If Liverpool win the League will it validate or repudiate Arsenal’s philosophy?

It looks like Liverpool are going to win the League for the first time in 24 years. And it looks like they are going to win the League after having forcibly kept their best player, with the fifth highest salary, and with a transfer policy that has spent money but not the huge sums that clubs like Chelsea, Man U, and Man City have spent. And after they win the League, Arsenal supporters need to prepare themselves for a summer of comparisons between the two clubs. But are the comparisons fair?

Perhaps the biggest link between the two clubs is over Liverpool’s star player, Luis Suarez. This summer Arsenal tried to buy Suarez after they were informed that the player had a £40m release clause. Liverpool’s owners famously asked “what are they smoking?” after the Gunners put in a £40m+1 bid for the Uruguayan but despite the bluster of John Henry Arsenal felt certain that the bid was enough to activate Suarez’ release clause.

Liverpool publicly denied that Arsenal’s bid was enough to force a transfer but behind the scenes, they were sweating because as it turns out Suarez did have a release clause and Liverpool were gambling big that he wouldn’t force through the transfer in the courts. Now that the dust has settled and Suarez is their star player, John Henry has publicly bragged that Liverpool essentially refused to honor Suarez’ contract. Henry posited that if players can refuse to honor their contracts with clubs by demanding trades — like Arsenal’s star players had done for the three seasons prior — then clubs shouldn’t honor the contracts either.

Some Arsenal fans now wish that their club had done the same with Robin van Persie the year earlier but the situations were vastly different between all four parties. With van Persie, Arsenal had a caustic character who was captain of the club yet involved in fist fights with the younger players. Van Persie’s demand to leave the club was sent via a letter to the fans which publicly remonstrated the entire Arsenal management team and ownership structure. Robin’s tenure at the club had become untenable. Suarez’ come and get me was done via an interview and was perhaps the most anodyne transfer request in the history of the sport. Whereas van Persie’s letter was a “hey guys, Arsenal suck, trade me” Suarez’ interview was “hey guys, I wish Liverpool would just honor their contract.”

Van Persie and Suarez’ situations were very different, for me the better comparison is Suarez and Cesc Fabregas. Van Persie was on the final year of his contract and threatening to destabilize the team with his attitude (just like he is doing at Manchester United now) and the fact that he would publicly sign for another club mid-season. Meanwhile, both Cesc and Suarez were still on a long term deals when their transfer sagas went down.

Moreover, Cesc and Suarez were both the heart and soul of their teams. You can see what Suarez means to his team just in terms of goals and assists and Fabregas nearly took Arsenal to a League title in 07/08 and the club were a backheel away from beating Barcelona in the Champions League. Since Cesc left, Arsenal have struggled offensively in the Premier League and the Champions League with their shots per game averages dipping drastically and with the club barely ambling in to the Champions League places instead of challenging for the League title.

Cesc was also sold for a song, Barcelona’s then president bragging that Cesc was worth €60m instead of the €40m they paid. Suarez has since renegotiated his contract and a new release clause has been added which doubles his value. In hindsight, getting Luis Suarez, who is leading his team to their first title in 24 years, for £40,000,001 would have been the deal of the century.

Cesc left Arsenal to join his boyhood club and fulfill his lifelong ambition to be a starting midfielder for Barcelona and it was classy of Arsenal to let him do that, especially after the player went on strike and had his entire country tapping him up to go home. Arsenal made no fuss, they simply negotiated the best deal they could and got on with life. Liverpool on the other hand were classless in their dealings, refusing to honor a player’s contract and publicly mocking Arsenal’s offer with their “what are they smoking???” jibes.

The other comparison that will be made between the two clubs is over the fact that Liverpool, supposedly, haven’t spent a ton of money to win the trophy. I say supposedly because in actual fact Liverpool have spent quite a bit of money and have been very wasteful with that money, especially in the transfer market.

Prior to the current ownership regime, Liverpool were so grossly mismanaged by the owners Hicks and Gillette that the banks forced the sale of the club to the current owners at what amounted to a cut rate price. The current ownership group has moved the club’s debts onto other companies that they own and gotten the books to look a bit better in the process but Liverpool are still a team that spends far more money than they earn and they spend most of that money in wages and transfers.

Their wage bill may “only” be the 5th highest in the land but at one point it was an astonishing 70% of their annual turnover. They have reduced that percentage to 60% over the last few years but that hasn’t stopped the club from posting a net loss of £49m this season. That loss takes Liverpool’s three year losses to almost £150m and means that when they apply to play in the Champions League next season, they will probably have to pay a hefty fine. UEFA could refuse them entry in the tournament and if there ever was a team that should be denied based on the Financial Fair Play rules, it would have to be Liverpool. After all, this is a club that were minutes away from bankruptcy just four years ago and whose new owners are simply loading more and more debt on to the balance sheets.

