So I was listening this evening to the excellent 5live report on Arsenal’s finances, a discussion with some knowledgeable men present: Martin Keown, former Liverpool MD Christian Purslow, Jeremy Wilson from the Telegraph and Nigel Phillips from the AST. It’s a great listen and I urge you to have a crack if you’ve not done so already (not sure if it’s available overseas – it seems not).
It’s a discussion that comes at a time when Rangers, Portsmouth, Port Vale, Darlington and others are struggling with the weight of debts, and overall, for all the faults and the perceived lack of ambition at Arsenal, it’s hard to disagree with the fact that Arsenal is a well-run club. (I can’t begin to summarise everything it covers – so I’m just plucking bits out).
But one thing struck me, and I’ve already had a mini-rant about it on Twitter. That thing is player wages.
One of the first stats wheeled out in the piece was that Arsenal’s wage bill is now double what it was in the Invincible season of 2004. That is staggering. I know it’s not specifically an Arsenal thing – it’s far worse elsewhere – but it does lay bare the principle reason why clubs struggle now to compete: wages.
This season, Wenger has been criticised for not spending and for distributing the club’s money rather too equitably in some instances to players who do not deserve it. The board has been criticised for not pressuring Wenger to spend and being aloof/distant/in absentia, and the players at times have taken stick for their performances. None are or should be free from scrutiny for those things. But the real reason why clubs are struggling and money is ‘tight’ is that, year-on-year, players keep asking for more. And clubs feel they have no option but to pay it.
The old argument used to be that a player’s career was short, and that he deserved a crack at top wages until he was 35 so he could retire with enough money to start a business or run a pub or something. Now though, we are talking about players who earn millions a year and who will never have to work again.
Look, I know the reality: that’s market wages. If I was offered double my wages, I’d take it too. If you stand up to your players or their agents, your players will move on. And I am not criticising Arsenal players over any others here, because at the top level they’re all the same.
But surely, it has to end soon? For how many more years can wages rise in the way they are currently rising? At a time when the country – and much of the continent – is flat broke, is this sustainable? And what can be done about it?
Rant over. In the meantime, I point you once again to the 5live special, and for some additional food for thought, The Swiss Ramble is (as ever) worth a look on Arsenal’s finances, as is this piece from @behnisch.
But all these new revenue streams, these increases in prices for fans and so on, it’s mostly all down to burgeoning player wages. It’s got to stop.
And erm – up the Arsenal!