in 2010 and the profit from player sales in 2010 was £38.1m. 2011 saw a dip in profits from football to £45.8m and in profit from player sales to a measly £6.8m. You can go back through all of the years of Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal and you’ll see similarly strong financial results: the fact is that Wenger’s system of football and his transfer nous delivers massive profits to the club. Arsenal supporters often get bogged down in deals like the one which brought Park Chu-Young to the club and cost a possible £6m when the deals they should be talking about constantly are the ones that saw Adebayor, Toure, Clichy, and Nasri sold to Man City for insane profits.
So, what do you pay a manger who not only fields a team which is competitive on most fronts (they beat Barcelona in the Champions League last year) but who also delivers massive profits to the board in player sales and in gate receipts? I don’t know but if you just look at player sales between 2010 and 2011 and divide it by his annual salary of £7.5m, he’s paid for 7 years of his own salary just in player sales — in those two years alone. And that was before the debacle of this summer with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
There are more complicated metrics by which you can measure how valuable Arsene Wenger is to the team and the club. For example, Zach Slaton’s M£XI metric suggests that Arsene Wenger is one of the top performers in the Premier League in terms of squad costs** per point. If M£XI is correct then Wenger is not only performing in terms of profits for the board but also in terms of getting maximum value from the players he uses on the pitch in terms of points per game.
So, what do you pay a manager like Arsene Wenger? The guy who is the most successful manager in the history of the club both on the pitch and in the board room? £7.5m doesn’t seem like a stretch at all.
In the end, the issue of Robin van Persie and Arsene Wenger’s relative salaries is not going to go away any time soon. I suspect that for some the arguments I have laid out here will be nothing more than brickbats for which to beat the manager, the team, the club, and the board. But for me, I see the logic why each is paid what they earn.
Oh… and one last thing: please, pay Robin whatever he wants. There’s nothing wrong with a little illogic every once in a while. As they say, “all things in moderation, even moderation.”
*I’m fully aware of a national manager’s other responsibilities: watching to games, learning English, giving interviews three times a year, doing stuff for the whole national team set up. It must have been very taxing — especially when you consider that a real football manager does all that, plus manages 50+ games a year.
**Most people use the Soccernomics model of salary v. League position, Zach’s model uses squad value instead and it’s intriguing in the results he shows. Read the entire article and look at his back catalog if you have the time. Full disclosure, Zach and I are supposed to do a joint article on this topic which I was hoping to have out before the France Football list of top earners but which was sidelined.