Is our chrilden learning?

The Tim Stillman column - Arseblog

Euro 2012 brought on a kind of pleasant footballing dialysis. We were largely starved of Arsenal related news but the tournament acted as a valve while the toxins of 2011-12 ebbed away. That now seems a life time ago. Two open letters have set off a klaxon of debate and conjecture in the Goonerverse. One letter addressed to the fans but really intended for the Arsenal board, one addressed to the Arsenal board but really intended for the fans. What a tangled web we weave.

A good portion of the squad is back in pre season training. The work that is done on the green and pleasant land of Colney will be as important, if not more important, than the brokering we do in the transfer market. Particularly if we once again lose the focal point of our team this summer, as seems likely. That will involve some form of tactical rethink. The promotions of Bould and Banfield don’t represent “new blood” so much as a transfusion of sorts, but this is the period where those gentlemen will look to make their mark on the team.

As much as many like to profess otherwise, we aren’t really privy to what happens on the training ground. Subjects of debate over the last seven days have focussed far more on matters backstage. 24 hours after the captain questioned the club’s direction, Red & White Holdings released a timely statement asking a similar question at greater length. Speaking broadly, I have personally been enthused by the responses to both PR stunts from Arsenal fans. Van Persie’s mawkish “you guys” rhetoric has sent the bullshit-o-meter’s doolalley.

As a PR exercise, I think van Persie’s advisors probably misjudged this one. Nevertheless, I still believe this will only represent discomfort for him on a temporary basis. Once he gets the move (and subsequent pay packet) he is angling for, he won’t much care about his popularity at his former club. It’s just business. Similar can be said of Red & White’s interestingly timed PR salvo. I am of course speaking in the most general terms based on my subjective experience here, but I think Usmanov’s whispering of sweet nothings has largely been considered populist chicanery.

And that’s exactly what it is. It puts one in mind of a shadow cabinet that blithely pledges to put more Bobbies on the beat to defeat petty crime. It sounds wonderful, but it lacks in finite detail. Maybe I’m being pernickety, but I’d like a touch more in the way of forensics. The letter highlights the manager being hampered by the repayment of stadium debt. Our stadium debt stands at roughly £15m a year. Manchester City spends around £60m more than Arsenal on wages per annum. So even if you take the stadium debt away, there’s still a £45m gap there that Red & White’s gambit doesn’t care to account for.

A couple of sentences later the supposition that we should be matching and beating offers from rival clubs for our players appears. I’m struck by how utterly bonkers this is when you consider that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City could double any salary offer we make with the change they could find under the sofa cushions. The underlying error people tend to make when one questions Usmanov is elucidated neatly by The Beautiful Groan in this piece.

Doubting Usmanov doesn’t necessarily mean you have a penchant for silent, moustachioed types. It’s not polar; let us not fall into the dreaded George W. Bush “You’re either with us or against us” ways of thinking. Similarly, it’s all very well slapping one another on the back for our resistance to van Persie’s PR pot-shot. But that doesn’t mean worthy questions aren’t being asked – even if the motives of those putting them into the public arena can be questioned. “Freedom of speech won’t feed my children” as James Dean Bradfield once bristled.

Personally, I maintain an enormous amount of distrust towards Usmanov and Red & White. However, there is no arguing that it is lamentably dysfunctional to have two majority owners of any business that won’t even clink a glass. The AST survey suggests that most of the AST membership would like Red & White on the board of the directors; I’m yet to be convinced of what exactly they would offer. Nevertheless, constructive dialogue would surely be desirable. My hunch is that Kroenke doesn’t much care what Red & White say and will continue to administer the silent treatment.

The issue of contract management at the club has also been discussed ad nauseam over the last eight days. It’s certainly an applicable question as to how players such as van Persie, Nasri and Walcott have been able to play us like a grand piano having gotten to the last year of their remaining deals. I’ve seen a lot of criticism from many quarters, but little in the way of viable solutions. I’m sure many will be minded to accuse me of devotedly defending the club here. But I always think it’s important to put oneself in the position of decision maker at the instant a verdict is made and simply try and see why a particular resolution is arrived at.

This blog makes a good case that van Persie’s terms were renewed in 2009. Realistically, 2011 was the first time we could sensibly look to offer improved terms, otherwise we would literally be offering players improved contracts every single year. Gazidis wasn’t being cute at the recent Q & A when he said that the club would be guilty of pandering if they didn’t have some players near the end of their deals.

In this new landscape, the player is the kingmaker. Looser legislation dictates that contracts are such a tightrope. Clearly we have the dual issue of having offered subpar players generous terms too early. But this week I read an interesting letter from a Manchester United fan disgruntled about their handling of young player’s contracts. Ravel Morrison, Paul Pogba and Ezekiel Fryers have been allowed to run their deals down this year, whilst Danny Welbeck remains at an impasse in negotiations with just 12 months left on his contract. Effectively, they haven’t signed up promising youngsters early enough.

There’s been some (understandable) shoe gazing about having our better players cherry picked by richer clubs. I think there’s resentment especially towards clubs whose wealth hasn’t exactly been hard earned poking around N5. It’s probably worth reflecting that we won’t receive much external sympathy on this point. We, of course, headed a syndicate of clubs that chose to form a breakaway Premier League some twenty years ago.

The purpose of the league was, effectively, to pool resources between a select band of clubs. There is many a Championship / League One team that would look at the inequality the Premier League created and regard our predicament with little bonhomie. We created the greed is good league and it spurned a monster that is stomping on our building. (You might also reflect on the fact that we were very active members of G14). There’s little mileage in any piety we might feel. You don’t have to accept that point, but it’s worth entertaining in any case. Till next time. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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