My last blog piece was written quite a while back now, and for that I need to say sorry. Since my last one I’ve got a new job, and a new flat too. It’s been a busy time. I’m writing this in a rather informal notion, so excuse my disregard for proper sentence structure or journalistic skills. It’s more about opinion, and for that – I want to see responses.
In football terms, Arsenal appear to have turned a corner. Those who follow my twitter-feed (see top) will know I was cautious about ‘counting chickens’; as the form and ability of the opposition was as questionable as the Gunners themselves. As it stands, a thumping win at Stamford Bridge and topping their Champions’ League group thus far, I believe as long as Arsenal are in the top five come January they’ll finish in that lucrative top 4 spot. If they’re smart enough to strengthen well, I even think 3rd place is do-able. With that thought in mind, I’ll stick to my prediction from my transfer blog in Summer;
Manchester City – Champions.
Manchester United – 2nd.
Arsenal – 3rd.
Liverpool – 4th.
Chelsea – 5th.
Tottenham – 6th.
Though, I must admit, Tottenham have been relatively impressive; I just think the further they go in the Europa League, the more it will harm their chances.
Thursday/Sunday seasons can be cursed for any side. Liverpool and Spurs could swap places; I do firmly believe Chelsea will fall behind but it will see a major haul in personnel at the club for the 2012/2013 season.
Back to Arsenal, and my worry is in their ability to do transfer dealings. Wenger won’t want to halt the growth of his young stars, but he needs some star quality. Mikel Arteta has been good, as has Ramsey and Song. Three solid players, but a Hazard type of character would really shake up the team – Mind, so would Arshavin if he found form. Though how is Arsene supposed to justify buying another CM when he already has arguably seven/eight possible suitors? It’s very hard to justifiably strengthen a side full of good, but not Ballon D’Or, players.
Next I want to talk about the Championship strugglers; Doncaster Rovers. With a lack of funds and an inability to compete on their field, they have invested in a new look strategy with the help of one of football’s real pantomine villains;
Willie McKay – I know you know the name, and now you’re thinking: “Wasn’t he that… uh… um… Hmmm.. He knows Redknapp, doesn’t he?”, Well McKay is a football agent, and perhaps would of the most media watched of them all after the police and political enquires into his transfer involvement with Jean Boumsong, Benjani and Amdy Faye. Most notably; “The Steven’s Enquiry” in 2007, which was the fall out of his arrest, and subsequent house raid as police investigated alleged corruption in football, all at the time Harry Redknapp was at Portsmouth, the club Amdy Faye then played for. For McKay, with current clients like El Hadji Diouf and Joey Barton, he’s always going to be interesting.
Willie McKay (right) at Doncaster Rovers last week.
Doncaster Rovers have hired Willie McKay on a 2-year deal in the role of ‘Transfer Consultant’; an advisory role. This is perhaps the most interesting story of the late-2011.
‘So what does that mean?’ – Basically, he is in charge of any ins and outs in the club and, with his various contacts in football, he’s got a fantastic plan up his sleeve to generate income for Doncaster. It’s a short-term plan with a long-term goal.
McKay has promised to bring in star names on short contracts, taking unwanted players from big clubs around Europe to put them in the shop window ergo selling them on to a club more befitting of their talent, and he (McKay) will get a cut of Doncaster’s profits. A relatively win-win situation: no? So far, Doncaster have signed Diouf, Chimbonda and McKay has even claimed Zinedine Zidane and Mahamadou Diarra are due to sign in January. Amazing.
So, from one club that’s fighting to keep itself competitive; to another commercially setting the tone in not only domestic, but international, sport. The brand, the PLC: Manchester United. In a previous blog, I expressed how impressed I was that they’ve secured sponsorship of their training kit via DHL – yes, training kit, for £40,000,000. That was enough money to secure the signings of Phil Jones and Ashley Young. In recent activities, Manchester United have now secured Zong as their ‘Official Pakistan Telecoms Sponsor’, their 15th worldwide communications sponsor, in stark contrast to their commercial rivals Arsenal, who have one, British giants: O2.
That’s enough commercial activity for one club, right? Wrong. Manchester United also have plans to launch a Worldwide Social Network, aiming to target, link and give content to their estimated 500 million fans. Man United are positively exploiting their global brand – another business lesson for the competition.
