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Arsenal: Lukas Podolski, Robin van Persie and the New Era, Part 6

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Arsenal: Lukas Podolski, Robin van Persie and the New Era, Part 6
Martin Rose/Getty Images
New Era ahead.

A certain greediness has crept into the game of football, a malady that ought to be ruthlessly stamped out, much like gangrene must be tackled with as much forcefulness at its own attack if the affected limp is to be saved, but what has become a pity is the dearth of voices raised in opposition to this disease.

 

The Media 

Of much concern is how the media, which ought to represent an objective and moral voice to the conscience of this sport, has forsaken its obligation, becoming, instead, a mindless vox populi that sings every accent of sensationalism it deems potentially pleasing to the equally mindless crowd.

If the reader wonders about the justification for this indictment of the vox populi he, or she, only needs to remember that little sense ever existed in the crowd; the little one finds there is always guided by the strong voice of leadership, which must channel the raw energy of the masses in the proper manner.

In essence, revolution quickly becomes wild barbarism if the force behind it is not properly controlled and guided.

The proliferation of unconscionable sport writers, acerbated by the advent of the Internet, means that you have a crowd of charlatans that seems not to think about their articles beyond the need for meeting datelines with some sort of content.

Indeed, where editors could drive some sense into this affair, they often are the problem themselves.

It is the major reason Jonathan Wilson decided to create The Blizzard, because he (and fellow concerned journalists like himself) wanted a forum through which he (and they) could write on meaningful subjects, beyond the constraints of standard space in your average sports section and the pettiness of the editors of these standard spaces.

He recalls an instance where he was unable to file a report on a given situation because the editor wanted him to tailor his story according to a given narrative.

Narrative.

This is a disease in itself—the life of the unimaginative journalist. It is the reason you find stories, even on the sites of major sporting outlets, such as this one.

The reader finds that in this particular article, the writer merely regurgitates a given biased narrative about Arsenal. It is a story I wouldn't mind from a partisan blogger, but coming from an supposed major news outlet, it is unforgivable.

And this, for me, isn't merely because the article is biased against Arsenal.

It is rather that it lacks the dispassionate perspective that must undergird such an article, especially since it isn't supposed to be an opinion piece such as one would find from a blogger, who, from the start, has a given agenda, one known to his or her readers—the reason for their followership in the first place.


I should, though, let the reader know what I'm talking about.

The Dreaded Dementors

The malady to which I refer is the terrible financial problem that has overtaken clubs in Europe. An exemplar of its consequence is the recent fall of the iconic Rangers FC of Scotland. There are, of course, many other examples.

 I should recall some of my commentary on the situation by way of a citation from The Guardian.

In the fifth and final part of my series on Robin van Persie and money, I had referred to this article by David Conn. In it, he analyzes the situation that has caused this huge financial problem.

He focuses on the Premier League, but the situation applies to other leagues. He observes that Premier League clubs earn more money than their rivals in other leagues, but that in spite of this, these clubs are in more debt than these rival clubs.

Uefa's revelation that in 2008, 18 Premier League clubs owed almost €4bn (£3.5bn), more money than the other 714 top European clubs put together, has highlighted the conundrum tearing at the heart of the English game.

He then states the reason why this is so.

The prime reason for this contradiction, between a league making more money than ever previously imaginable, and one nevertheless writhing under a mound of debt, is that too much of the money football clubs make is spent on ever-inflating players' wages (emphasis mine). Across Europe in 2007-08, the report – the European Club Footballing Landscape – states overall income rose 11%, but "the huge increase" in wages exceeded it, at 18%. In a bumper time for football, 47% of clubs across Europe lost money, with 22% reporting "significant losses" equivalent to more than a fifth of their income.

He cites Gianni Infantino, Uefa's general secretary, to explain the cause of this madness.

The problem is that all clubs try to compete, a few of the biggest can afford it, but the vast majority cannot. They bid for players they cannot afford, then borrow or receive money from owners, but this is not sustainable because only a few can win.

The recent example in England of Portsmouth shows it is time to do something. The requirement to break even is not to punish clubs but to help them. Many owners themselves have asked us to introduce some rules, to help them resist the pressure to overspend.

