Jim White

Arsenal’s Financial Fair Play moans don’t add up

Jim White

View photo


At first reading it might seem there is nothing wrong with Arsenal’s letter asking for Financial Fair Play to be introduced to the Premier League.

'Live within your means' seems the minimum requirement for football clubs. Especially when the rewards from television income are now so huge, it appears madness that certain operations are able to sustain un-viable losses thanks to benefactors. And we know precisely who the Gooners are whining about.

But just ask yourself this: which of the following is a better model for football in the long term? One in which a set of owners, by dint of a leveraged buy-out, use the fans’ money to buy themselves a club, from which they have subsequently extracted £500million?

Or one in which a set of owners have invested so far nearly one billion pounds of money that would otherwise not be in the country, upgrading facilities, improving infrastructure and delivering world-class players to English game? Which of those two strikes you as the more beneficial ownership?

Manchester United is self-sufficient all right. But then it always has been since the second world war. Sure, the Glazers have developed the business over the past seven years by exploiting its worldwide renown, selling everything from Bulgarian telecoms rights to partnership with Chilean wine importers.

And you cannot argue that some of the increased income has not made its way to improving the team: £28million was found for Robin Van Persie, a bit of business that has every brand loyalist grinning from ear to ear.

But the family has also sucked huge quantities of money from the club and exported it to America to prop up their other enterprises. United is the cash cow that keeps Glazer Inc going in the States. Yet, by the requirements of the Arsenal proposal, that is reckoned a perfectly legitimate way of treating an English football asset.

City, on the other hand, have been completely transformed by the Abu Dhabi ownership. Millions has been pumped in, improving everything from the pitch itself to the dining facilities at the Etihad stadium.

Because of his association with the club, £150million of one of the richest men in the world’s personal fortune is being invested in Manchester’s poorest area. This will see a poisoned post-industrial wasteland bloom into a state-of-the-art training centre, where local youngsters will get the chance to become professional players.

Sure, City have pumped disproportionate amounts into the playing staff in order to rapidly become competitive. But that was always reckoned an up-front investment, which would be rowed back as the club achieved a higher level of income, through things like consistent Champions League qualification.

Yet this is a model – millions pumped from overseas into the English game – that Arsenal want to see proscribed.

The thing is, although it is targeted at City’s sudden advantage, the Arsenal proposal would also mean the end of Fulham’s Premier League position. It would have meant Blackburn never had the chance to compete at the top. More to the point, it wouldn’t have stopped the idiots of Venky’s subsequently taking over at Ewood and leading the club to oblivion.

If Arsenal can’t get the City spectre out of its thinking, maybe they should consider this comparison. John Madjeski and Firoz Kassam took over Reading and Oxford United respectively at around the same time. The two cities are roughly the same size, with the same sort of potential crowd catchment.

Both needed new stadiums, the building of which their chairmen oversaw. The difference was immediately apparent between the two regimes, however.

While Reading’s stadium was properly done, Oxford’s was built on the cheap, with only three sides. Investment in the team was similarly disproportionate. While Reading advanced towards the Premier League, Oxford sank to the Conference. Madjeski’s motivation was to pay whatever it took to make his club successful. Kassam’s was to pay as little as he could to exploit the real estate possibilities of his asset.

These days Reading are in the top division, playing to full houses. Kassam has long sold on Oxford, but his malevolent legacy lingers on: the fact the football club do not own their stadium – he does – constrains their business model, leaving the U’s marooned in League Two.

Yet, because Madjeski invested more into his club than it was making in order to advance its cause, Arsenal would claim he was a dangerous owner. Kassam, on the other hand, by dint of starving the club of the resources it needed to develop to keep his bottom line intact, is, by their criteria, a model owner. Just ask the fans who they would prefer to be in charge of the object of their affection.

Actually, it might not be a bad idea for Arsenal to do just that. Ask their own fans whether the directors should be investing in or extracting from their club. Actually, there’s no need to do that. The answer is chanted from the stands at every home game.

The truth is, what football needs more than self-serving proposals like this is robust scrutiny of potential owners to ensure the destruction of clubs like Portsmouth, Birmingham and Wimbledon never happens again. It is asset stripping that threatens the game. Not investment.

View comments (103)