25 days until the transfer window bangs shut again until July at midnight on 2 February. We’re only nine days in and I’m already heartily sick of all the speculation. For what it’s worth, here’s the latest batch, mainly from the Spanish sports newspapers El Mundo Deportivo, AS and Marca:
·       Robin van Persie and Cesc Fàbregas to Barca for €50 million (£45 million) in the summer
·       Theo Walcott to buy himself out of his contract for €420,000 (£378,000) and sign for Real Madrid, again in the summer
·       Bayern Munich telling Real Madrid they’ll have to pay more than €50 million for Franck Ribéry whose current salary is €4 million (£3.6 million) a year AFTER tax (that’s about £146,000 a week pre-tax including employers’ National Insurance contributions).
I’d take all the stories with a LARGE pinch of salt. The agents of both van Persie and Walcott have been rattling the sabre however. The sooner we get their new deals nailed down the better. Unfortunately that will put a large dent in the salary budget. As I’ve said before this could already be under strain from the strength of the Euro.
I find it difficult to believe that Franck Ribéry is on anything like the salary suggested although I wouldn’t rule it out completely. Bayern Munich’s turnover in the financial year ended 30 June 2008 was €286.8 million (£258.38 million) with a wage bill of €153 million (£137.84 million). The figures for Arsenal were (to 31 May 2008) turnover £223 million and wages £101.3 million.
Bayern has also made a profit for sixteen consecutive years which is pretty impressive given that they too were building a new ground, the Allianz Arena, which cost €340 million (£306.3 million), opened in 2005 and is shared with 1860 Munich. It has an all-seated capacity of 66,000 for UEFA and international games, with the capacity going up to 69,000 with the conversion of some of the lower tier seating into standing areas for 13,400 fans for Bundesliga games. Interestingly Bayern Munich’s ticket prices are a lot more reasonable than ours. For category B Bundesliga games can stand you can stand for €12 (£10.80) and seats go for €20 (£18) to €50 (£45). For category A games it’s €15 (£13.50) to stand and seats range from €30 (£27) to €60 (£54). And the Sterling prices are with the Pound at an all-time low against the Euro.  Memo to Ivan Gazidis. Have a look mate. They’re doing something right over there. Something to learn maybe? Oh, and the match tickets in Germany include free public transport to and from the game. €1.12 (about £1) from each ticket sold is paid to the local transport community (the equivalent of Transport for London) to cover the cost of this. But we all know of course that the Premier League is the most successful league in the world. Oh yes.
If Ribéry’s salary and/or transfer fee are anything close to the figures suggested, or even half the reported sums, he’s out of our league I’m afraid. Le Boss has recently said that the strength of the Euro will be e headache for British clubs. This, allied with the possibility of foreign player quotas being introduced, might be why he’s been promoting British lads recently and bought Aaron Ramsey in the summer. If it is then maximum respect to him for his foresight.
I think there’s a long way to go before any rule like that being examined by FIFA, the so called 6 + 5 rule (six players qualified for the national team plus five foreigners) comes in. At the moment it’s contrary to settled European Union law. There is however what’s known as the “cultural exception” in Euro-speak which allows EU nations to provide a limited level of protection for culturally important industries like film and theatre. There’s also a UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Convention, a binding international treaty, which permits such measures.
Aside from the current legal headaches in introducing such rules in the EU would bring (well to be absolutely accurate,  it’s the European Economic Area, or EEA, which is the EU plus Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway, non EU countries which have a special relationship with the EU in return to accepting the writ of EU rules on trade. Switzerland also has a special relationship with the EU which means its nationals are effectively covered); there’s also the nature of the currently proposed rule itself.
Merely insisting that six players qualified for the national team are on the field is a recipe for a flood of early substitutions. As the rule is currently envisaged there’s nothing to stop a team taking one or more of the “local” players off seconds after the kick off, although they’d use one or more of their permitted substitutions of course. If we’re going to have this rule or anything like it I think a similar rule has to apply to the bench too. Say at least four of the seven substitutes have to be qualified too.
What also needs thinking through is that any such new rule would lead to a rash of naturalisations. Clubs would pressure foreign players not to play for their “native” countries and apply for naturalisation as soon as possible. A rule designed to protect national teams could end up depriving countries of players.
In the British and Irish context there’s also the issue of players from the rest of Britain playing for Premier League and Football League clubs. The senior Welsh clubs all play in the English league system of course. The last incarnation of UEFA’s foreign quota had players from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland counting as “foreigners”. On one famous occasion, Old Sir Red Nose had to choose between playing Peter Schmeichel and Ryan Giggs in a Champions League game.
I think it would be fair to argue for players from elsewhere in Britain and Ireland to count as “national” players in any such rule. That would be in accordance with the particular history and traditions of the game in these islands. I don’t expect any 6 + 5 rule to be introduced soon but it’s as well to cover every eventuality.
I know many Gooners don’t give a monkey’s about national teams. I happen to be one of the minority who do. Put me up against a wall and of course I’d rather we win the Champions League than my native Wales get to a major final but I’d love both please. I think there’s still a place for national teams in the modern game. Just my personal view.
An interesting seminar at Birkbeck College on Wednesday night on the role of Le Boss in building the modern Arsenal. A packed house listened to Alex Fynn, co-author with Kevin Whitcher, editor of The Gooner, of the book Arsenal – The Making of a Modern Super Club. If you weren’t favoured with this in your Christmas stocking I thoroughly recommend it. No stunning revelations to share I’m afraid from the seminar, but well done to Birkbeck lecturer Sean Hamil (a Celtic season ticket holder) for laying on the event, which was packed out.
The Trotters at the Grove tomorrow and Big Bad Bill Gallas has joined our ever-lengthening injury list. The centre of our defence pretty much picks itself now. If I were you I’d bring your boots on Saturday. You might get a game!
Keep the faith my fellow Gooners.