What one finds is a whirlwind that drives everything before and after it, and the hapless clubs involved feel constrained to follow in its slipstream even when they could muster the strength to resist it. It appears that to even begin to compete, you must borrow money you know you can never afford to pay back.

This has caused the collapse of not a few clubs, in Russia, Belgium, Scotland and England. The entire Spanish league is a huge mess as a result of this.


Wenger would like football to regain its common sense. Getty Images.


Wenger and His Tiresome Jeremiads

In the light of this, one would think that sensible voices raised against this problem, such as Arsene Wenger's, would be applauded, if not by the ill-informed fans, but by the media, which should be informed. 

But what happens in reality is that Wenger is not only mocked by a section of his own uninformed fans, but by the media as well. Somehow, he's the mad man that even normally sensible journalists, such as Jonathan Wilson, must mock.

Refer to articles such as this one, this one, this and this. His is a jeremiad  that apparently has grown too dissonant.

I, however, suspect a psychological factor at work.

In this presumptuous example, Wenger seems to me like Socrates who was condemned to die for daring to express ideas the city of Athens found abhorrent. Though, of course, nobody is forcing Wenger to drink any hemlock, except in the metaphorical sense. Painting by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) 


Psychology at Work?

Having forsaken their proper role—that demands that they criticize this madness—by becoming part of the madness themselves, journalists react to the voice that reminds them of their duty through its well-tempered cadence.

They must react to Arsene Wenger for daring to criticize them in his very sensible utterances.

He has become their enemy, one they must flog through their privileged pens. Spenders like Mancini and his Manchester City and clubs like Chelsea and their oligarch, Roman Abramovich and billionaires with the designs of Alisher Usmanov are their friends or heroes. 

These they laud.

The malady they've caused is now somehow the status quo. Arsenal errs and sins by daring to do things differently, by insisting that a club must operate within its means. The media knows that this is the voice of reason, but having gone astray itself, it can't abide by the voice of truth.

They say that he (or she) who must be destroyed becomes deaf to any and every voice of warning.

The media, though, would tell you that it is Wenger and Arsenal who are to be destroyed, not the likes of PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea, who perpetuate the untenable situation sketched above. 

Sadly, even a section of Arsenal fans have bought into this faux reality. Members of this group insist (even in the face of strong and contrary evidence) that Wenger is the problem at Arsenal, and that, therefore, he must go.

They react to the name Wenger with unbelievable hatred. Why? Because Wenger insists that prudence is a virtue not profligacy and debt, which the world crowns with laurels.

My analysis of the complicity of the media in this saga is the reason I stated in the previous part of this series that a great deal of the criticism labeled against Arsenal is reactionary. It issues from a bad conscience—a conscience soiled by the abrogation of duty.

The greediness here referenced isn't just this crazy habit of lavishly spending monies the source of which should be examined, it manifests rather sadly in a gluttonous acquisition of players that's not really necessary.

If one wonders why the normally gluttonous Manchester City are suddenly silent on the transfer front (at least so far), it can't be unconnected to the fact that they've amassed a number of players (good players), whom they now want to be rid of, but can't.

Tell me why on earth Manchester City is after the 29-year-old Robin van Persie (injury-prone to boot) in the face of the prodigious talent one finds in Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Eden Dzeko, Mario Balotelli, Emmanuel Adebayor and Samir Nasri (not to mention David Silva)?

Why would they be in competition with Arsenal for the signature of the youngster M'Baye Niang, when the youngster is unlikely to see any action there by reason of City's incredibly deep squad? 

There is naturally an element of cynicism here.

And I'm not saying that Arsenal have a God-given right to any and every youngster in the market. But if one were to consider which of the two options would constitute the best chance of playing time for the player in question, wouldn't the objective person say it'd be Arsenal?

 

Vicious Cycle

There is another aspect to this problem, one already referenced above and one highlighted by a friend in a private conversation: The fact that, because they can, the mega-rich clubs cause inflation in the transfer market.

It causes the hapless little clubs to bite way beyond what they can chew.

Here, the example of Chelsea is apt, in their purchase of Eden Hazard for £32 million and the unproven Brazilian Oscar for £25 million, which, when compared to the combined £20.6 million Arsenal have spent on Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski (as one reader has observed), one must see how ridiculous this is.

