Arsenal are �150m richer but the great trophy debate goes on
While other London clubs implode, it’s been a good week for the Gunners both on and off the pitch
To think that the month started with Arsenal being the London club in crisis. If that is the case, others must be on the brink of collapse.
In the space of 48 hours both Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers have sacked their managers and meanwhile in north London the club who have seamlessly glided into the last 16 of the Champions League completed their week with the small news of a �150m sponsorship deal. Sometimes it’s all about the timing.
Stability. Continuity. Two words that are never far from the lips of Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s chief executive who fronted the club’s smooth revelation on Friday of a deal with Emirates airline worth a cool �30m a season.
As he batted away, for the umpteenth time today, questions about why Arsenal hadn’t won any silverware since a year before the move to Emirates Stadium in 2006, Gazidis seemed mildly irritated.
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Only mildly, mind you, because his manners, like his business speak, are impeccable. Compared to the walking PR disaster that is the Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, Gazidis is as safe a pair of hands as they come.
“Let me get this straight, we want to win a trophy every single year. We would all love to win a trophy and I believe that we will,” said Gazidis, even if the context did seem a little strange.
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It was, Gazidis underlined ‘all about the football’. And if that is the case, trophies are what count as the symbol of success. But does anybody who witnesses the kind of carnage and wastage that has occurred at Stamford Bridge and Loftus Road in the past few days (and you could just as easily say, last few years) really think that lifting the Capital One Cup come February is all that really matters or indeed of any genuine, lasting importance?
In a financial climate of fear and uncertainty, what emerged on Friday was that Arsenal are heading into a different stratosphere. This sponsorship deal, allied to increased revenues from both domestic and overseas television rights from the start of next season, will see the club’s profits take a huge hike at a time when most clubs and most businesses are shivering from the cold chill of recession.
“We have taken a different path,” admitted Gazidis. “And it is one for which we are often heavily criticised, quite unjustifiably in my view. We stand on our own two feet. We don’t rely on anybody for our success.”
Not even Emirates, despite the Dubai-based airline pumping more money into the club and, with their naming rights of the stadium now extending to 2028, surely becoming a part of Arsenal’s history as indelible as the statues of Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams and Thierry Henry outside it.
“We know how to run airlines, we don’t know how to run a football club,” said the marvellously named Boutros Boutros on Friday, the airline’s senior vice president. “We leave that to them,” he added, nodding in the direction of Gazidis.
“We are committed, and when we commit, we commit. This club has shown consistency and we know they will still be a big club who we want to be involved with in 10 years’ time.”
But, back to the football. That, of course, is the reason why this business meeting was taking place in a stadium and not an office block. You can talk balance sheets and profit margins until you are blue in the face, but what supporters want is success. The only trouble is, how do you quantify success? This is something that troubles Gazidis, who is, after all, an accountant not a football player.
“The landscape in football has changed and is very challenging,” he adds. “We have stayed at the top level, we are seeded fifth or sixth in Uefa’s rankings and into the Champions League last 16 for 13 years in a row. There are not many clubs who can say that.”
Only Real Madrid, in fact. However Chelsea and Manchester United (twice) have both won the European Cup in that time, which is a little more impressive than merely being in it.
The enduring strength of United and the arrival of the new breed of money, Chelsea and Manchester City, is what has altered Arsenal’s chances of on-pitch success domestically too. Those clubs have shared the title in the eight years since Arsenal last won it, and look set to do so again this season.
Gazidis didn’t need to reiterate what he has been saying for the last two years. That Arsenal cannot compete with spending on that level, it is not the club’s philosophy, and in any case the impending Financial Fair Play regulations, he hopes, will all but outlaw it.
But Arsenal now have money to burn, that is legitimately earned from a sponsor, and still have a cash reserve of more than �40m that went unspent by Wenger in the past year. Time to cut to the chase: are the club actually going to spend any of it this time?
“There is always pressure,” said Gazidis. “The bigger pressure is to spend it in the right way. And to make it take the club forward.
“We can pay bigger salaries and invest more in transfer fees. And there is nobody I would like to be thinking about those decisions more than Arsene Wenger. Arsene always puts the club first. He will invest in giving the club opportunities now and in the future.”
By now, did he mean in the January transfer window, that opens for business in six weeks’ time?
“We have the ability to invest if our manager finds the right opportunities in January,” confirmed Gazidis, although he made it clear that any cash input from this sponsorship deal would not really be the club’s to spend until next summer.
That prudence is what sets Arsenal apart, because most other clubs would speculate before they accumulated, especially when they know the windfall is coming.
But Gazidis, like Wenger and the rest of the Arsenal board, know that push is coming to shove. As they found out at last month’s AGM, the natives are restless.
“There are no guarantees in football, or in sport,” shrugged Gazidis, and that is indisputable. But one guarantee is that if Arsenal don’t win anything in the next couple of years, he and the board will be branded failures, despite the profit margin. Trophies do matter. And Arsenal do need to start winning them for all this financial acumen and advancement to truly be said to have paid off.
That is the cold reality for Gazidis, and for Wenger. If they can add that missing ingredient, Arsenal really will be heading into a new stratosphere.