Now, If ever anyone had thought football was just a game, then they would be needing a rethink because the game has gone way beyond entertainment to becoming a full blown business both off and on the pitch of play especially in modern times. Picking it up from the perspective of being a business, everyone knows that there is a ridiculous amount of money to be made some where in there. More so, considering the massive salaries players earn these days and how much there is to be made off television rights, shirt sponsorship, stadium name rights and gate-takings not forgetting the gambling racket outside of the game.
In the midst of all of these, it is so easy to forget the very essence and root of the game of football which is more towards competitive entertainment, and a strong clause that features constantly through the generations of gaming is the collective gathering referred to as the spectators, audience, supporters or the fans as the case may be.
When the managers of the game puts aside the interest of such supporters especially when they are paying and it is no more free service, then there begins to show up a major problem unfolding. Enter the fray- Arsenal football club of England and how much of business astuteness they seem to have shown in these last eight years. It must be said that they have built a state of the art stadium, converted the former stadium in to a block of luxury flats that have paid off the debts incurred to build them and now add to the profits coming in, a standard training ground and many more achievements off the field. But that is as far as the commendation should go.
The club has totally lost focus as to where the main stakes lie. They continue to punish the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg - the very game of football on the pitch of play, the paying fan-base and the larger worldwide cult-like following. Almost the whole world now wonders if the club management ever heard of the phrase “striking a balance between making money and winning trophies.” Nothing like that seems to exist in their dictionary.
How else do you relate going a whole season unbeaten with a team of experienced and quality players as at eight years ago and subsequently going virtually trophy-less for the next eight seasons? Much focus has been put on balancing the books, so much so that the manager Monsieur Arsene Wenger has intentionally phased out a whole first team squad of twenty-two players and more from the academy all in the name of rebuilding. He now has a track record of selling between two to three of his best players in one season, sometimes adding the captain and the assistant to such to-be-sold ranks for good measure.
He started the tradition by selling Captain Patrick Vieira to Juventus, then sold players like Robert Pires to Villareal, Captain Thierry Henry to Barcelona, Mathieu Flamini to AC Milan, Gilberto Silva (asst. captain) to Olympiakos, Alexander Hleb to Barcelona, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City in the same season, then Captain Cesc Fabregash, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy in the same season to Barcelona and Manchester city respectively. The list goes on, Emmanuel Eboue, Sylvian Wiltord, Lauren Etameya, and Freddie Ljumberg and on and on grows the list.
The seeming final straw of this season could be the maintenance of Wenger’s new found track record; by selling his Captain and best player in the English premier league last season Robin van Persie, and another of his greatest players Alexander Song to Barcelona. All of this journey must have made him over two hundred and fifty million pounds in conservative estimates considering the long list plus a series of other young lads that have been chucked out who have gone on to become great players in the clubs they left for; granting Arsenal an earning potential - something for raising them.
In the same time that this downward spiral had been embarked on, the board had relatively kept silent because their business interests had not only been protected but greatly boosted as the club shares were increasing in value and they were making much more money. Ironically, in that same period, the ticket prices both singular and seasonal were rising to become some of the most expensive not only in England but in all of Europe. Simply put, the fans and spectators were being bilked out of their hard earned moneys with a phony charade on display called beautiful football.
The end of the season showed no trophies and the Silverware cabinet kept gathering cobwebs as it has been empty for so long that it almost doesn’t get a cleaning anymore. Now the money is only one side to it, the other part is the emotions of these same fans that have not only been toyed with but plainly rubbished. The latter combined with the constant ridicule from opposition fans, referring to Arsenal football club as an academy, a stepping stone, a feeder team, a team of greens and all sought of strange name tags.
With this background, the question arises “When big clubs set out every season, do they think of “Merely doing well or Going for glory - the ultimate price being the trophy?” This is what teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have gone for with great dividends not only in money, but followership and an appreciation of fans telling and showing them they are the major reason why they still play this game.
When a player like Robin van Persie who is captain of the club and one who virtually carried the team on his back to third position last season, seats with the Club Manager Arsene Wenger and the Chief executive Ivan Gazidis ; asking them to paint a picture of the prospects for the next few years. He comes out of such meeting saying that he just couldn’t see it as they were just not so particular about trophies meaning it was more of mediocrity and money all the way. The latter happened to be the more reason why van Persie chose to join Manchester United. The seasonal aim for Arsenal Football Club had become “let’s just finish in a good position on the table, qualify for the champions’ league, and celebrate fourth place as a golden trophy.”
Easily, you get to ask yourself, “does anyone set out to self-destruct on purpose?” especially when the interests hanging involves a wide plethora of people. There seems to be no better explanation than saying - either the Manager has gone crazy or the whole board of directors are not only senile but totally obsessed with milking the purse at the expense of the Fans and the game bringing in the funds. The Question is: where do we go from here? As the long term fans are saying it is a lesson in loyalty especially since they were there during the glory days of a whole season unbeaten, and now eight years of tears without a trophy.
A strong submission would be this- “After seemingly achieving immortality and invincibility with the unbeaten season, Arsene Wenger went in to a Perfection induced obsession feeling that no opinions counted anymore as he had now become all in all” the reality speaks differently and he is being brought down to earth by the results in recent seasons and another thing is becoming worrisome- the rate at which he is ageing. Rather than do so gracefully, he has chosen the path of continuous stress overdrive because of a lack of capable personnel due to his stubbornness and ill-needed frugality.
All we can say is “the wait goes on whether for a trophy or at least a golden coin if there was any silverware going by that name.” An attachment to that would be how you can manage to convince the other players left that you want to achieve anything meaningful, extending to results that depict a purposeful career. Someone had better told him to learn from Ajax and the glory days. The moment they started selling was when their downward spiral really began, turning them into one of the main feeder teams for the big clubs in Europe -a trend that has continued until now.