What's sad, though, is that some Arsenal "fans" would rather have the former situation than the latter. For them, if it doesn't stink of ridiculous money, it isn't quality. On this count, none of Arsenal's former stars could ever qualify as quality. This, of course, is absurd. 

It is sadder, still, that the media would rather have the former situation as the default, even though this is the very disease that's driving the soul of football to its grave. But, enough said.

For what it's worth, here's another presumptuous example: Charon driving the dead to the underworld, much like the financial madness in football is slowly, but surely, taking the soul of the sport down. Painting by Alexander Litovchenko.


I should here turn to the question of the Americans broached in the previous part of the series.

 

The Return to David Dein

The idea, which constitutes the second of my six points regarding the New Era at Arsenal, that Arsenal need someone on the board biased much more toward the playing aspect of the club than toward the business aspect, which the club has become a good model of, implies that there isn't such a person on the board right now.

Even Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith's comments on the board, to which I made copious references in the previous part of the series, allude to this.

It is the same assumption that informs the desire for the return of David Dein to the board—a desire that is held by a section of Arsenal fans. Part of this is because it is thought that Dein was responsible for the major signings of Arsene Wenger's previous decade at Arsenal.

And if, as Lady Bracewell-Smith observes, he wasn't really the brain behind these signings but just the facilitator of these, some would still argue that he couldn't have failed to have an influence on the decisiveness by which Arsenal went about the business of transfers in those days.

Consequently, the example of the signing of Thierry Henry might be cited, a player brought in quite swiftly to replace the departing Nicolas Anelka, whom Real Madrid coveted and acquired.

In contrast—the argument might continue—Arsenal failed to replace Cesc Fabregas with a similar swiftness, even though the club could have bought Juan Mata, the thought of whom still rankles a number of fans.

Like I admitted to an observer who made this very point in response to the previous part of the series, it is this very sentiment that informs my assent to the idea that Arsenal, indeed, might need a Dein-like spirit on the board, someone who isn't merely a business person, but one who possesses fierce jealousy for the club, the type found only in life-long (or rather bread and buttered) fans of any given club.

In fact, it was this fierce jealousy that made him oppose the construction of the Arsenal stadium because he foresaw that it'd hamper Arsenal's ability to be competitive in the transfer market. 

The same jealousy made him shop for an investor who could contribute to Arsenal’s future cause in financial terms. It is why he brought Stan Kroenke to Arsenal. 

The same jealousy led him to abandon the Kroenke option for Alisher Usmanov when, apparently, it became evident to him that Kroenke wasn't the kind of investor he had envisioned.

The fallout that followed makes it unlikely that he'd return to Arsenal (I observed in the previous part), mainly because he undercut the current majority shareholder when he preferred the latter's rival in the sale of his substantial shares.

Accordingly, if Dein was once a friend of Kroenke's, I don't believe he still is. Therefore, he isn't returning to the Arsenal board, not under the current environment. Who, then, is to play his role if, indeed, it currently is lacking at the club?

To answer this question, it must be true that this assumption is accurate. But is it?

We must first determine that the person who assumed Dein's mantle isn't doing a proper job. To determine this, we must know who this person is, and this person is none other than Ivan Gazidis—the club's current chief executive.


David Dein and Fabio Capello. Getty Images.


Ivan Gazidis: Eight Questions

Although Gazidis is one of those ostensible Americans whom Lady Bracewell-Smith referred to as imports in the previous part of this series, he isn't American at all, even though he lived in America for some time. Who really is this man?

Where does he come from?

Gazidis was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 13th September 1964 (he is 48). He moved to England when he was four, where, subsequently, he became educated, eventually earning a master's degree in Law from Oxford University.

Does he know anything about football?

Of course. What do you expect of an Englishman?

But beyond the love and knowledge that comes with one's natural environment, he actually played football himself. He played for Oxford University and was part of the team that played against Cambridge University at the old Wembley Stadium in 1984 and 1985.

In addition, before coming to Arsenal, he was a professed Manchester City fan.

What experience does he have in football administration?

He was a founding member of America's Major League Soccer, subsequently becoming employed by the league, serving for 14 years (1994-2008) and becoming the deputy commissioner of the league in 2001. He then became the President of Soccer United Marketing International from 2002 to 2006.

Besides all this, he was involved with running a football organization for the CONCACAF. He sits on a number of committees, including the following:

The FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, The Football Association Council and The Professional Game Board. He's Chairman of the Legal Advisory Panel to the European Club Association.