So to my next point, and I’ve been thinking this for a while so I just wanted to get my thoughts immortalised into the black-ink of the internet so when it happens I look like a genius;
Manchester United will ‘franchise’ a football team in the USA.
There are so many different catalysts which are pointing to it, I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I know football – it seems a commercial and operational feasibility.
In 2003 Manchester United went on their first tour to the USA, the players were able to walk the streets of the busiest cities without as much as an autograph. Now, it’s 2011 and United sell-out the 61,500 strong Soldier Field for their pre-season clash with Chicago Fire.
Manchester United line up on their USA Tour 2011.
American businesses are pushing to be associated with Manchester United. After losing the MLS kit rights to Adidas, Nike (Man Utd’s manufacturer) are using the brand of the Red Devils and the Premier League to propel themselves as the face of the MLS game. Furthermore, American business multi-service providers ‘Aon’ spent £80 million – 4 years ago – to sponsor the United playing uniforms: with 6.5 million fans apparently based in the US. Those numbers explain why the likes of DHL, Audi, Epson and Singha are determined to pay handsomely for association with Manchester United too.
Next David Beckham has admitted this week that he is looking into the possibility of owning a MLS franchise after he finishes playing football. Given his allegiances with Manchester United, it seems a feasible ending. As for where; I could imagine them being based in Seattle (where Nike has their flagship store) or Chicago. Both cities Manchester United have utilised as a base on their US tours. Watch this space.
Next, and tying into the Manchester United universal brand and the USA Franchise Idea: Rio Ferdinand.
The twitter #movement of the England Centre-Back has propelled him to fame; his online ‘banter’ with CNN’s Piers Morgan has got him into the American eye, and he’s one of the most recognised English starts with American fans. Recently, he’s fallen out of favour with Sir Alex in favour of bleeding Phil Jones into the team, and with Chris Smalling and Evans progressing it seems he’s undoubtedly ‘over-the-hill’.
Next bold statement; He will be at Chicago Fire by 2013.
His children are 5, 3, and <1. It seems a good time to move, get them settled into the US life, increase his image and could see him becoming an international ambassador for the English game, as well as Manchester United. Right now, LA Galaxy and The New York Red Bulls are both seen as the two dominant forces in the MLS; no coincidence that these are both teams who have invested in ex-European stars. Chicago, the next most famous US City after the two already named – would love to get their hands on one themselves.
In having Ferdinand in the USA, and Beckham looking to buy a club, a Manchester United franchise is gaining momentum as a feasible idea.
The final big topic of recent times – and this a slight tedious link on from Ferdinand > Old Players getting toward the end of their top flight career – is John Terry.
The England Captain is at the centre of a police-led enquiry into alleged racism towards QPR’s defender, and Rio’s brother, Anton Ferdinand. Allow me to just offer me opinion on this, for me, in the trial-by-youtube case it does appear that Terry is saying: “You blind c***”.
However, when lip-reading, the words ‘blind’ and ‘black’ come across similarly, but Anton Ferdinand seems to be aggrieved enough to have launched a formal complaint with the Met Police and the FA.
Following the Wayne Bridge and John Terry fiasco 18months back, I think the FA have had it in for Terry. At the end of the day, the playb0y actions of the Chelsea Skipper put the sport, the reputation of the English game, and the name of football players to embarrassment. Because of this, I think the FA are going to use this Race-Row as an excuse to completely throw the book at him.
John Terry and Anton Ferdinand exchange words.
8-15 game ban; something really serious. I think you’re going to feel half of it for the crime of racism, and half of it for the FA to well-and-truly get him back for the Bridge-gate.
How on earth do you wrap up such monstrosity of a blog-post? I’m not really sure, but I would really love to hear your views on anything I’ve spoke about. So tweet me or comment below.
This was very fun to write, by the way.
Over and out.
Firstly, I really didn’t want to write this. I tweeted on a few occasions completely ruling myself out of making a Wenger critic article, but there comes a point where there’s an element of hypocrisy to blog on the failings of other clubs, yet casually avoid your own. Secondly; This is a long one, but bare with it – It’ll put some light on a generation of football.
