The Champions League win against Bayern Munich was, to a Chelsea fan, ‘their City, their Stadium, our Cup.’
‘Show respect to the European Champions’ is what was fired back at me by those Chelsea fans to whom I’d said their victory had been lucky.
But then Roberto di Matteo — the man a certain section of Chelsea fans called ‘unsackable’ was soon released from the services of the Russian oligarch to become yet another number in the laundry list of managers who have served rather short tenures in West London since the sacking of Jose Mourinho in 2007.
But isn’t stability the long-term goal of every football club? This might be a tad tasteless after Rio Ferdinand’s recent encounter with a two-pence coin at the Etihad Stadium, but throwing money at a problem does not make it go away.
And no club embodies more than Chelsea’s cross-town rivals Arsenal. As Arsene Wenger puts it: ”Football is more than just splashing out. It’s much deeper, much bigger than that. It’s about sweat, thinking, working hard. You have a big tradition of that in England. I believe the pride of this country historically is built on that. It’s what makes this football strong and interesting.
“If you go to Nottingham Forest they have won the league. If you go to Aston Villa they have won the league. That means historically this country has always been about effort and thoughtful thinking about the game. I am scared that all these qualities today have less importance in the game.”
These are qualities that Arsenal fans will tell you their beloved club embodies. Unfortunately in today’s emotional society, people sometimes failed to see below the surface. Arsenal are currently seventh in the table, fifteen points behind league leaders Manchester United, and lost to League Two side Bradford City in the Capital One Cup on penalties last night at the time of writing.
This was once a team that was constantly at the top. This was once a team that regularly challenged Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool for honours in England.
And there are people who believe that ‘splashing out’ will be the answer to Arsenal’s problems. A certain number of Arsenal fans – and I believe this number has been growing steadily, but not rapidly over the last few years – want Arsene Wenger out and wish to see Uzbek business magnate Alisher Usmanov stamp his authority on the club.
This section of fans has been getting increasingly vocal, as the Gunners’ trophy drought has lengthened over the years and came to a head in the form of the Black Scarf Movement which staged a protest walk over what they thought was the wrong way in which Arsenal was run.
One of their main bones of contention, however, was giving Alisher Usmanov a place on the board.
What would he do once he’d gotten there? Splash the cash? Bring in players on over-inflated wages and then continue to perform this ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ and do this again and again? That would basically turn Arsenal into Chelsea or Manchester City.
All the traditions that make Arsenal a club that everybody is fond of will go out the window. The Youth Programme, that Arsene Wenger has put together so painstakingly will cease to exist. Like Abramovich at Chelsea, Usmanov will be the person who will always have the last word at Arsenal.
Should success not come the way of Arsenal, would we expect whoever is managing the club at the time to be shown the door post-haste? And no, that man won’t be Wenger, because he would have left the club faster than you can say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism.’
And that is because Usmanov will grab the mantle of Lord and Master with both hands: not something Arsene Wenger will adapt to. Spending money to solve problems has never been his way:
“I am always painted like a guy who refuses to spend money. But I just think I act like a responsible manager because we went through a period where we had restricted funds and I acted in a responsible way.
“We want to be the best. But the best is not only about buying players. We need to continue with what has made our strengths until now.
“I don’t say that money doesn’t play a part in it, but it’s not only about that. We have to continue to believe that it’s not only about that. What is the game about then? Football has to be even, interesting, unpredictable.”
How do I know this? Because of an open letter scripted by Arsenal’s parent company Red and White Holdings which is owned by Usmanov and his business partner Farhad Moshiri. An excerpt read:
“So what is Red and White’s vision for the club? It is simple. A debt free club with a big enough war chest to buy top talented players who can hit the ground running and complement the club’s long-running tradition of developing players and home-grown talent.
“Together they can help the club win the most prestigious trophies – because it is the trophies which are the crowning achievement for everybody at the Club.”
This leaves little to the imagination of laymen like you and me. Usmanov is also convicted of criminal activity in his home country, and is surely not a man Gooners want in charge of their club.
What will happen once Roman Abramovich decides he’s had enough of Chelsea FC and pulls out of Stamford Bridge. Will there be as many people saying ‘Keep the Blue Flag Flying High’ then?
I recently met a Manchester City fan, who didn’t know what the name of City’s stadium was before it had been renamed the Etihad last year.
I understand that trophies bring success, bring prosperity and prestige to a club, but there is a right way to do things. Stability comes first. How many of you knew, that before the Abramovich era, Chelsea were close to bankruptcy owing to plans to redevelop Stamford Bridge?
Arsenal, on the other hand, have been consistently finishing in the top four and the reason they do not challenge for honours as much as they do is because of the debt outstanding from the Emirates Stadium, which will be repaid by 2022. Wenger has stuck with the club through this, fording abuse from fans in the process.
However, 2014 seems to be Arsenal’s watershed moment. A new deal worth £150 million over the next five years has just been signed with Emirates Airlines, who have naming rights to Arsenal’s home ground, while a new kit deal is on the cards with Adidas, that should net Arsenal a cool £25 million pounds a year. Several other commercial deals are also expected to be tied up by then.
Things were always going to get worse before they were better for Arsenal. All we have to do is trust in them, because as Wenger says:
“If you cannot believe you can do it, then you cannot do it at all.”