Their spending in the transfer market over the last three seasons almost directly matches those losses as Transfermarkt has them down £110m net. So, while Arsenal have a larger wage bill than Liverpool, Liverpool have spent lavishly on a transfer list that reads like a horror novel: Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Enrique, Coates, Joe Allen, Borini, Sahin, Sakho, Aspas, and Ilori have all failed to live up to their sticker prices.

You will probably be told this summer that Liverpool and Arsenal are similar in their spending patterns but nothing could be further from the truth. Both teams are sort of outsiders in terms of the huge spending teams like Chelsea, Man City, Man U, PSG, and Monaco but if we look at the last three seasons Arsenal have spent a whopping £19m and Liverpool £110m. And overall, Arsenal are in no way going to run afoul of Financial Fair Play while Liverpool could, in theory, win the League and be denied entry into the Champions League based on their debt and profligate spending — spending which ironically was meant to get them into the Champions League.

I struggle to find many similarities between these two clubs. Liverpool have loaded debt onto the club, have wasted money on terrible players, and have an ageing stadium which they look unlikely to ever afford to replace. Arsenal, to many a fan’s frustration, have kept a tight grip on spending, built a wonderful new stadium, and look like they are ready to enter a new era of rational spending at the club.

Even the dealings with their players provide a huge contrast. Liverpool kept Suarez by refusing to honor his contract and acted in a rather boorish manner toward Arsenal and Suarez. Meanwhile, Arsenal let Cesc leave on the cheap but it was to his boyhood club and the transfer fulfilled his lifelong ambition. Footbalistically, it was probably not the right thing to do, but humanistically it was. Still, looking back at the last three years I have to wonder what Arsenal would look like if we’d been just a little less classy and forced Cesc to honor his contract.

So, to answer my headline question, is Liverpool a validation or repudiation of Arsenal’s philosophy? Neither. Arsenal were top of the table for 19 weeks and then injury took toll. No team could expect to win the League if they lost their star forward (Walcott), their star midfielder (Ramsey), their record transfer player (Özil), and many of their best squad players all at the same time. The core of this Arsenal team is very strong but it needs a few parts to compliment that core and provide rotation to cut down on injuries. While Arsenal have been unlucky, Liverpool have caught a rub of the green. Suarez, after years of being a selfish, wasteful, and frankly mental football player — a player who bit one player and committed a racism against another — has turned in a career season, scoring 30 goals and assisting for 12. If there was one thing that they got right it was keeping Suarez.

A huge gamble that looks like it paid off big.


121 thoughts on “If Liverpool win the League will it validate or repudiate Arsenal’s philosophy?

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1clifffy

    The only reason Liverpool will win the league… if they win 2 of the remaining three is because, they have only really played premier league with a squad, that was built to play for all 4 cups…Meager 5 games outside of premiership.. 3 of which against lower league’s opposition.

    Their first team have remained virtually rested and fit for all matches.. Sturridge, Suarez, Gerrard, Henderson, Skrtel, Johnson, Coutinho has completed 2000 minutes in the league.
    Credit does go to Rodgers for bringing the Swansea style to Liverpool..

    Liverpool winning proves nothing about Arsenal philosophy.. Both are classes apart in terms of way they are being run. Arsenal philosophy allows a lot of scope for street smart consters to exploit. It is something we will allow, because we believe in a greater good. It is also something we are correcting in due course..

    Suarez essentially repaid Rodgers/Liverpool for sticking by him during the racism issue.

  2. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1VicePotentate

    1: The tired accusation that Suarez had a release clause has been disproven by reality. He had a negotiation clause, Liverpool were not obligated to sell. Why would they? Suarez was part of the club’s long-term plans.
    2: Spending less money does not make a club morally superior. Liverpool is attempting to build towards long-term success which should breed financial stability. The club’s ownership has a moral obligation to construct a competitive product that should be financially stable in the long run. If this means going into temporary debt, so be it.
    3: Don’t lump players like Downing and Adam in with Sakho and Aspas. Two different transfer regimes deserve two different judgments. Liverpool’s current regime is angling towards young players who still have high future prospects like Ilori. I would say Liverpool have had their share of transfer successes as well with Sturridge and Mignolet no club’s transfer record is going to be immaculate. If you never take risks you could end up in a perpetual grind just to make the Champion’s League every year.
    4: Arsenal only spent a net 19 million in the last three years. I say you should bow and scrape towards a manager that can keep a team in the top four with that paltry level of spending. Arsenal’s success is the real anomaly not Liverpool’s.
    5: Arsenal has a larger wage bill and worse results than Liverpool this season. This strategy does not seem as sustainable as spending one time transfer fees on young “risky” players followed by prolonged success building on a core of players who actually proved they were worth that risk.

