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


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About Grimbo

Transplanted to the San Francisco bay area eight years ago, Grimbo is a Londoner by birth although one that was born on the wrong side of the River Thames. He survives the immense sunlight exposure of North California by being coated in sunblock and regularly marinaded in beer, he hopes that one day his immense freckle collection will all join together so that he can claim to be tanned. He’s both a player and sometime manager of Sunday League clubs all over the region and semi regular patron of Maggie McGarry’s in San Francisco, home to the infamous Bay Area Gooners many of whom marvel at his ability to scream “you c**t” in the correct accent while remaining blissfully ignorant of how unacceptable the c-bomb is to those around him.

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

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

    Great write up Grimbo and I am of the same persuasion with respect to the growth and expansion of football being used as a means of international branding.

    You did omit a somewhat under the radar purchase of Malaga by a member of the Qatari Royal Family, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani. He purchased it for peanuts and got many government concessions and is in the process of creating a new stadium, retail, sports and entertainment complex.

    Many of these oil people are also looking beyond the expiration of their oil deposits or expiration of oil being a precious commodity and venturing into main stream global products. Usmanov showed his savvy by moving into FB and also has large investments in Google.

    Looking forward to Part 3.

  2. Vote -1 Vote +1jaymin

    Excellent piece Grimbo, required reading. really elucidates what has happened to footy in the EPL between the era in which organically grown clubs relied on their revenues to fund triumphs to the Abromovic era in which glory is essentially granted to a team by massive, irrational investment. At least in horse racing, the horse’s owner makes money! I don’t know if that’s true, maybe most lose money in the pursuit of vanity and then shrug it off like a $47,000 lunch to an oligarch!

    Anyway, it’s sadly apparent, especially with City able to do as it likes, Malaga and PSG not far behind, that this, irrationally propped up megaclubs winning everything in sight, is where football is headed. You know there are swaths of other multibillionires waiting greedily for the glazers and john henry to gasp at the wanton stupidity of trying to make money in this european league, sells them United and Liverpool. Maybe it’s not long until Kroenke does the same to our rich guy. logic has no function in football anymore, or less, anyway. Roman will own Battersea, PSG will finally rule Ligue 1, City will own the EPL until United are bought out, etc. It’s all very depressing to think about how boring this european game is going to become, even if we are invited to the big table and acquired ourselves.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1Caribkid

    All this money and acquisition will probably see the forming of super leagues based by continent which will eventually evolve into an international super league.

    Fortunately, if handled right, Arsenal has the infrastructure and the potential to exist in that scenario.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

    Well, you do live up to your name Grim~bo. I hope that the part 3 will bring a bit of light at the tunnel.

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1BCS

    Great write-up. In spite of the subject matter, I am eager to read part 3, although I might need anti-depressants afterwards.

  6. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1ickenhamgooner

    Qatar is different to Abu Dhabi, I believe. Although they have gas deposits to die for (no oil), they are trying to establish the country as a sports centre and have invested in a number of high profile global events. This is there counterplay for when the gas runs out (in about 200 yrs at current usage).

    Like a number of Middle East countries they are trying to look to the future – Dubai was the first in trying to create a holiday environment for external cash – although it should be noted that were already very reliant on the other UAE states as they had not oil anyway.

    This secondary business model is very UAE/Qatar, and I do not think the other main oil payers (Saudi, Kuwait, Iraq – even IRAN – god forbid) will follow the same sports route.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1ickenhamgooner

      Oops. I meant to say that Qatar and Abu Dhabi are very similar in their sports strategies which is very different to other Arab states.

  7. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1buckagh

    A good read Grimbo, its what a lot of real football people I know have been saying for quite some time now. Good to see it put on the record. I note that the Chinese are starting to lure top players with caseloads of cash.
    Superleagues could be a fact of life in a decade or so. As you say its up to
    Uefa/Fifa to manage this but I wouldn’t put much faith in either.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    Well done.

    Your omission of any reference to FIFA’s economic “reforms” in relation to the current business model is curious. Is it a non-starter unworthy of comment, or will you address it in Part 3?

    As for “The global-world-wide-interweb-super-information-highway”, it does have a democratizing influence on everything, whether substantial or marginal. On that scale footy is probably toward the latter than the former, but over time it will slide toward the middle, at a point where hard financial decisions may indeed be made with the additional data points for lack of a better term, ” of fan opinion”. But let’s not anyone of us hold our breaths on that happening tomorrow.

    On another unrelated note, while I genuinely enjoy reading and responding to supporters (all across the world, no less!) on truly well-written blogs, and responding instantly to a great goal or devastating loss via Twitter, any mystique left in the entertainment or sporting world is long gone and that is somewhat of a loss.

    I remember when my older brother brought the untitled Led Zeppelin (IV) album home. No lyrics, no pictures of the band, not even a QR code! I was a very little boy but was intensely curious who was making the grand and glorious noise and why. I had no idea who they were, that they were English or even how many were in the band. On some tracks it sounded like it was a hundred people playing, on others just a few. It was a process of slow discovery over the years as I grew up. Not that I’m about to give up the Internet or “7 am Kick Off” anytime soon, but I really miss that lack of mystique in the 21st century of, to co-opt from an Eagles tune, “everything, all the time”.

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1Mehdi

    That was one of the most sophisticated pieces of journalism I’ve ever read!
    A far cry from the now usual EXCLUSIVE!s that are another disgusting byproduct of this change in football

  10. +1 Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    Jaymin @ 10:04,

    Thanks for the link. Really enjoyed it. Inspired me to dig out the old mix tapes I made for my wife 20 years ago. Luckily she hasn’t take n a hammer to them (yet). No wha do I do about all the Arsenal stuff on my PVR that she wants to erase?

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