Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sheik, rattle and roll

Oil. It’s marvelous stuff, isn’t it? Look at JR Ewing. Where would he have been without oil? And Bobby. He’d probably still have been swimming like a spasticated seal under the water with his webbed hands and stuff.

It drives the world, literally, and now it’s driving football. The investments in football clubs from people who have made bazillions from oil and the like continue apace. PSG are now heading even further into ludicrous Championship Manager territory with a double move for Thiaga Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan.

“We’ll save €150m in two years”, says Berlusconi. Not that saving €150m is a bad thing, not by any means, but this is AC Milan, the great AC Milan, selling two of their best players to PSG. And why are the players going there? Not for the glory of winning Ligue 1, the 5th most prestigious championship in Europe, but for the money that is on offer. Plain and simple. There’s no bullshit talk of ambition or any nonsense like that. They can afford to pay massive, massive wages on top of massive transfer fees, and that’s why Ibrahimovic and Silva are going to play in Paris.

Now, you can say PSG are ‘building’ a team to compete in the Champions League, which is probably true. Adding two quality players to their squad will make them better, but I can’t be the only one to feel somewhat disheartened to see a club like Milan have their players cherry-picked by the Johnny Come Latelys at PSG. You might argue it’s a case of what goes around comes around, they’ve used their wealth down the years to do exactly the same to smaller clubs, but it signals a real changing of the guard in European football.

Yes, PSG are a big, well known club, with some measure of history and prestige (more due to their location than success, I’d suggest), but this is a real game changer. And if AC Milan are ripe for the pickings, then it’s no surprise that Arsenal find themselves dealing with these situations also. We’re in the middle of one right now. Our captain, a player we all thought knew what it meant to be a Gunner, has had his head turned by the oily millions on offer from Manchester City and in order to secure a move there has, essentially, destroyed his relationship with the people who loved him and supported him.

Forget talk of ambition and desire to win trophies. It’s a sop for the fans. I’m not suggesting that he doesn’t want to win things, or that such an objective isn’t present, but I don’t believe for one second that it’s enough to make a player like Robin van Persie behave the way he has. The only thing that would make him do that is money. And look, if that’s the way you feel, go earn as much as you like somewhere else. I think we’ve come to accept that loyalty is a concept which very few players understand and something that really only applies to fans.

It doesn’t matter how woeful a summer is, it doesn’t matter how many years we go without a trophy, we can’t swap our allegiance because success might be easier to find elsewhere. Players come, players go, some of them do well, some of them not so well, yet the bricks and mortar and that pitch in the middle remain constant. First day of the season, we’ll be there. First day of the next season, we’ll be there. And the season after that and the one after that.

But there must be a tipping point. A stage at which the game is so far removed from anything that involves the real world – the world we understand – that it becomes alien to us. FIFA and UEFA, those charged with the good of football don’t get it. They think that the more money they make from football the healthier football is. The reality, of course, is that football is secondary to the commercial interests that surround and dictate to the game.

World Cup in the desert? Well, if they’ve got the money to buy the votes to make it happen, then sure! Go for it! Who cares that it’s the fucking desert and too hot to play football in?! Executives taking kickbacks for everything from TV deals to advertising/sponsorship campaigns. Talk of a European Championships being held in 12-13 cities. Why? For commercial reasons. Not for the good of the players, the game and especially not the fans. We do not matter as long as we buy the Cokes and drink the Heinkens and watch the games on our Sony TVs to the see the Playstation ads.

Let’s not be blind to the fact that money has always played a part in the game, and as Tim Stillman rightly pointed out yesterday we were right up there when it came to the creation of the Premier League, a shining beacon of commercialism and unsustainable spending which has cost some clubs dearly and will continue to do so as they gamble and take massive risks to keep their place at the top table. And that place is becoming more and more expensive due to the skewing of the market by Chelsea, first, and subsequently Man City.

Are we somewhat hypocritical to bemoan those with the funds siphoned from natural resources when Danny Fiszman’s diamond based investment in Arsenal brought the club forward in the 90s? Perhaps. We spent a massive £7.5m on Dennis Bergkamp back in 1995, a transfer record at the time, and there’s no denying the impact that had on the way this club moved forward. From occasional title/cup winners to regular, season after season contenders. We’ve achieved a level of consistency like never before and it was built on that investment and the Premier League money which we, like every other club, gobbled up.

Maybe it’s becoming more difficult to cope with as we find ourselves used as a stepping stone by some players and as those with greater bank balances clamber over us. It’s funny now how people used to criticise Manchester United for the money they had and the spending power they possessed. Yet United spent the money they earned, they were the first to really understand how you could earn big from the commercial side of the game, and while at the time it seemed exploitative it looks positively pure compared to what’s going on in the game now.

It’s depressing to think that maybe it’s a case of ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’. We set out a plan, a very carefully considered one too, to build a new stadium, to reap the benefits of that in the long-term and to grow the club sustainably and organically. To create a business which could operate properly, make profits and invest those profits back into the club. I don’t think we can be critical of that in any way, but the landscape has changed.

I like to think we can compete though, without sugar-daddy investment from Kroenke or Usmanov. I like to think that Arsenal Football Club stands for something more than the rampant greed which has taken root in the game. From clubs to players to fans there’s an obsession with money which just isn’t healthy and which cannot do any good in the long-term. But perhaps I’m just naive.

Oil reserves are finite. Oligarchs and Sheiks love their expensive playthings but that’s all they are. This season’s whim for prestige and respectability, the ultimate boy’s toy. Man City, Chelsea, Malaga, PSG, how long before the debts which cripple the big Spanish clubs see them snapped up? It sounds unthinkable but so did a World Cup in the fucking desert.

I mean, the idea of every football club being run as a business, a real business which can spend what it can afford to spend and invest what it can afford to invest, is hardly a lot to ask, is it? For the good of the game it should be the minimum requirement. But money calls the shots. And money doesn’t so much talk nowadays as strut around shouting like a blinged-up Lottery winner in a mock Tudor mansion snorting coke off a porn-star’s tits.

Till tomorrow.

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