Red & White’s Open Letter, and the subsequent chatter around the internet is the reason I decided to try and write something. Trouble is, I am angry, and I don’t know if I’ll be coherent enough. Why am I angry? Because I don’t like my club being harmed. Now, some would argue that the club being harmed is exactly what makes Usmanov angry, or ‘concerned’. And that’s why he’s decided to write something like what he did. I disagree. But let’s move on from this for a while. I’ll keep referring to parts of the letter though.
The more fundamental question is..Why do people think there is something wrong at Arsenal? Usmanov refers to dressing up a bad game, and I guess the same applies here. No matter what people say, the reason for there being a perception of something being wrong, is only that we haven’t won a trophy for a while. And that is exactly what Usmanov is seeking to capitalise on.
What is a trophy? It’s something you win. Even Usmanov says “because it is the trophies which are the crowning achievement for everybody at the club.” What is the keyword in there for most people? For me, it’s ACHIEVEMENT. A trophy is not the end to be reached at all costs. It is something you earn. You earn it by playing well. You earn it by being better than others wanting to win it too. Sometimes, despite playing well enough you miss out on it due to factors outside your control that can be simplistically labelled as luck. Where is the achievement in assembling a team of the highest paid players? What is the meaning of the trophy if you are simply getting your hands on it? I could buy a trophy from some guy who won the track and field at the national athletic meet. Hell I could pump myself full of drugs, nobble him, and even race him for it and beat him. (See, I worked for it) I would then display it in my cabinet. Maybe show it off to some people who visit, who would be suitably impressed. But what do I get from it? Nothing. Nothing important anyway.
But let’s say you do. Some of you feel that the trophy IS the ultimate achievement regardless of how you come by it. What would be the collateral you would be willing to give in exchange for your trophies? What would you sacrifice for it? After all, no such thing as a free lunch. So if you’re not paying the bill for your lunch, someone else is. Who is footing that bill, and why? What do you risk owing that person in exchange for having your ephemeral desire satiated? And what do you have left after the desire is fulfilled?
Having one person owning the club is inherently risky. For every Abramovich there are tens of Shinawatras, Chainrais, Ridsdales, Whytes, Yeungs, Venkys, Tans, Romanovs (starting to get the picture yet?) And if you don’t know who they are, it’s because the media doesn’t quite give the same amount of coverage to the important problems in football, as it does to transfers and the rest of the drama. Of course, nothing like this could happen to Arsenal. Arsenal could never go bankrupt. Even if we do, there will always be someone richer and more ‘ambitious’ to rescue us and bring us more trophies. Right? You come back to the point about why someone will foot your bill. Let’s get one thing straight. Rich people do not give away money. That isn’t how they got rich in the first place. If they seem to give away money, it’s because they aim to gain something out of it. It’ll always be more money, whether directly or indirectly. It could be an advertisement, it could be as an investment, it could be to gain legitimacy. Anything. But it is never charity. Never. Eventually, they will no longer need this toy that they have. It will happen. It may not be in 1 year, or 10, or 50. But it will happen.
Now some people seem to have no problem with players switching clubs for more money. Neither do I. They do it in contravention of rules though, and that’s something we shouldn’t forget, or brush over. But ok, we’d all switch our jobs for more money. But would we switch our loyalties? Let’s say someone offered you a large sum of money to start supporting Chelsea with them (because they are all alone and they want to feel as involved with their community as we are) Would you do it? Turn your back on Arsenal? Chelsea win trophies, remember? I would think not. So it seems people have some qualms about switching loyalties for money or trophies. Yet, what people are advocating with bringing Usmanov in, is also switching loyalties.
What are we loyal to? Just the name ‘Arsenal’? Well, we were also variously named Dial Square, Woolwich Arsenal, Royal Arsenal etc. right? Didn’t our fans maintain their loyalty? Don’t we accept those names as part of our history?
What are we loyal to? The location of the club? Well, yes. But the reason for that isn’t just location itself. It’s what it represents (and I’m an overseas fan) to the people, to its traditions.
I follow Arsenal because of our ethos. Our tradition. our values. Our class. Our style of play. Our history of success.
Now. Some of those things will not last forever, and I’ll still be around supporting Arsenal. For instance, our style of play. I’ll still follow Arsenal if we play like a bunch of club footed, catenaccio loving bunch of amateurs. And of course, if we are playing like that, there will be no trophies.
But some things, are THE identity of Arsenal. Values, and traditions. CLASS.