  3. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Shubham

    Tim, fine articulation of points. As with any such subject, your views will be heavily contested by Liverpool fans and will generate a lot of negativity. Given the way this season has panned out, Liverpool should get credit. And if they win the title, they should be congratulated big time. No doubt, the circumstances have favored them but the key is that the team grabbed this opportunity with both hands. The two things that become evident from this season is; First, a team with proper application can win the league despite lack of financial strength. Second, Arsene’s philosophy of attractive football with the intention of outscoring opponents can be successful at the top level. This year, Liverpool has adopted the same philosophy and have managed to get desired results. Therefore, Liverpool’s victory reinforces/validates our gaffers ideas. Remember, Arsenal came close a couple of times using the same plan only failing due to poor application. The future of Arsenal will depend on the ambition exhibited by the management. If business continues to be the sole objective, then the footballing side will be compromised. But, seeing, what Liverpool could do with a modest budget and with money available, I think the club will act appropriately and strengthen the squad with higher caliber players. This is going to be a big summer and l am confident, Arsenal will not let us down.

  4. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Raj

    Another rabble-rousing, well done piece. This has to be some of the best amateur sports journalism/op-ed anywhere in the world. I believe the answer to the (rhetorical?) question in the title of the this blog entry is yes and no, or as you say, “neither”. If Liverpoo had the equivalent of our injuries and we didn’t, the table would different today.
    Putting aside the rivalry, personalities, history and all the other baggage for a moment, anyone who loves the game the way Wenger’s Arsenal like to play it however, must have some level of admiration for the Reds. I certainly do. Poo are playing entertaining, exciting football right now – the best in the league by good measure – and on that basis they will be worthy winners IMO.
    And Brendan Rodgers and Manuel Pellegrini aren’t bad guys in comparison to the horrid, despicable, self-centered Scottish and Portuguese personalities that have had the duopoly in the Premier League in recent times. Rodgers or Pellegrini winning (discounting other factors), means that narcissistic martinets don’t always win, that there’s still hope for Wenger if he can a) get some badly needed help to manage the club and b) make the nimble adjustments required to manage a winning side.

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Jack Action

    Wow. And here I thought that articles about Stoke generated the most excitement.

    Liverpool will not repeat next year. They might finish top 4 again, but they’re not built for Champions League success and there’s no way Man City and Chelsea are happy with the status quo in the BPL. And they will be spending this summer. Chelsea will open next year with a new strike force and Man City with a new defense.

    I wouldn’t be shocked to see Suarez sold to Real Madrid this summer either. You do cite the high debt levels – what better way to alleviate some of that burden by selling Suarez for 80m, using half to pay off some debt and the other half to go buy a Reus or other pacy striker/winger to partner Sturridge?

    Congrats to Liverpool, they played an entertaining attacking brand of football and we could have worse as champions (Chelsea).

    Playing games of IF’s… if Ramsey (heart), Theo (legs) and Ozil (brains) had been available for the past three months, we’d have won it. Wenger’s fault for yet again overestimating our squad depth in terms of quality.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Pj

      so that means Benzema will be available for us? AW has wanted to get him since he was tearing up for Marseille as a teenager

  6. Vote -1 Vote +1CYRUS99

    No problem PJ, I’d be very happy to see him become a Gunner even though my first choice would still be Llorente…Yeah I know broken record

  7. Vote -1 Vote +1CYRUS99

    @Ankslfc; Sahin was a Rodgers signing, and he would have been a steal, only Rodgers went all ‘David Brent’ and completely wasted everyones time

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1CYRUS99

    @Ramblin’Gooner;Oh yeah!!! He would one heckuva freak of nature, like Eusebio was, only taller.
    How bout’ this? James as a keeper, I remember Jeff Van Gundy talking bout’ it while announcing a Heat game a couple weeks ago and I gotta say it’s intriguing

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1Nicholas

    Regarding Suarez, I’m wondering whether he ever really did want to come to Arsenal.

    Maybe this is what happened: as you recall, when Arsenal bid for him, initially Rogers said we’d need to pay upwards of £50m. At that juncture, he was for sale. We just weren’t offering enough.

    Maybe Suarez hoped Arsenal’s bid would drag RM out of the woodwork. It’s no secret he wants to go there and his future at Liverpool was uncertain, given the shenanigans of the previous season.

    RM made it clear that they were only going for Bale and Suarez decided not to force the issue through to go to Arsenal when it became clear the release clause only allowed for negotiation, not necessarily a sale.

    Having said that, this summer Arsenal need to get a striker capable of scoring 25 league goals. Maybe 30 league goal strikers are too rare but we won’t win the league without one prolific striker.

    Walcott is too injury prone it seems to be relied on as that main striker. But who can we realistically target?

  10. Vote -1 Vote +1CYRUS99

    @Nicholas; Dzeko, Mandzukic, Benzema, Gomez (we could have gone for him last summer), Valerie Germain (Monaco) & Llorente

Comments are closed.