“When I think of Arsène Wenger, I think of Warren Buffett. Wenger runs his football club like he is going to own the club for 100 years.”
Billy Beane, 2010.
At 15th in the table, P7 W2 D1 L3. Arsenal have made their worst start to a season in 58 years. The fans are in dismay, the players look shaken, the injury list is growing, and their rivals are pulling away at a rate of knots.
Let’s start this from the beginning. It’s 1996 and Arsenal, and then-CEO David Dein, have just appointed a geeky, quirky, funny looking Frenchman. Armed with a masters degree in economics, a modest playing career and a decent record with Monaco/Nagoya Grampus Eight. It was a controversial appointment to say the least.
Arsène Wenger in 1996, aged 47.
20 months later and Mr Wenger is sitting pretty with an Fa Cup and Premier League title to his name – the first foreign manager to ever achieve ‘the double’. Suddenly the penny dropped, this was a man who’s breath of fresh air had shaken the football world. The attention was being directed to a brand of football, a culture of pass and move. The Evening Standard, who had headlined with “Arsène Who?!” 2 years ago, were looking very sheepish.
Fast forward again, to the famous unparalleled 2003-2004 campaign. ‘The Invincibles’. Arsène Wenger has navigated his side to an unbeaten season, with an all-time unbeaten record of 49 games. He could do no wrong. He had the balance between purchasing established quality players, and developing young players through the system to play the ‘Arsenal Way’. His back four were stubborn. He had a solid 4-4-2 in place which was frustrating to break down and devastating on the break. The giants in Europe were scared. No-one wanted to play The Arsenal.
Following that, the come-down was inevitable, even the most heartened Gooner didn’t expect another invincibles season, but the manner in which the 49-long run was ended has always left a feeling of injustice around the club. An FA Cup victory in 2005 to Manchester United sweetened the pain. Club captain Patrick Vieira left the club and Gilberto Silva filled the boots. Adequately, I must add. The FA Cup win 6 years ago is the last trophy Arsenal Football Club won.
What has happened to a team which promised so much?
Next stop, January 2011, every year getting more frustrating than the last. David Dein, the Chairman, the personal and professional friend of Wenger left the club in 2006 following disputes over the move away from the 93 year old, 38,000 capacity Highbury Stadium, across the road to the new state-of-the-art Emirates Stadium. Arsenal’s pass-and-move philosophy remains, the big name players – to an extent, remain. There is slightly more focus on buying talented youngsters and developing them into the players of tomorrow, as opposed to the balance which was in use during the 2001-2005 era. It’s a long-term plan. Fans are patient, at times too patient, but in January Arsenal find themselves the only English club in all 4 competitions, 2nd in the league with a game in hand, with a strong team, players bought as youth in 2007/8 are now showing the promise to be stars. All is going to plan, bar the long-term injury of central defender Vermaelen, and the insufficient cover on the wings.
To me, Mid-January 2011 is where Arsène Wenger makes his first big mistake. At a time where we have serious chances of an epic season, he needs to strengthen, and get depth. Every manager from Barcelona to Barnet will tell you that teams statistically suffer more injuries in the second half of the season. Wenger does not add to his side.
With the same 25 man squad, Arsenal enter February. A promising month, with a Carling Cup Semi Final, a string of winnable Premier League games, and mouth-watering clash with Barcelona in the Champions League bridging what became the Carling Cup final.
A thrilling win against Barcelona comes first, before they are dragged back down to earth by the turning point in The Gunners season.
Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke City.
A nervous win against a gritty Potters side, but the tackling of Pulis’s men enrages Arsène Wenger. Winger Theo Walcott, and Captain Cesc Fabregas suffer injuries as a result of strong tackles and are added to the 4 long injury list ahead of the Carling Cup final.
Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham City. Carling Cup Final, Feb 27th 2011.
Birmingham players celebrate their winner.
Calamity. Disaster. Embarrassing. The victors went on to be relegated. This was the first showing of cracks in Arsène Wenger’s new 4-2-3-1 formation, as the structure of that team was based around the creativity of the injured Cesc Fabregas, the team went to Wembley and played without a spark. He should have played 4-4-2. This formation is a central-theme to Arsenal’s current demise.
