Another week, another negative Arsenal article.
And, again, it revolves around the comments of shareholder Alisher Usmanov, who gave an interview to Forbes magazine critical of the board. He told the publication that decision making is holding the team back, stating, “We do not consider just qualifying for the Champions League to be the chief ambition of the club, and with all our hearts we support the team and wish them well for the new season. Victory is absolutely not ruled out, but the current politics of the club’s management will leave Arsene Wenger and his team with fewer and fewer opportunities in the long run.”
Usmanov is a major shareholder with no say in the running of the club, although he has the financial clout to make a difference should he be able to. But, given that he isn’t able to, there’s not a lot he can do, other than stir things up, make negative comments about the board and, indirectly, state that true Arsenal fans should support him because he’s a fan and he’d put them on a level playing field with the big spenders.
This is all very easy to say. And in a way, he’s right. However, the Arsenal board doesn’t agree, and the financial stability of the club is often cited as the reason why. This makes fiscal sense, although UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules would seem to have about as much bite as a toothless dog, and as many loopholes as it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
But it does seem that Arsenal are able to buy some players in this off season, and there is already evidence of this. Sure, it’s not on a Chelsea, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain scale, but nonetheless, there has been spending with the potential for more. And the promise of the exits of some players that haven’t lived up to expectations, something that will help to reduce the payroll further. And spending one’s way to a title does seem somewhat dishonest. Not that Manchester City fans would agree.
Usmanov, while stating his loyalty to the club, isn’t really helping, however. The tactic may be to continually challenge the board, making comments that some supporters want to hear – i.e. we should be spending more and we could easily be doing just that. Usmanov is saying that, if he had his way, that would be happening. While publicly wanting success, any failure will strengthen his position and likely increase the rhetoric.
Unfortunately, most dissenting voices among fans aren’t directed at the board anyway, but at the manager, who is perceived as having failed the club by not making the right moves, or enough moves, depending on the point of view. But that happens at every club, in that good results are because there are great players, bad ones are because the manager is incompetent. And, in general, neither statement is completely true.
It’s unlikely that Arsenal fans are about to start a revolt on the scale of the anti-Glazer proportions seen in Manchester, and it’s unlikely to make much of a difference. Usmanov is between a rock and a hard place in that the only option he has is to make public statements of Arsenal-loving discontent. And while I’m not saying that the moral high ground is always the place to be, I’m firmly of the opinion that ‘just because the others are doing it, we might as well do it too,’ is the wrong approach. And, contentious though it may be, I’d sooner see the Gunners finish sixth by being responsible, showcasing attractive football and playing the game the right way both on and off the field.
Alisher Usmanov loves Arsenal, as do many others. His heart, and money, may be in the right place. But like those others, he has little impact in the way the club is run. It’s just he has a lot of money and can voice his opinion and be heard by the media. But the end result is the same. Nothing changes. These days, managers have to be shrewd politicians as well as football experts. They have to walk tightropes and say the right things. Whether Arsene Wenger likes the idea of a huge pot of gold we will never know. But chances are he could probably have left for money-rich Paris or Russia had he chosen that route, and he’s still manager of Arsenal.
Hopefully the Gunners will have a solid start to the season, a couple more new signings, and a few less criticisms of the decision making with that wonderful tool called hindsight. Perhaps Mr. Usmanov should buy a second team, along the lines of Evian in France, and throw all kinds of money at the squad so they become European champions three years from now, to show us all how it should be done. Because right now, this voice of dissent is helping no one, and will not add one point to the tally for the 2012-13 season.