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Arsenal’s finances? or Arséne’s Finances?

Since Arsenal’s record pre-tax profits were announced last Friday much has been written regarding their transfer policy and budget. Opinion’s have been split on the outcome. While most are impressed with Arsenal’s sensible spending and level headed approach to all things financial, especially in these times of ludicrous spending, the Gunner’s are a one of a kind whose choice it is to live within their own means. I mean could Middlesbrough or Bolton ever really push themselves beyond their limits without almost immediate consequences? They are a ‘big four’ club and as we’ve seen with Liverpool and Manchester United there are always ways of living outside of your means for years without serious ramifications.

And yet, apparently Arsenal are able to hit their monitory targets year after year because of solid business plans and a level headed approach to cash flow and finance. Seriously? Arsenal are currently running a profit (of which less than a third of current premier league clubs do) just because of a ten-year plan? I don’t buy it. What that is effectively saying is that Non-Exec Chairman Mr Hill-Wood and Exec Chairman Ivan Gazidis are the only business men capable of running a football club. That the likes of Bill Kenwright and Randy Lerner are mere amateurs and are incapable of running their clubs within ‘acceptable margins.’ Of course this is ludicrous but why is it that Arsenal’s financial report looks healthier than Phil Brown’s once-daily tan?

For me the answer is simple. Whilst the Arsenal group no longer owe any debt to the bank they owe a massive amount to the analytical Frenchman that is Arséne Wenger. A holder of a degree in Electrical Engineering and a masters in Economics from the University of Strasbourg, Wenger optimises a dying-breed within football management – he’s an analyst and perfectionist. A thinker. Whilst the likes of Harry Redknapp and Ian Holloway will always win the loyalty of the club’s fans with their hands on man-management style and straight talking banter there is a reason they’ve never won a Premier League title.

Where there is money, there is a manager to spend it. This is the same with all clubs; from Bolton to Wolverhampton, from the Premiership to Ligue 1. Why not? It’s their job after all but in some cases it can cost them theirs if the money is not invested well. That world beating £21m left winger can all too soon become that 21lb millstone around your neck (Denîlson anyone?) However, signing the right players can be invaluable, something which Wenger has excelled in even from his Monaco days. Wenger instantly put his stamp on Arsenal with the signings of £3.5m Patrick Vieira, £2.5m Emmanuel Petit, £5.5m Marc Overmars and years later would continue to re-inforce his transfer policy with the signings of Freddie Ljungberg for £3m, Robert Pires for £6m, Sol Campbell on a free and even Thierry Henry (with hindsight) appears a bargain at £10m.

However, it is exactly this transfer policy which has now become the main point of contention for Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal. If the finances are so good at Arsenal then why hasn’t he invested in an established ‘World Class’ player rather than the youthful potential of say; Aaron Ramsey. Why after the loss of Adebayor and Henry did Arsene Wenger bring in Marouane Chamakh, who may well represent another ‘great piece of business’ but is hardly the player to convert Arsenal’s youth side into genuine title contenders.

Never has this been more evident than with Arséne’s apparent reluctance to invest in a top level goalkeeper. Many goalkeepers had been linked with the club during the Summer Transfer Window especially Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer and Man City’s Shay Given. Both proven in the Premier League, both full internationals with years of experience, both highly rated by Arséne’s peers and both (relatively) cheap. Arsenal’s current #1 goalkeeper Manuel Almunia has looked shakier than Titus Bramble’s claim to be a serious footballer, add to that his poor performance as West Brom turned Arsenal over and you have to question whether Wenger should of dipped into his pocket, gritted his teeth and asked Mr Gazidis to sign the cheque regardless of whether it was the right price.

Here in lies the problem. Arséne will never allow himself an exception to the rule. A player who is over-priced and over-paid who could potentially be just the match-winner the Gunners need. Was Cristiano Ronaldo really worth £80m? No, but he is a match winner. Does £46m represent value for money when paying out for a 29-year old, even if it was Zidane? No, but there is always an exception.

Is £5m really that expensive for a proven top-flight goalkeeper?

Back to the main point of this blog though. In my opinion, the real reason that Arsenal can boast about their financial acumen is not their 10-year plan, nor is it their marketing or commercial advertising. It is because they have that rarest of managers. One who thinks outside of the boot room, someone who not only understands the need for financial stability but someone who is willing to implement it even if it means tying his own hands. In 2084 when Wenger actually does decide to retire at the age of 134 Arsenal’s golden time will come to an end. He will be replaced, with no exception, with a manager who will no longer be happy to work within the clubs means.

The simplest way of understanding a ‘freak’ like Wenger is to ask yourself this question:

Can you imagine a top manager like José Mourinho asking the Real Madrid board to invest his transfer budget to help clear the club’s debt and that he would ‘make do’ with the squad available to him?

Whether you’re a fan of Wenger or not, his understanding, patience and intellect allows the Arsenal group to accumulate funds, work within their means and continue to build their financial structures, all the while his tactical nous and managing style allow him to excel and over achieve even with considerably less out goings and on-the-pitch assets. Instead he is able to take a team made up of mostly of youngsters and qualify for the European Cup for thirteen consecutive years. An achievement which should never be understated.

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