Arsenal has become a feeder club. It is hard to accept that as an Arsenal fan but looking back at the last few seasons it indeed seems to be the case. Here, I wouldn’t hold Arsenal or Arsene Wenger responsible. I don’t think the club or the manager are at fault because the matter is beyond them. It is an issue with football as a whole; with the fall of loyalty and the introduction of ‘oil money’. It is a disgusting fact, but at the end of the day, it is true. It has to be accepted.
Wenger’s policy of grooming talent for the club is admirable; it is one of the reasons that some fans choose to support the club. The philosophy is in place – the club works as a family and the cogs of the machine turn themselves to churn out a brilliant outcome. Or at least this seemed to be the case until 2004. Suddenly we have Roman Abramovich stepping into the picture and shaping up a decent Chelsea side into champions by way of his stupendous investments. Abramovich’s efforts were credible at the time and he helped place Chelsea into ‘The Big Four’ alongside Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Although it was overlooked at the time, it has lead to a prominent problem in today’s English game; money being pumped into a club is causing results on the field.
Chelsea wasn’t so much of an issue at the time. The transfers that were made were considerably larger than most other clubs but the competition still seemed to be fair. But introduce into this picture the ambition of Thaksin Shinawatra to get the ball rolling and the money of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and we have new champions in the form of Manchester City. Sure Manchester City played well and deserved the title for all their efforts last season and signings before that, but it is appalling to think that the loyalty of a footballer now lies with the highest wages.
Coming back to Arsenal, there always seems to be a lack of ambition. Not winning a trophy for 7 years and counting is more than just taunts from United supporters, it is a stab in the heart of the club and everyone who supports it. Why? Because the only things the modern footballer cares about are trophies and cheques. Granted that a footballer of world class standing deserves to be in a winning team and should have something to show for his time there, but going with the highest bidder just to increase your bank balance and have something shiny around your neck is definitely not what football is about.
The Great Arsenal Exodus dates back to the departures of Patrick Veira and Robert Pires and the retirement of Dennis Bergkamp. The Invincibles were no more and the hope seemed to be draining from the older players as Wenger was rebuilding his squad with young players. The young guns in the squad had the intention of starting every game and winning every trophy. There was a sense of optimism which wasn’t fading fast as Wenger claimed that the next season would be ours even as the drought kept on increasing. The young players were slowly becoming world class and the world was noticing. The hunger was large and the money was good, so they moved on. Arsenal had trained and invested in youth to turn them into prime international targets and through 2005 to 2010 countless players moved on after learning their trade at the club. Thierry Henry, Aleksandr Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and others. This was Arsenal’s fate; they were slowly turning into the football world’s biggest youth and talent academy. The club could do little but make some money off the sales.
Other fans would argue that Wenger could easily break the bank and splurge in the transfer market. Most Arsenal fans know that the club turns out a profit of between 30 and 50 million pounds every year which allows Wenger a transfer budget of at least 50 to 70 million pounds a season. But Wenger is reluctant to splurge, and rightfully so. Wenger doesn’t buy a player unless he is certain of his quality and that he will fit into the Arsenal setup. He also likes to groom the talent he brings in meaning he won’t usually buy players who are in the prime of their career. Another point is that any quality transfer target that Arsenal ship out will easily be outbid by clubs who are spending between 100 and 150 million pounds every transfer window. Virtually, Arsenal doesn’t stand a chance in transfers except for continuing to do what they have been doing. Another argument is Wenger not showing any drive by buying quality players. This is true and not really an argument. Wenger’s hesitation in the transfer window has helped the decision of a few Arsenal players to move on. But Wenger has been consistent with his promises and the motivation seems to be there, the only things that are lacking are the loyalty and patience. If more of the top notch players had stayed, Arsenal would have had an overall world class squad that could easily pick up trophies season after season.
But of course, there is still hope. If and when introduced, the financial fair play rules will even the playing field. Simply put, the financial fair play rules state that a club cannot spend more than they earn in a financial year. This includes transfer budget and wage structures of a club. Arsenal has been turning a higher profit than any other team in the Premier League since 2006 which will put the club in a safe position. But blaming the situation on financials is pointless. It is something that is out of the hands of any club, not just Arsenal, until the loyalty and the honour is returned to the game. Right now, the sport is only a shadow of what it once was. The pride of putting on a jersey and kissing the badge has become a show for television cameras. When the sport returns to being as great as it once was, then we will have our trophy. And that will be our pride. One of the few clubs that played the sport how it was meant to be played.