Gunning for Wenger: no upside to Arsenal manager's departure


Back in the 1980s, when the ruling Maktoum family of Dubai decided to get serious about bloodstock, they would use a private jet to fly their English trainers to Kentucky for the yearling sales. The plane became known as “The Magic Carpet”. Limitless oil wealth meant limitless buying power which meant limitless opportunity for Newmarket’s elite horsemen.

For a few years it really was Alakazam time for them. And then it stopped. The Sheikhs decided they’d like their multimillion dollar purchases trained by their own people. And the magic carpet was no more. That’s the trouble with sugar daddies: once their eye wanders, they have the financial clout to mosey off and soak up any losses that might accrue from their impulsiveness.

Sheikh Mansour has a depth of pocket that can tolerate a €120 million loss in his pet Manchester City project this year. Money-wise, even Uefa’s trump penalty card of expulsion from European competition isn’t going to have him scurrying online for the current account’s bottom line. Not that an organisation which managed to fine Serbia all of eighty grand for racial abuse and violence during their recent U-21 game with England is likely to reach for anything so dramatic.

But the point remains: it’s hard to scratch the turret of a financial tank that’s able to bankroll a vanity project like City. That is of course until, or if, the tank is rerouted to another such project: ask any Newmarket trainer – the carpet can land with a thud.

How long more for instance will Roman Abramovich’s “passion” for Chelsea encourage him to keep signing those cheques. The Champions League is won, and a trio of Premier Leagues, plus every sort of meaningful cup. That’s pretty much it. What’s left? And Russian oligarchs aren’t renowned for their sentimentality about blue is the colour and the Fulham Road, never mind pouring millions into a ravenous money pit in return for barely disguised disdain from terrace and telly.

Of course, Roman, the sheikh and the Premier League’s assortment of other corporate sugar daddies may be in for the long haul. They might indeed keep flushing their money away. The Premier League has, after all, its own peculiar logic: one that makes journeymen players with all the touch and skill of a cement mixer worth millions on the market. And one where it is in everyone’s interests to maintain the veneer, fawn over the fat naked emperor prancing up and down inside the gates and keep any mouthy, clear-eyed children firmly outside.

Learn the lesson

The parallel with the real world and our current economic problems is obvious. Yet it seems the vast majority within English football still don’t want to learn the lesson. And it’s such a simple one: there’s no such thing as free money;eventually, someone has to cough up. Corporations employ clever accountants to make sure it ain’t them. In this country for instance that’s the privilege of the PAYE schmuck. In football, it’s the schmuck on the terrace.

But it is remarkable how many refuse to grasp this. Presumably, those clamouring for Arsene Wenger’s head simply don’t want to engage with reality. It’s all abaaat results and trophies, innit? Well no, it isn’t. That’s the thing with professional sport – money comes into it too. Football clubs are institutions, symbols, and vast reservoirs of emotions that are also businesses.

Having an economics degree hardly carries the kudos it once did. But while he was picking his up at Strasbourg University, Arsene Wenger, presumably, learned that debt eventually has to be repaid. Moreover, as an intelligent, worldly man, he must also have learned that the attention-span of most football fans runs the gamut from A to B. But it is little wonder Wenger is aging before of our eyes.

Yesterday’s man

The fact that practically every other Premier League club is saddled with the sort of debt that would hobble a Grand National winner means Arsenal are apparently offside in not following suit.

Wenger is a yesterday’s man, a relic from a bygone era when no club had their very own exotic owner: a football man, sure, but behind-the times. Sad really. And it’s the sort of asinine clamour that demands a child would shout stop.

Wenger has referred to football’s cash whirlpool as “financial doping”. And just as it all looks obvious once a doper has been caught out, it shouldn’t take a Galbraith to figure out that this sugar-daddy race is heading for a tearful ending.

Because once daddy gets bored or broke, who ponies up? Not that you reckon such long-term considerations will figure in the lead up to tonight’s Arsenal game with Reading. This will be all about the Arsenal manager, and his survival chances if Reading do a job on Arsenal’s highly-paid but ennui-laden stars.

We were here too last season when an Old Trafford tonking provoked unrest that was only partially put to bed by yet another Champions League qualification. Now it’s a loss at Bradford that provides the background to a chorus of Spend! Spend! Spend! And the Premier League being what it is, with its own skewed logic, one of the most significant figures in English football history may indeed get the chop. If that happens, it will require all one’s charity to hope the carpet eventually has a soft landing.

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