Manchester City have thrown an incredible amount of money around in the last couple of years. Even when Thaksin Shinawatra was at the helm of the club, they managed to spunk quite a bit, with Sven Goran Eriksson doing what he does best; spending other people’s money. Mark Hughes was in place when the big money arrived in 2009 (in the guise of mega-rich Sheikh Mansour of the United Arab Emirates) and wasted no time whatsoever in splashing the cash.
The club that has received the largest share of this Arab wonga has been Arsenal. Through a combination of acquiescence and pressure, Arsenal have sold Manchester City a selection of their finest players
As with all newly super-rich clubs, there is a defined recruitment process that City needed to follow as they tried to establish themselves as a force. The first stage was to recruit players capable of challenging in the league. Mark Hughes built on the work of Sven and recruited capable players such as Santa Cruz, Given, Bellamy, and perennial wage chaser Wayne Bridge. He was also able to sign luxury items such as the cry baby Robinho, the incredible sulk Carlos Tevez and everyones favourite king-fu fighter Nigel De Jong.
Adebayor and Kolo Toure were the first to go up to Manchester from Arsenal and were part of that initial recruitment wave. Nobody at Arsenal gave a monkeys chuff that Adebayor left. As soon as he started likening AC Milan to a beautiful woman (Beyonce, I seem to remember) the Gooners faithful lost interest in him. From that point on it was to prove a rocky relationship between player and supporters (that culminated in the disgraceful chants by Arsenal away fans at White Hart Lane last weekend).
Kolo Toure, on the other hand, was sorely missed. Nobody could work out why Kolo had to go, as he was a firm fans favourite. The reason for his departure had something to do with a personality clash with William Gallas, a fact that mystified supporters when Gallas was allowed to leave for nothing after running his contract down not long after. What made the whole scenario all the more confusing was that nobody really liked the mardy French twat in the first place - sure, Gallas is a quality player, but he’s also a giant numpty.
The second stage of recruitment was to supplement the initial signings with players of increasing stature and quality, until they are purchasing players who can be really considered top class. Chelsea bought Drogba, Essien and Cech (and later Mata and Torres), Manchester City have bought Dzeko, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero.
More recently Arsenal have had two of their French internationals leave the fold in search of pastures light-blue (as part of this second wave). Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri both left the club in recent months. Amusingly, Clichy was previously quoted as saying “I really believe if you are a player who thinks only about money then you could end up at Manchester City” back in 2009. In fairness to him, that was then and this is now. Word on the street is that Kolo was his best friend at Arsenal and Manchester City are an altogether more exciting prospect than they were two years ago.
Samir Nasri was a much more frustrating transfer. Arsenal supporters had taken him into their hearts and had supported him through some indifferent form early on in his Arsenal career. Finally, the boy had come good, and when Cesc left it seemed as if it was Nasri who would fill the hole left by the Spaniard. But no, Nasri had other ideas. He took the paychecks when it suited him and left when it suited him. Whilst it’s true that Arsenal didn’t have to sell him, there was significant pressure from the board, the player, and largely via the media, Manchester City. Poor old Arsene Wenger was left pissing in the wind after repeatedly stating his determination to keep the player, only to have the club undermine his wishes and cash in on the French international.
All these transfers are what they are, which is a combination of two things. The first factor is obviously money. Manchester City are able to offer significantly more money than their North London rivals. Considering the falling value of the pound and massive tax rates that the players have to pay, its safe to say that these same players could earn a lot more overseas than they do at Arsenal, but it’s testament to the quality of our league that they want to stay in it. There are only a couple of clubs who can currently match the top continental wages and City are one of those clubs. The second factor is sporting ambition. Two years ago, when Adebayor and co made their way to the (yet to be renamed) Etihad Stadium, the ambition was there for all to see, they were just a few years away from realising it. Now it’s a different matter. Think what you want about them (and believe me - I think they’re just about the most immoral club in football and that along with Chelsea, they’re ruining the sport and making it a complete joke) but they’re here to stay and from now on, they’re going to have a massive say in who wins the cups, the Premier League and the Champions League.
So, with the history briefly explained and all the relevant factors taken into account, it will come as no surprise to hear that the latest Arsenal player to be talked about in the same breath as Manchester City is Robin Van Persie. If I was a betting man I’d say that Theo Walcott is a gnat’s pube behind the same level of concerted rumour mongering. But that’s just speculation on my part.
A 30 million bid for the Dutch international has been mooted as a possibility in January. What is perhaps most concerning for the Gunners is Van P’s recent admission that he doesn’t know where his long term future is BUT he wants to stay in the Premier League. That looks like a very carefully worded green light for City, if you ask me. Whilst it would be a surprise to see Van Persie turn his back on the club that nurtured his prodigious talent, would it really be all that shocking?
