Time for top footballers to stop asking for more? And getting it?

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!

Minimise Losses = Meet Demands?

Short of the Premier League changing its mind and awarding Arsenal the league title for plucky against-all-likelihood endeavour, the one thing that would have kicked the summer off in a marvellous and positive fashion would have been some early incomings.

Wishful thinking, it seems, seeing that a) in signing terms it’s early doors (whatever early doors are) and b) the futures of two very important players are obfuscated – if, indeed, obfuscated is the word I’m looking for. But more on Eboue and Denilson later. [Ed – remove worn old gag].

And let’s be honest: unless you are an Arsenal fan, in which case you’d rather pull teeth from your mouth with your bare hands, there’s nothing as sellpaperable than a ‘big player might leave big club’ story. So here we are with Nasri.

I had an interesting Twitter chat with @anserine yesterday in which he concluded that – and I’m sorry, Sir, for nicking your tweet and using it as my headline – the best outcome might actually be to meet his demands in order to minimise the damage, when taken as a whole.

Saying no to his wage demands now, on principle, would be laudable in some ways but would mean selling him for as little as £10m. That’s a £6m loss (depending which figures you believe – but I read yesterday we signed him for £15.8m) for a player who has improved immeasurably in three years and who had an exceptional first six months of the season.

Looking at this visualisation that @optajoe retweeted yesterday, if Nasri is looking for parity with Cesc, then taken in context it would still only put him in the second tier of European earners (where Cesc is), so it’s easy to see the strength of Nasri’s argument. That he’s gone about things hamfistedly is beyond dispute, but still.

And if you were to sell him, you’d need to replace him with an equivalent-calibre player. That’d cost at least £15m in fees and, probably, at least the same in salary that Nasri is demanding. Tricky one, isn’t it?

But pay him more and it will inevitably lead to a rise in salaries at Arsenal across the board. Players and agents talk. That’s the way it works. And who ends up paying for that?

As for his argument that he wants to wait to see what Arsenal do in the transfer market, well I have some sympathy with that viewpoint. Who doesn’t? But that feels like a bit of a smoothing-things-over PR move having fluttered his eyelids at Utd. He could wait and wait, while potential newcomers stall and stall to see whether the waiting and waiting Nasri will stay or go. Everyone’s heads will end up spinning off with all that craning of the neck.

He’s just a player, he’s expendable, but at the same time, he’d be expensive to replace and you also have to consider the morale of the team. Who else would start agitating if he left? And what about Cesc? What’s worse, from a financial point of view? Acceding to his demands or selling him, replacing him, and smoothing over the damage with the current squad?

It’s a minefield. I need a lie-down.

But I’d not be surprised if he was offered the better deal.

Arsenal preview: No room for defensive Delapses.

It says a lot about the utter detachment of footballers from reality that we wake up this morning to front and back pages in a frenzy as to whether one vastly overpaid footballer will shake another vastly overpaid footballer’s hand and whether another vastly overpaid and self-important footballer will talk to his estranged popstar wife or not.

Meanwhile, a Premier League club goes into adminstration for massively overreaching itself. I wonder how much of the mess it got itself into can be directly attributed to footballers’ wages? Rhetorical question.

So while Arsenal too are prisoners to market forces and have to pay their players huge wages, it’s refreshing to note that not only were Arsenal yesterday able to announce they had reduced their own debt – almost all of which is related directly or indirectly to building a new stadium – by a cool £130m, but that for now, our players are not dragging the club’s name down with their off-field antics.

[Blogger exhales and heartrate slows as rant finishes].

Over to the Potteries for the real stuff. I had managed to jemmy our last two visits there into the far recesses of my mind. Today’s reprisal has brought some of those memories flooding back, and judging by the general mood across the interwebnests, I am not alone.

Ordinarily, I would agree that a draw at the Britannia – where we most definitely haven’t ruled the waves in recent years – would be a good thing. But really, we cannot afford to drop any points at all I don’t think.

I like what Pulis has done at Stoke, and personally I cannot see any problems with the way they play. They’re hardly going to take us on at our own game are they? But they are pretty much the antithesis of us – as The Times puts it, “the ultimate culture clash” – and that’s why we can struggle against them.

For me, it’s all eyes on the defence. To be caught out two away matches running by Delap’s long throws is naïve in the extreme. If it happens again today I might blow a gasket. It would be unforgivable. Like a man walking into the same lamppost three days running.

Fortunately, our last two league games have been clean sheets – read it and rejoice, even if they were sandwiched between Flapianski’s House of Calamities – and we definitely need defensive solidity today.

Looking forward to it already.

Finally, happy birthday to Arseblog – eight years old. A top lad, top blogger, and the inspiration for about eight thousand subsequent Arsenal blogs, mine included.

What is eight in blog years?