WTTGT Writer: Devon James Andre Halls (@halls_dja)
Arsenal’s financial situation is rife with speculation, leading to wild exaggeration and continued vexation. The regularity of confusion leads to constant delusion, and with the fans exclusion we’re dealing in illusions.
Enough of that, but my point is a well known one; as followers of Arsenal FC we feel as if not only are we blind as sheep, but that the shepherd we’re following may well be blind too. This isn’t a comforting feeling, and may go some way to explaining the incredibly bumpy road we’ve stumbled these last 6 years. Worse still is the acknowledgement by many that if we had only deviated slightly from the current path, if we had just righted a couple of the wrongs from a few years ago, then we may find ourselves back on our well trodden path of success. I must stress that I am not calling Wenger blind, but I think the club has become blind to ambition over the last few years, and undoubtedly our position in the table reflects this.
Doing a little research and looking back over our recent transfer history has probably posed more questions than it has answered, but it’s incredibly interesting to notice the change in policy not merely in the way that we buy players, but in the way that we sell players too.
Our first season at The Emirates Stadium was during the 06/07 campaign, and not only did it bring a larger stadium, comfier seats and more expensive pies, it also brought a dramatic change in the way that we operated every summer and every January. When Wenger took over the helm in 1996, the club recorded transfer losses in all but one season until the move to Ashburton Grove, the figure usually being between £5-10m. In one summer of dealings alone we lost £16m, which is almost unthinkable now. Since moving to The Emirates we have made significant transfer profits in four of six seasons, posting numbers like £17m in the very summer we migrated, £31m three seasons later and £18m two seasons after that. This kind of transfer profit was completely unheard of at Highbury where we regularly posted losses, but we had a veritable tidal wave of success during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Going into slightly more detail, the first season in which Wenger was in charge we came 3rd in the league, and he was working with a lot of players whom he didn’t deem good enough or fit enough to play for the club. This led to wholesale changes at the club in the following summer with thirteen players leaving and ten coming in to replace them, with losses totalling around £10.5m (about £16.5m adjusting for inflation). We then went on to win the league and the FA Cup that season, our second double in club history. The 98/99 season we made more losses in the transfer market and came second by a solitary point whilst losing in the FA Cup semi final to Manchester United, so we came close domestically. Over the 98/99 season United posted transfer loses of £26m (infl. £39m).
During the 99/00 season we recorded profits of £6million, no doubt exaggerated by the sale of Anelka for £23m (infl. £33m) before the season started. We came comfortably second by a huge 18 points after United posted losses of £16m (infl. £22m). The following season we again posted losses and again came second, but we reduced the gap significantly after Man United posted transfer profits. During 01/02 we posted losses of £11m (£14.5) and ended up winning the league and cup double, being the only team to score in every fixture and going undefeated away from home.
Now I don’t want to bog you down much further as I’m sure all the numbers and stats can get quite tedious, but the trend is apparent to all; the teams which post large transfer losses tend to be the ones which challenge for the top honours season after season. Our biggest ever losses came during the 03/04 season and you know what happened there. Fast forward to the move from Highbury and we see consistent profits walking hand in hand with 3rd and 4th place, with no sign of it changing. £48.9m of transfer profits have been made at The Emirates, and we’ve only come close to the title in one of those seasons (where surprise, surprise…. we posted losses). Everyone knows how Chelsea went from being a rubbish club with no history to winning a couple of titles and still being a rubbish club with no history, and everyone rightly claims that they bought the title. They lost £150m over the 2 season that they won back to back.
Now admittedly we’ve had to repay the loans we received for the development project at Ashburton Grove, and the costs have risen to the best part of £500m from what I’ve read (without any public subsidy), so profits would have to be made, I’ve got no qualms with that. But this phase of structural redevelopment has spun the club into player policy redevelopment too, which has genuinely affected our chances of competing for silverware. Couple that with Wenger’s recent statement about the need for consistent profits and perhaps we are beginning to see the truth. Now Wenger didn’t specifically state transfer profits, but it is strongly implied simply because no business can be effectively run by turning over losses in its general management and funding, so why make such an obvious point? It would be like asserting that “a football club cannot function without players”, without specifically stating that it needs football players rather than banjo players.
When considering that Ivan “The Politician” Gazidis stated the other week that Wenger has all transfer revenue at his disposal, it makes you wonder whether he is telling the truth, or simply being a politician.
What can be deduced from these figures is that there is a trend at Arsenal Football Club, it is undeniable, and that the sooner we don’t need to make transfer profit every single season to pay back club debt the sooner we will see silverware. But if the problem is deeper, and is manifested in a wanton board of directors filling their own coffers year after year, the problems could continue for some time.
I remember David Dein rejecting 2 bids of £50 million or more for the services of Thierry Henry before he signed a new contract…would we see that happen with the Arsenal of today?
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