Arsenal have, in many respects, done most of this to themselves. By using City as a convenient place to offload their players for high financial returns, they have strengthened a rival considerably at the same time as weakening themselves. Yes, they might be a bit closer to paying off that mortgage, but at what cost to their sporting ambitions in the short-term?
On the other side of the argument, there is something happening to the English game that affects all clubs, not just Arsenal. Manchester City are not breaking new ground, they are merely following the path laid down for them by Chelsea. The West London clubs introduction in the title battle has effectively run Arsenal to ground. Sure, the Gunners have come close in recent years, as have Liverpool, but the only clubs to have actually won the league since Chelsea became major players are Chelsea and Manchester United. Happily (and I never thought I’d say that) Man Utd have resisted admirably and have repeatedly beaten Chelsea on the pitch and in terms of points. But can they continue to prosper in a league with two financial superpowers instead of one, and especially when these clubs can spend with a sense of abandon? My worry is that they can’t, not forever, and with the possible demise of their ability to win titles, over the next two or three seasons we could potentially see a league contested only by City and Chelsea.
Is that a massive problem? I think it is. In my opinion we’re in the midst of the darkest days of the Premier League. Sure, our domestic league is full to bursting with great players and a variety of different teams with different styles, the games are end to end and we’re never far away from a classic match. But at what cost? I think we’re letting the integrity of our domestic game slip away under the strain of foreign investment. Russians, Americans, Arabs and investors from all corners of the planet are flocking to the Premiership to bask in its prestige, but in allowing these billionaires into our sport are we not relinquishing control over something that should remain quintessentially British? It feels like these foreign investors are having a great big game of who’s got the biggest shlong and we, the paying supporters of our respective clubs, are (mainly) having to foot the bill both financially and (more importantly) emotionally.
If the reports are true and Manchester City offer Arsenal 30 million for Van Persie then chances are they are going to accept. It’s sad but true, but Arsenal have always been a selling club. Van P looks like he wants to leave (if the quotes attributed to him are true) and the lure of playing in a competitive team whilst being very well paid may be too much for him to turn down. After all, a player only has a finite amount of time to find success and after that it’s retirement. Who can blame the top players for wanting to go to the clubs who are going to compete, and why should they give a shit where their wages come from?
Perhaps the saddest truth is that with the former Gunners mentioned in this article, Arsenal would be ideally placed to challenge for all major honors (much more so than they are currently capable of doing). Manchester City have rolled into to town, flung some money around, turned some heads and are now using their new found strength to try and tip the scales of power. What is most frustrating is that we knew this would happen, we’ve already seen the same thing at Stamford Bridge, and yet the FA, UEFA and FIFA have done nothing to stop it. Yes, we’ve got Financial Fair Play in the pipeline, but having watched City flaunt it with their £350 million pound joke of a stadium endorsement fund, we all know there are going to be ways around it.
So where does this leave us? Well, if you support City or Chelsea then I imagine things are looking pretty rosy right about now. For supporters of all other clubs the writing is on the wall for all to see. These middling uber-rich clubs are willing and able to not only pay whatever it takes to recruit the players they want, but to also massively inflate the market and make it impossible for other clubs to compete. Remember the days when £100,000.00 a week was a massive wage? There are City players on more than twice that now and the rise in prices don’t look like slowing down. Normal clubs, grown organically on gate receipts, sponsorship and television rights are becoming a relic in our new modern game and this developing trend shows no sign of abating. This may have something to do with the fact that the men who are capable of making the changes needed are amongst those getting rich off of the current regime - but that’s a story for a different day.
Arsenal are the poster boys for ‘how to run your club properly’. They play within the rules, they do things the right way and they try and compete whilst living within their own means. Sadly, they are also the clearest example of how a properly run club can be dismantled by their big-spending fantasy-football inspired rivals using nothing but big fat wads of oil money and a bit of media assisted tapping-up. Whether or not Arsenal have done much of the damage themselves is irrelevant, it is still happening. One of the best run clubs in football, the benchmark that UEFA is holding up for it’s FFP initiative, is having it’s assets picked off by wealthier clubs funded by private investors. Other clubs will see this happening and will wonder whats the point of doing things by the book if, at the end of the day, it’s pointless and clubs like Chelsea, City and Real Madrid just trample over their hard work. The authorities need to start protecting the clubs that try and do business properly, because if something isn’t done to change the path that we’re currently on then we risk losing the most important thing we have in football; the excitement of genuine, honest competition. And once that’s gone, who’s going to give a shit? I know I won't.