Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Arsene Wenger: trying times under the wage-cap

As his fief struggles under the weight of a popular uprising, Arsene Wenger's reign from a high castle somewhere in the vicinity of Highbury appears destined to begin a decline. He has reigned justly and in the beauty of esoteric splendour for fifteen years in North London but appears unable to still this latest unrest.

Very few managers in the game have his alchemical ability to consistently synthesise young superstars from mere talent. Over the past decade that talent has most notably taken the form of Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere, Robin van Persie, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri. Clichy has departed while popular punditry appear in accord that it is a matter of "when" and not "if" Fabregas and Nasri join them. Wenger has sold some of his charges willingly, such as when Thierry Henry and Aliaksandr Hleb departed Arsenal to join Barcelona. Others, like Nasri, he appears to want to keep close.

As yet more Spanish players declare publicly Fabregas' burgeoning desire to play for his Catalan home club, Wenger's media comments seem more aggravated and weary than inspired. Considering his Northern nemesis, Sir Alex Ferguson, has never played the media or public better than when Wayne Rooney announced he wanted out of United in October last year, this may be a poor portent indeed.  The Rooney incident was over within ten days. Sir Alex's form as two years of Cristiano Ronaldo transfer rumours persisted was to become increasingly bombastic ("I wouldn't sell that mob a virus"). It seems Wenger has passed that stage (of grief?) and is now simply tired.

His more powerful declaration yesterday that "Big clubs don't sell their stars" is, for the most part, true. He has fought for three summers to retain captain Fabregas, while very few other global superstars move clubs without the vendors receiving way above market value. Unfortunately, he seems to be riding the misapprehension that Arsenal are a big club in the business of world football. That may not be true any more. Unfortunately, the Professor is handicapped by a wage ceiling, meaning he's unable to pay players more than 90,000 per week, comparative peanuts to the salaries doled out by the fiscal elite of world football.

While they remain one of the best ten teams in the world. that wage ceiling in itself earmarks Arsenal - a big, successful club with an enormous, loyal supporter base - as not being a member of the roundball financial elite. While he may decry "Big clubs don't sell their stars", it is without realising the fundamental fact that, until the new stadium is paid off and the wage ceiling disappears, the Gunners will be forced to sell their best players as they demand pay rises.  Financially, Arsenal aren't in the top five in the world (top ten, even) - meaning competing with cash-flush heavyweights automatically becomes that much more difficult.

Emirates stadium was designed to make Arsenal an economic superpower in the football world. In concert with continued investment from Stan Kroenke, the club may once again enter the elite echelon of football-nomics. But the precedents set by Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City mean there is now a two-tier system even within the richest of the rich in football. And though Arsenal are among the wealthiest clubs in the world, they aren't a member of that select "billionaire's row".

Gooners should hope Wenger is not losing his fire, for to maintain their grip on the top four facing harsher mercantile realities than their competition, Arsenal will need him at his absolute best.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Matt

    You're right. Arsenal has shown a steady decline since the early 2000s with the end of the 'Invincibles' era. They might be serious contenders in competitions, but history shows that they suffer a dip in form come mid-season. Even though the Professor constantly relies on youth policies, lack of funds is a key factor for the club. Mr Wenger is a fine manager and makes the best of the resources available but with limited funds, there's only so much he can do to answer his critics and fans. I predict the fabulous Fabregas to make his exit soon, however, I feel he would find it demanding to make it to the starting eleven at Barca. Maybe, he should look at the prospects of joining another club. There has been a lot of talk about Nasri's movement but in the end he might just stay on for another season.

    The transfer shop is still open and like always, will spring a surprise or two in the next couple of weeks.