The Robin Van Persie Saga: Why It's All About Money, Part 1
With one stroke of his pen, in 321 words or thereabout, Robin van Persie shattered the peace at Arsenal, reintroducing in the process the sort of chaos that reigned at Arsenal last summer.
The Voice of Chaos
The peace at Arsenal—one the club hoped would hold throughout the summer—was always dicey, it's very essence predicated, as it were, upon Van Persie's contract set to expire in the next 13 months.
Before now, Van Persie had shunned all attempts to negotiate a new contract, opting, as he said when early overtures were made, for the end of the concluded season to hold any such talks.
On May 16, what appeared to be the first round of talks was held. Neither party—Van Persie and his agent, Kees Vos or Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis—divulged the particulars of that meeting. What was sure was that Van Persie hadn't then agreed to renew his contract.
A second round of talks was expected to be held soon after the Euro 2012 tournament, and on Tuesday, club manager, Arsene Wenger, had reiterated the importance of keeping the Arsenal ace at the club. "At all costs" was his verdict.
Prompted by this statement it appears, Van Persie responded by his now infamous statement, the nub of which was that his vision and the club's (read Wenger's) are at loggerhead, as such he has no choice but to move to another club, one with ambition for titles.
Ostensibly for him, his refusal of Arsenal and his desire for another club (with more ambition) isn't about money, not at all.
Cock and bull, some would say. What is the ingredient that flavors these ostensible ambitious clubs? Isn't it money?
Real Madrid can afford stars because they and Barcelona control about 90 percent of television revenue in Spain. It's what makes them "ambitious." Getty Images.
Ambition Means Money
Take a census of the so-called "ambitious clubs"—Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG, even Manchester United—you find that one factor sets them apart from Arsenal. They have more money, which enables them to pay higher salaries.
If this isn't about money at all, one would want to see Van Persie move to Borussia Dortmund, the back-to-back German champions. This would demonstrate that this, indeed, is a move to a place where titles have been won in the past two years and may yet be won there. Or maybe he could move to Montpellier to help them defend their title.
The argument that there is ambition at Manchester City is only to the extent that they pay higher salaries. Manchester City have spent just under a billion pounds in the last two years, and this on players.
Barcelona and Real Madrid, despite their huge revenues, have borrowed themselves into huge debts in order to service huge wage structures.
There a player would earn more. There a player is likely to win something. But this is only as a result of the commercial hegemony, which the two clubs hold over television rights, marginalizing other clubs as a result.
This, naturally, gives them an untoward advantage over their competitors, ensuring that they'll maintain control and dominance in the foreseeable future.
Both Chelsea and Bayern Munich hold one advantage or the other over Arsenal. Getty Images.
Despite this, though, these two clubs are unable to make ends meet.
Real Madrid have the Spanish royalty just underneath them for a cushion in the event of any calamitous circumstance. Before such interventions, however, are the banks who are always at hand with another loan.
This is one model of football administration. The other is built upon oligarchs and super-rich patrons. This is the Manchester City, the Chelsea and the PSG model.
The other model depends upon a huge ground and brand name to generate match-day and commercial revenues, which are then augmented by television revenue. This is the Manchester United and the Arsenal model.
In the case of these two, Manchester United have had decades of head-start over Arsenal. The latter only completed their own big ground in 2006, an achievement that immediately admitted them into the top five richest clubs in the world.
The fact that Arsenal constantly finish in the top four means that their television revenue is very high. Where Manchester United hold the advantage is in the area of brand revenue. They are about £80 million or more ahead of Arsenal.
There is one more model, the 50 + 1 model operational in Germany, which ensures that clubs are run by the supporters. But even so, the fact that Bayern Munich are dominant in Germany is down to the strength of their commercial revenue, generated from strong sponsorship.
The point of all this, is to demonstrate the fact that ambition, which seems to be the bone of contention here, is constrained by the model that informs a given club. Manchester City's ambition falls to the ground if you subtract Sheikh Mansour's money. The same is true of Chelsea and PSG.
Take Mansour away and Manchester City wouldn't be able to pay players their salaries. Add Mansour into the mix, and he can afford (out of his personal stash of fortune) to pay a want-away player like Robin van Persie £200,000 or more a week.
Manchester United's commercial revenue means that they are always at least £60 million ahead of Arsenal, an extra amount that can enable them to afford two or three more players than Arsenal, or at any a rate, a world-class player if they like. (The Glazers factor has admittedly mitigated this in the last couple of years.)
Barcelona and Madrid can pay more because they practically take 90 percent of television revenue for just themselves to the detriment of their competitors. Imagine that the top four clubs did that in England. What these two clubs can't afford is, again, supplemented by loans, which they take as a matter of habit.
Bayern Munich are still bigger than Arsenal because they have a very strong sponsorship structure that generates a lot of money for them. As a result, they can afford to pay players more, which some see as ambition.
The more you pay, the more players would want to sign for you: The more players who sign for you, the more your advantage and chances at winning titles.
Manchester City stars are a product of Sheikh Mansour's personal fortune, which is what constitutes ambition. Getty Images
In sum, then, the so-called "ambition," which is being bandied about, is merely a euphemism for money.
When, therefore, Van Persie implies that Arsenal lack ambition, it is only to the extent that they cannot afford to pay him the same kind of money he could earn elsewhere, at places like Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid, where either the personal money of a patron would service the salary or a loan would do so.
Ambition or lack thereof is also only to the extent that Arsenal can’t afford the marquee signings that the ostensible ambitious clubs can make. If Mansour wants, he can decide to buy Messi. I believe a £100 million can do it sans the exorbitant salary they could afford to pay him.
Sheikh Mansour could buy Lionel Messi if he so desired. A £100 million should to it. Getty Images.
No one would dispute the fact that this would constitute ambition—ambition to win titles. This, though, is a shallow definition of ambition. It insults the effort of all other clubs, the ones who can’t afford (for one reason or the other) the exorbitant sign-on fees and the resultant astronomical salaries, which the so-called ambitious clubs can afford.
As long as this shallow definition is the one that holds sway, Arsenal will remain a by-word, a club without ambition. But this can only be so because of lazy journalism, made up of writers who are simply parrots, content to advance ill-digested narratives that have little or no substance.
In the second part of the article, I will examine Alisher Usmanov's letter to the Arsenal board.
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