Monday 9 July 2012

Is Arsenal a Club in Crisis?

Every thing was going so well. I mean, we had signed Podolski -a proven forward from the German league and only just announced the acquisition of Olivier Giroud -the French League's top scorer from last season.

For the first time in years, Arsenal fans watched happily as the club went early into the transfer market and signed other than delinquents who are still wet behind the ears. We were making all the right noises in the transfer market too; there was still talk of our pursuit of Yanni M'villa and the French goal keeper Lloris, both first class internationals whose abilities can not be faulted. Not exactly marquee signings but we were looking like a club with true intent to contend next season not one who at the end of the season looks like they "also ran".

We knew there was the "small matter" of our captain sitting down with the club hierarchy to renew his contract which had just one year left to run. The club had been trying for a while now to do this but he had said he will wait until after he came back from the Euros to discuss his contract extension and not before. Like most Gunners, I took it for granted that this was going to happen sooner than later as the Netherlands was eliminated in the group stage of the tournament and many of us joked that he will now head back to London to tidy up the contract and at worst fax a signed copy of the contract from whatever exotic destination he had chosen for his vacation.

While most fans had actually discussed the possibility that he will not renew his contract, at the back of most of our minds, we believed it was a foregone conclusion that our captain will sign. This was not Petite Pute Nasri who didn't have the class to hide the fact that his motivation for leaving was purely financial; this was not Fabregas who we understood wanted more than anything else to play for his hometown club even if it meant taking a pay cut. In addition to that we expected demanded his loyalty for all the times we had stood by him while he was injured season after season. He never came across as the turncoat type.

We joked in chat rooms and forums about how lucky he was he didn't get injured at the tournament considering his injury records as he will have no bargaining chip if that had happened. We joked about how his value would have dropped after the Euros considering the Netherlands' disappointing run at the Euros and how he will be desperate to get back to London to renew his contract. That didn't happen.

With a few words last Wednesday, our captain shattered the peace at the club as he released a statement informing the world that he will not be renewing his contract. Within an hour of the said statement being released, the club released a terse rejoinder on the official website that suggested Van Persie will be expected to see through the remaining one year of his contract. It went on to imply that whichever way this goes, the club's best interests will be of utmost consideration which in my understanding opened the way for an eventual sale of RVP rather than risk losing him on a free transfer at the end of next season but only if this is considered to be in the best interest of the club.

Within a few hours, there was talk in the media of Theo Walcott who also has a year left to run on his contract following suit as he had also been holding out on contract extension talks. All of a sudden the media was awash with talk of a players exodus from the club. There were rumours of a players revolt at the club's training ground the next morning led by Jack Wilshere though how this could happen with the first team billed to resume pre-season training the next monday (today) beats the hell out of me.

While the dust was yet to settle on this, one of the club's majority share-holders, Mr. Usmanov made public a five page letter he had written to the club's board of directors suggesting that the club's preferred model is alienating both club fans and players alike. A letter which not only claimed that its intentions was not to create conflict at the club succeeded in dividing fans further apart on the debate over which of "Silent Stan's" present conservative approach or Usmanov's proposed splurge spending vision is the best way forward for the club. The letter smirked of opportunism and power play by a man who despite owning almost a third of the club has been denied a place on the board. That letter officially put the club in crisis overdrive if everything else had failed to do so as it took advantage of the fans' outcry against Van Persie to try to garner support to its side while seeking to turn the fans against the present management.

Are We a Club In Crisis?

Going by the dictionary definition of crisis which is, "a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger"and "a time when a difficult or important decision must be made" it does look so.

What are the decisions that need to be made?

1. Should the club hold Van Persie down to honour the remaining one year of his contract and lose him at the end on a free transfer?

2. Should the club bow to popular demand and pay "silly money" to bring in proven players rather than targeting cheap prospects and depending on graduating young players from its youth program?

Both are business decisions that will be made while thinking with the head and not the heart which means it can not be left to the fans who will think with their hearts more often than not.

Left to the fans, RVP will be made to see through his remaining one year even if it means losing him at the end on a free transfer. This will send a clear message to those who consider us a feeder club as well as the other players that Arsenal FC is not a selling club and will not be cowed into doing so by the financial might of bigger richer clubs while also proving the club is not all about profiting from the sale of players at the expense of on-field success.

The pragmatic thing to do will be to sell him to the highest bidder (as long as it is not City) if only to avoid the dressing room disharmony that is bound to follow after all he now must be stripped off the captaincy.

There is also bound to be a backlash  from the fans for whom he was a demi-god this last season and who now consider him a traitor in the mould of Nasri and Adebayor; it is inevitable that they will turn on him and make life very unbearable for him if he ever wears the red and white of Arsenal again.

Lastly, he has a poor injury record that has always made him a risky investment so it will make good business sense to cash in on an aging injury prone player but the proceeds must be ploughed right back in the acquisition of a like-for-like forward with proven abilities.

Should the club change its present policy of not spending above the odds for marquee signings?

I have often argued that Arsenal's chosen self-financing model in the long term is what any sane business must emulate for the sake of stability and longevity. Those who fail to accept that Arsenal FC is a business like any other whose sole purpose is to maximize profit must explain why the shares they invest in different blue chip companies are expected to yield dividends. Will they still think the board of directors is being greedy if they were investors in the club and depended on the returns from such an investment for some or all of their livelihoods? For most fans, their sole investment in the club are theirs heart and bragging rights at the end of the season when trophies are won the returns on this investment.

Considering the current global financial crisis, should stability be sacrificed in the short term at the risk of potentially bankrupting the club in the future. Many point at the likes of City, Barcelona, United and Real Madrid as clubs who spend what is necessary for on-field success yet they have not gone burst. What they fail to see are the peculiar circumstances of each of these clubs that enable them sustain their chosen models.

Hard as it is to accept, Arsenal is a big club but not as big as these clubs in terms of financial prowess. I'll not belabour the issue except to point out that if by some act of God or even man, something happens to Sheik Mansour or Abrahimovich, City and Chelsea will be thrown off balance if those who inherit the club are not interested in the "toys" they leave behind. Real Madrid and Barcelona own about 90% of television rights in the Spanish league which is supplemented by bank loans and the backing of the Spanish royal family in the case of Real Madrid.

I choose to see the likes of Montpellier who against all odds won the French league last season through sheer grit, persistence and determination at the the expense of their nouveau-riche counterparts PSG who had invested heavily in new personnel and took it for granted that this will buy them the championship.

Considering our limited financial resources, I'll rather err on the side of caution by not spending £50m on a striker without the guarantee of at least 35 goals a season for 4 years. If it was my money, I will not spend it so.

To conclude this, I believe the club has made a major shift in its recruitment policies judging by the acquisitions at the end of 2010/11 transfer window that brought in the likes of Arteta, Per and Santos. The activities in the current transfer window emphasizes this point and hopefully by the time the 2012/13 season gets underway, we will have a bench worthy of being in the starting eleven; this has been one of our banes these past few seasons when we have lacked the depth in-squad to call on our 2nd choices when the occasion required it.

With a few dead wood gotten rid off and a couple more additions to the squad before the transfer window closes as well as a pledge by all the players to give 110% when necessary, I predict that like the Phoenix, Arsenal FC will rise again like we have done in times past when both friends and foes alike have foretold our downfall.

Long may Arsenal FC live!

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