For one moment, forget trophies, forget FFP, and talk of we can’t compete (we do compete most years) and think about it. It’s just good sense to not spend more than you have. Most of the world is finding out right now that living in and off credit is something which comes back to bite you. Usmanov’s notion of a debt free club, with a large war chest is all well and good. But isn’t that exactly what the current board are looking to achieve?
In any case, having a sugar daddy model doesn’t guarantee success. Even in today’s world. What happens when EVERYONE goes down that route. You can pump in 2billion, someone else will pump in 5, someone else 10. What guarantee do you have that any amount of money will be enough? Are there enough billionaires interested to go around? And that’s nothing to say of what it means for the state of true competition in football. Even the US, which is the most capitalist country in the world, organises its sports in a very socialistic manner with wage caps, draft system, and restrictive transfer rules, because those rules promote a more competitive environment. ManCity might be Arsenal’s rival, but if they end up destroying all competition, they end up destroying themselves. Sports are not a normal competitive business environment in that sense. There are no monopolies in sport. There is no excitement in viewing a foregone conclusion. Arsenal do things in a way which are moral, which are important, and importantly, which does have a chance of success. The chance is lower, and it is affected by being targeted at this point. But the chance is still there. They only target us, because they fear us.
And I include Usmanov in that. Usmanov wants to own the club, right? If Arsenal succeed, he doesn’t get to own Arsenal. As such, his ‘concerns’ are very much the opposite of Arsenal’s. His interests are contrary to the fans. Usmanov is selling a dream. A dream Ridsdale sold his Leeds fans, and then said that for a while, we lived it at least. To be fair, the board is selling a dream too. The worst that can happen in following that dream is that we won’t win trophies. The worst that can happen with chasing Usmanov’s dream is…well.. a LOT worse. Trophies would be the last of our worries then. Ask Portsmouth fans. Usmanov came in through paying Dein 75m for his shares. and promptly proceeded to go on a bullying spree against all the blogs who were naturally enough curious about his past. His shady past shouldn’t disqualify him, but it should make us wary of him. Usmanov is also the only one making high and mighty promises, which he knows he’ll have no need to prove until he can give us all a massive shrug with massive shoulders and say..Tough.. I lied. He’s the only one who makes opportunistic statements destabilising the club, just to try and force his way in. He’s using the fans’ concerns, presenting them as his own, and trying to use us to get his way. Kroenke was on the outside looking in too. He never made any statements harming Arsenal. Of course, Kroenke is not an angel. He is just someone who’s track record and behaviour suggests he is more trustworthy, or at least, less risky.
I would MUCH prefer not having either of these people involved with Arsenal. But only Kroenke has sports teams (and no, they are not all ‘unsuccessful’. Saying that is displaying a vast ignorance about how US sports are structured) He has NEVER sold any share in any sports team he has owned. He was initially resisted by the board, but brought in once Usmanov appeared on the scene. (which suggests they aren’t simply motivated to sell out, nor did they accept Usmanov’s higher offer) Kronke uses his sports teams as a business. Arsenal IS a business. What does he bring to the business? He brings with him a wealth of marketing experience using sports teams. Liverpool’s owners managed to get them a bumper shirt deal through their own channels of influence. Kroenke offers us much the same. He can increase our brand value, and that in itself isn’t as simplistic as saying, if you win, your brand value goes up. Kroenke has something to offer us. His endgame is still unknown, but his record of not selling any sports team gives me confidence he’s not here to make just a quick buck.
So basically, I think this whole worrying over trophies is distracting us from the main issue. The current board need to change some aspects of their running of the club, in an ever changing situation, but what they say, and even the transfer dealings over the last 2 summers suggest they are aware of that. The desire for change, should not mean desire for complete change. We will not know whether R & W will be any better, until it’s too late to do anything about it. So far, everything Usmanov has done, has led me to grow more and more in favour of keeping him out. Much as I’d prefer Kroenke also gone, at the moment, if he’s all that’s stopping Usmanov from coming in, I’m thankful for his presence.
To end, I will make a statement that seems to go contrary to all I’ve written above. I think it is possible to maintain class, even under a billionaire model. No really, It is. A financier doesn’t HAVE to change the club’s ethos. He doesn’t have to make the club all about money. He can help the club overcome some shortcomings. But in that case, he doesn’t guarantee much more success at trophies. Once you start paying players more and more money, class invariably goes out the window. In any case, Usmanov has a distinct lack of class, and he’s shown a few times that he’s willing to harm Arsenal to serve his own interests. Hence my feelings above.
Written by Shard