From that game, Arsenal went from worse to worse. Cheated out of the Champions League 3 days later. From 4 trophies to 2 trophies in no time. 2 weeks later, FA Cup quarter-final; Arsenal, and I, travel to Old Trafford to see Sir Alex play 7 defenders against the best strength Arsenal side available. And Manchester United run out 2-0 winners.
This run grew to 2 wins in 17 games. Which brings me to this season.
We’re finally in season 2011/2012. Things have only gotten worse. 9 players, 7 first team all feature in what can only be described as a mass exodus over the summer. Arsenal sign 1 player of stature during before August. They lose their own pre-season tournament to the New York Red Bulls, and enter the first game of the Premier League season with a significantly weakened and demoralised team.
1-1 draw against Newcastle (Gervinho s/o).
From then, Arsenal games went like so;
Udinese (h) 1-0 win. (Pat Rice Manager – Wenger banned).
Liverpool (h) 0-2 loss. (Frimpong s/o).
Udinese (a) 1-2 win. (Szczesny saves penalty – huge moment).
Manchester Utd (a) 8-2 loss. (one of the biggest defeats in AFC history – Jenkinson s/o)
Post the 8-2 demolition at Old Trafford, Wenger finally enters the transfer window with 5 days remaining – building more pressure on himself with “panic buy” allegations.
To highlight Wenger’s big mistake number 2: A quick list of comparison is needed; Transfer dealings, 2011.
Sir Alex Ferguson; Evaluates his team, highlights positions which need strengthening, highlights and dispenses ‘dead-weight’ in the side. Recalls young players from their loan spells at other clubs. Purchases, at all costs, the players he believes will strengthen his side. Allows them to gel over pre-season USA tour, returning to win the Community Shield, and score 18 goals in first 4 league games. Clicked.
Arsène Wenger; Evaluates his team, promises fans he won’t sell big players unless it’s for a fair offer. Loses Clichy, Eboue. Next, Cesc Fabregas leaves for half his value (£28m), then Barcelona slap a 200M euro buy out clause on him. Slap in the face. Arsène Wenger then highlights Blackburn’s Phil Jones as a target, but only offers £8 million for him. Sir Alex Ferguson then realises Arsène has just essentially scouted a talented player, and buys him for double that. Ashley Young, a massive Arsenal fan, let’s Arsenal know his availability via his agent, and is willing to take a wage-cut to join his boyhood heroes. Arsenal spend 12M signing Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, 18 years old. Manchester United sign Ashley Young (who scores twice in the 8-2 mauling). Wenger offers £16M for Juan Mata, Valencia reject the low offer, Chelsea pick him up for £22m – He’s scoring for fun now. Penny pinching has lost Arsenal 3 players, now. Nasri leaves for Manchester City. Wenger buys 4 players in last 3 days. The season has already started poorly, now the side find themselves trying to gel, whilst picking themselves up from humiliating defeats and looking up at the 3 promoted teams above them in the table.
The comparison to Manchester United is the most fair. Given they operate financially in the same league as The Gunners, they should be the main compeition. Their structure is the most similar when it comes to raising capital for expenditure.
This one is a long one isn’t it?
Meanwhile, to thank Arsenal fans for their continued support. Arsenal FC up their – already highest in the UK, 2nd highest in Europe – ticket prices by 6%. 1% for every year the Arsenal fans have had nothing to shout about. Average ticket price is now around £55. Not to mention the now inflated price of travelling around the City of London. Fans are growing impatient.
Arsène Wenger continues with the 4-2-3-1 formation, yes, the one built around Cesc Fabregas, remember? Who’s currently one-thousand miles away in sunny Spain. But place new-boy Mikel Arteta in his role, though sometimes Aaron Ramsey, sometimes Benayoun, but what about when Wilshere’s back? No-one really knows. They face their next 2 games;
Swansea (h) 1-0. win. (Edgy affair, a very lucky goal).
Dortmund (a) 1-1. (Pat Rice manager – Brilliant performance).
And continue the 4-2-3-1 into Ewood Park. The 2nd biggest humiliation of Arsenal’s season.
Blackburn (a) 4-3 loss. (Blackburn are no longer bottom of the table)
Following that, a minor rebuff of 3 wins;
Shrewbury (h) 3-1. win. (Carling Cup – Youth Team out).