(This information, his membership in committees, that is, was true as of 2009.

Here's a more detailed list of his committee appointments:


Incidentally, Arsenal just announced other committee appointments.

In specific terms what were his actual duties as an administrator in America?

He was deputy commissioner for Major League Soccer (MLS) at the time he left the MLS for Arsenal. In this role, he provided vision "on all the key strategic and business decisions made by the league and its marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing."

In addition, he oversaw "all aspects of MLS competition, including negotiation of the transfer and employment contracts of all the players in the league, managing stadium events, security issues and player, coaching and refereeing matters" (emphasis mine).

He garnered experience in sports marketing as the president of Soccer United Marketing’s international division, developing and implementing "winning strategies for the Mexican Soccer Federation and the CONCACAF Gold Cup as well as innovative new concepts such as American tours for the England national team, Barcelona and Real Madrid amongst others" (again, emphasis mine).

Since he was a professed Manchester City fan, what assurance do we have that he is loyal to Arsenal?

Despite being a City fan, he turned down the opportunity to become the club's administrator, a year before he agreed to become one for Arsenal. He had been "lined up for weeks to become Manchester City executive chairman." 

He refused the job, turning down a seven-figure package, because he was unwilling to "bring back his family [wife and two sons] from Connecticut, where the MLS [had] their headquarters."

It was observed that the "snub [was] all the more remarkable as Gazidis...[professed] to be a City fan and went to school in Manchester."

So what made him agree to work for Arsenal?

The deciding factor seemed to have been Arsenal's tradition and pedigree. This is what he said in November of 2008 when he accepted to be Arsenal's chief executive, according to Arsenal.com:

I have been privileged in my 14 years with MLS to have worked with and for some of the best sports executives and owners in the world, whose vision, commitment and expertise have taken the league from strength to strength and provided a solid platform for its future growth.

I am delighted to be offered the opportunity to bring that experience to bear at Arsenal - a club rich in heritage and tradition - that is superbly positioned for success in the modern era. I relish the prospect of working with the key stakeholders to further propel the Club forward. It is nearly 16 years since I left the UK but I’m very much looking forward to returning in January.

 

The idea about working with "key stakeholders" appears to be a veiled (or not so veiled) reference to Stan Kroeke, who, at this time, had become the majority shareholder at Arsenal.

It may be part of the reason why Gazidis agreed to return to England despite the fact that he had refused to do so a year earlier when Manchester City offered him a similar position.

What is his role at Arsenal?

He took over "many of the duties previously handled by former vice chairman David Dein...such as player contracts and negotiations."

What was the testimony about him?

MLS Commissioner Don Garber (via Our Sports Central):

Major League Soccer's on-field product has marched steadily forward, primarily due to Ivan's thorough understanding of the game and its global market, his impressive reasoning and judgment, and his deep-rooted desire to see soccer grow in North America.

Peter Hill-Wood (via Arsenal.com):

Ivan’s credentials are first class.  It is evident that he has a wealth of business acumen together with a broad knowledge of football that will not only help to maintain Arsenal’s pre-eminent standing but enhance our reputation within the football community and international commercial markets.

 

 Arsenal Supporters' Trust (via The Guardian):

This is a vital appointment at a time when Arsenal face challenging times on and off the field. The most pressing item in his in-tray is seeing through the completion of the Highbury Square property development in the face of the severe economic downturn.

His experience of international sports marketing should help the club to grow its income stream at a time when there should clearly be no further increase in ticket prices for the hard-pressed supporter. We also note his experience in managing player contracts, a skill set we hope he will soon put to use at Arsenal.

 

But what actually has he achieved since his appointment? Has Arsenal progressed under him? Is he the reason we haven't been making urgent signings?

These questions I will examine in Part 7 of the article. Meanwhile, for the curious reader, this, still, is the second of my six expedient things, which I deem necessary for the "New Era." 

Here I have attempted to examine Gazidi's role in the context of the so-called stasis in the board, which apparently must be dealt with if Arsenal are to make good progress in the immediate future. This is merely the background to the man. The next section will flesh this out.

Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger. Getty Images.

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I believe Part 5 of the series is a good context to this section, so if you haven't read it, I'd advise you do so.

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