By Alastair Brookshaw
For the peddlers of certain myths about Arsène Wenger there is an uncomfortable fact about this recent transfer window that they are surely hoping won’t get too much comment. And it is this one simple truth: that in the FIRST transfer window in which both the Club and Wenger openly stated that our spending power had increased, Wenger went out and spent big.
Just as Gary Neville predicted in that monologue in a Sky Sports studio at the end of last season, Wenger did indeed know that it was time to make his move and, in a complete contradiction to every narrative that has been spun about him, went out and spent over £40m on one of the best players in the world.
This first appeared on Arsenal Vision in September 2013
So perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate the myths and challenge the narratives that have been constructed about Wenger and the past eight years at Arsenal.
The Emirates made us a hugely profitable organisation
The Club’s accounts are pretty complicated, but there is a basic trend that is clear - that if we ignore player sales and one-off property deals, Arsenal have, give or take, been breaking even since moving to the Emirates. It is only with the newly negotiated sponsorship deals coming into effect that any reliable, regular profit will start to be seen.
Wenger has always had money to spend
We’ve all heard about our cash balance. The most recent figure is £154 million, but let’s knock that number on the head right away – that’s not our transfer fund, and it never ceases to annoy me how many tweets I see declaring that it is.
A great deal of the £154m is needed to pay the running costs of the Club (not least the players’ salaries). However, at the start of the recent window, the super-reliable Swiss Ramble believed £70 million is a pretty good estimate for our transfer kitty.
Seventy million! That’s some serious cash. But let’s register a few caveats. Firstly, we’ve not had anything like that kind of money for the entire trophyless period. Back in November 2006 the cash balance was £53 million. Well, if a balance of £154m only gives us a transfer kitty of around £70 million I think we can assume things were pretty tight back in 2006!
I’d argue that the Club had very little financial clout to go into the transfer market with until 2010, at the earliest. Firstly, this was the point at which the debts on our property business were paid off, so any property sales from then on made the club a profit. Secondly it was the summer after we made £30 million in profit from selling Adebayor and Toure. Certainly, that 2009 discount sale of Highbury Square flats is a good indication that the turning point couldn’t have been any earlier.
Many will leap on this and ask why we didn’t spend big from then on, and truthfully, I have no conclusive explanations for this. I do, however, accept that we never know the whole story, and that there might be good reasons for it. Not least, £70 million really isn’t that much in football terms. It could be frittered away in one season by missing out on the Champions League, and at the same time making one major transfer that doesn’t work out.
It’s all very well spending that money in our heads in 2010 and dreaming about what we could have achieved, but if the Club chose to be cautious for a couple of seasons while they waited for the commercial deals to kick in, is that really so great a sin? Given that the Club claims to budget for the possibility of falling out of the Champions League it doesn’t seem that crazy to believe they wanted to build up a ‘slush fund’ before loosening the purse strings. It is certainly preferable in my eyes to gambling the immediate future of the Club with over-optimistic spending.
The ‘top-four trophy’
There are those who imagine the board might be considering not offering Wenger a new contract, as if he has in some way failed to fulfil their expectations. These people are wrong. If you think for even a second that Wenger’s brief over the past eight years has been anything other than ‘keep us competitive and keep us in the Champions League until 2014 when we can renegotiate our sponsorship deals’ then you are delusional.
People who believe that we have always had money available will always underestimate the importance of the Champions League income to our future success. So if you are one of those people, here is the bottom line - had Wenger failed to get us that top-four spot on just two occasions, that £70 million transfer kitty would have been pretty much £0 and Mesut Ozil could not have been signed. (Not to mention that a player of his calibre would never have signed for a non-Champions League club).
So if you have jeered Wenger for his comments about the ‘top-four trophy’ ask yourself this: which do you think is more important to the future success of Arsenal Football Club: winning a League Cup, or signing a Mesut Ozil?
Even if you ignore everything I have written, I have one request: next time you hear someone tell you how things are behind closed doors at the Club, even if they back up everything you believe about the Club, at least consider that they probably know absolutely nothing for sure. And even if they genuinely have a source, remember that you are still only hearing what one person wants you to hear.
And the ONE man whose point of view you will never be hearing is Arsène Wenger’s, because he is the one man in this whole story who is too classy to go bleating to the media to win friends and influence people.
So in the end, we have to judge him by his actions. And his actions in the last weeks would suggest a very simple narrative: that in the first summer that he had serious cash available to him, he went out and spent it. In the words of Gary Neville, ‘if they move up now it will look like one of the most magnificent managerial performances in history'.