Bolton (h) 3-0. win. (Poor first half, red card for BW. Game changed).
Olympiakos (h) 2-1 win. (Pat Rice manager).
Wenger and Redknapp exchange words.
Before the biggest test of Arsenal ‘new beginning’;
Tottenham (a) 2-1 loss. (Arsenal now 5 points + 1 game behind Spurs).
Wenger’s policy of buying youth is simply not working if he cannot retain them, so many fans argue this point. Even Wenger himself was quoted saying;
“We do not buy superstars, we make them.”
Where are they now?
Samir Nasri, 24 – Manchester City.
Cesc Fabregas, 24 – Barcelona.
Emmanuel Adebayor, 27 – Tottenham (of all places!!).
Mathieu Flamini, 27 – AC Milan.
Eduardo Silva, 28 – Shaktar Donetsk.
Jose Antonio Reyes, 28 – Athletico Madrid.
Gael Clichy, 26 – Manchester City.
Emmanuel Eboue, 28 – Galatasary.
Ashley Cole, 30 – Chelsea.
Alexander Hleb, 30 – Barca (loan Wolfsberg)
That’s only a few!
Arsenal are putting up with their ‘developing’ years, all the mistakes etc, but are not getting the rewards of the finished article, other sides are. Essentially just realising an army of ex-players with a point to prove who ear-mark netting against them; Bentley, Pennant, etc.
Furthermore, and an extension of the point of buying youth; Arsenal, in this season, are now finding themselves missing Jack Wilshere, who’s just 19. Granted he’s a talented 19 year old but how are: Szczesny/Ramsey/Walcott/Wilshere/Gibbs being viewed as senior players? In what world is that fair on them? Not to mention giving youth like Coquelin premier league debuts at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. If you go into a match without experience in your side, or the right balance of experience with youth, then of course you are going to lose.
Wenger, shadowed by the Arsenal faithful.
Following that, there’s Van Persie’s constant quotes saying he is not an ‘out-and-out striker’ and that he prefers to play with a more rounded forward, not alone up front. Yet Wenger continues to play the 4-2-3-1 formation which is currently suiting no-one.
He had to buy someone like Karim Benzema in July. If he had, Nasri would have stayed. I’m 100% sure of that. He could have switched to 4-4-2. And players like Frimpong/AO-C/Gibbs would be out on loan, perfecting their game. Not learning their game through mistakes.
In life, and in sport, if it’s not working, revert to the last system which did. 4-4-2. (coincidentally, with a Dutch trickster, and a Frenchman up front). Arsenal are the 3rd biggest economy in football, one of the highest revenues, yet this summer Arsenal made more money from sales of players, than they spent on players. Which means the ‘transfer kitty’ he originally had available was not touched.
Tottenham have had the better of it recently, I’ll admit that. They kept their best player, and why? ’cause he was under contract. If Ivan Gazidis had half the qualities Daniel Levy possesses then Cesc Fabregas would still be wearing the armband, or we’d have gotten double from a club who one week announced they had no money, then landed Alexis Sanchez for 31.5M euros. Arsenal were taken for a ride. Now Spurs have just fired us out of reach of a European spot most fans are taking for granted. How did that work out for Liverpool?
Brian Clough, the legend that he is, had a fantastic spell with Nottingham Forest, but ultimately, his legacy was the reason he was not dismissed following his poor run of results in 1993. I’m not suggesting for a second that Arsenal will be relegated. But currently this team will be lucky to finish 10th. And that hurts to write.
My final points, and it will be the response to the first 2 questions of every one of your lips/fingertips;
“Yes, it’s right for the team, but perhaps wrong for the club. Arsenal could lose a few players who see him as a father figure; Song, Diaby, RVP etc. but unless he realises 4-2-3-1 doesn’t work, he has until January for Arsenal to be at least 5th. Unfortunately, it’s all uphill, he’s lost the media, which is piling the pressure on them. Players don’t like that.”
And then the second question;
Lastly, have any of you ever seen the film; ‘Lucky Number Slevin’? There’s a good quote by ‘The Rabbi’ which to me sums up Arsène Wenger;
I’ll let you decipher from that what you will.
Over and out.