Trophies Are Overrated

Liverpool are drowning in debt and Manchester United are spending the price of a Galatico every season on interest repayments, but Arsenal are riding high. Record pre-tax profits of £56m are obvious evidence of a business on the up, but the best bit was the savage cut to overall debts, fuelled by the sale of property on the site of the old Highbury Stadium. Arsenal now owe just over £135m, still a sizeable sum but paltry in comparison to their rivals. Soon they will be entirely debt free, raking in approximately £3m in match day revenues from every home game and growing all the time. They are arguably the most sensibly run football club in England.

Vindication then, surely, of Arsene Wenger’s policies. Holder of a Master’s Degree in Economics, the Frenchman had his own theories on the future of football and it’s hard to disagree with them. He knew that repeated heavy spending was unsustainable, he knew that monstrous wages were unrealistic and he planned accordingly. His academy and the scouting network that feeds it are now the envy of Europe. At Highbury, they were held back by a capacity of 38,500. Now they can cram 60,361 into the Emirates Stadium and the expansion hasn’t crippled them or even knocked them off balance. Arsenal are very nearly self-sufficient. Wenger did that.

There are a number of fans who demand that the profits are reinvested into the squad rather than the business and they make a very good point. Winning games of football is, after all, the whole point of the exercise and it’s far easier to do that with good players. It’s still baffling that Wenger hasn’t replaced Manuel Almunia, a fine goalkeeper, but not quite of the standard required. Nevertheless, this fine manager should have earned the trust of the fans.

There is only one stick left to beat Wenger with and that’s the one marked ‘silverware’. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Arsenal haven’t won a trophy since that abject FA Cup Final in 2005 when they beat Manchester United in a penalty shoot-out. The middle tier at the Emirates is adorned with pictures of every trophy the club have ever won and there’s a big gap in one corner for the trinkets the designers believed would be secured soon after the stadium opened. It stands empty still, mocking Wenger’s efforts from on high. But here’s the secret. Lean in and I’ll whisper it. Modern football isn’t about winning trophies.

What would you rather? A fifth place finish and an FA Cup or third and no trophies? Unless you’re quite mad you’ll take third because that means Champions League football. If your snout isn’t in UEFA’s cash trough, then you’re doomed. You can’t pay the wages, you can’t attract the players and the ones you have got will scarper. By that rationale, finishing third is a more valuable prize than lifting a trophy. It’s not right, it’s certainly not the way competitive football should be, but make no mistake, this is how it is.

Modern day football is about money. It’s about branding and revenue streams and advertising and emerging markets. It’s about squeezing harder every year to try and produce a few more coins. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards. That’s the mantra. Wenger has taken ‘just another London club’ and transformed them into an attractive, entertaining and profitable business. Other teams are taking out ruinous loans, or begging for sugar daddies to come and artificially fund them. Not Arsenal. They are perfectly positioned for the future. And the trophies will come eventually. Of that, I have no doubt at all.

AUTHOR’S NOTE – Since posting this article, I have been infomed by ace scribbler Nick Ames that the perceived gap in the trophy hoardings is actually an optical illusion. There is a gap in every corner, but the reduced distance from the press box exacerbates the effect of this particular corner to the one group of people you wouldn’t want to have notice it. Apologies.

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