It now appears that Arsčne Wenger will not be house-hunting in Madrid next month. At least I hope not. His interview with the French TV football magazine programme Téléfoot, extensively covered both here and in the Spanish sports dailies As and Marca really set some hares running.
Apparently our chief executive officer Ivan Gazidis was very concerned that Wenger was about to pack his bags. They were scheduled to meet yesterday. We can but hope that that’s the end of the matter and that they spent most of the time planning the renovation of the first team squad. We need to crack on with this but the work can’t start until we know the manager is staying put.
No doubt those who have vocally announced their opinion that Wenger has lost the plot will be unhappy that he hasn’t upped sticks for Spain. Gooners who think this way are, of course, entitled to their opinions. I just think they’re wrong. Very wrong.
Wenger is an intelligent man experienced in dealing with the media. He will have known full well what message would be conveyed by his use of the French words “en général”, correctly translated into Spanish as “normalmente” (normally), when employed in connection with his respecting contracts. That is, there are always exceptions to every rule.
Clearly Arsčne has not been left in the best of moods by the way our season has ended, nor by the reaction of some fans, including shareholders at the annual manager’s question & answer session. I wrote in my blog on the Q & A that Wenger appears to have an old-fashioned, restrictive view on the role and function of fans. It’s not a point of view I agree with. All in all though, the man is already an Arsenal giant, right up there with Herbert Chapman. He has played a huge part in taking Arsenal onto a more elevated plane of existence.
We’re drawing the biggest average gates in the club’s history, including the biggest ever single crowd to watch an Arsenal home match (albeit one played at Wembley in the Champions League). Wenger’s success on the park has been a huge part in providing the funds to move to our new state of the art ground. Wenger has also played a huge role in developing our cutting-edge training ground. I cut my teeth at Arsenal in the late 1960s. In my first season 1967/8 we drew an average of 31,896. This dipped as low as 23,824 as late as 1985/6 in the aftermath of the Heysel Stadium disaster at the previous season’s European Cup Final between Juventus and Liverpool in Brussels. And this at a time when the capacity of Highbury was near 60,000. I was at an FA Cup replay against Derby County in 1972 which drew over 63,000. Our current average wasn’t even matched in the inter-war Chapman era of the 1930s.
Not all of this huge rise in attendances is down to Wenger of course. Attendances generally have risen. But Wenger deserves full credit for his achievements. His reaction to the criticism of his team and tactics is clearly grating. It may be too that he feels the board has hung him out to dry. The constant pronouncements that there is money to spend if the manager wants it increasingly looks like the board being a little “economical with the actualité”.
Lest we forget, our chairman Peter Hill-Wood assured us all that building the Grove would have no effect on the money available for the team, right back at the start of the project. Hill-Wood also said after Kroenke then Usmanov bought into the club, that the other senior shareholders had no intention of selling their stock.
Wrong on both counts I’m afraid. The new ground was always going to suck money out in the short term until it was built and the additional revenue started flowing in. Any fool could see that. To have said otherwise was daft in my view. It showed the traditional Arsenal board approach to the supporters, a sort of benign contempt. I’m a grown up. I prefer to be treated like one. I always backed the new ground. I put a lot of my own time and effort into campaigning for planning permission against the opposition of the local NIMBYs. I believed the club couldn’t stand still, much as I loved dear old Highbury. I didn’t need stroking with warm words.
As for the senior shareholders not selling, is that right? Danny Fiszman has sold a third of his stake to Stan Kroenke, formerly a “sort” we did not need apparently, now Peter’s new best friend. Likewise, the Carr family, a wing of the Bracewell-Smith clan, has also sold out to Kroenke. So much for that assurance. The famous “lockdown” agreement has proved to be what people more experienced in these things than me always said it was – not worth the paper it was written on, especially post Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith’s inelegant defenestration from the Highbury House board room.
Both Fiszman and the Carrs have already made billy bundles from selling Arsenal shares. About £45 million each – so far. Not a penny of this has found its way into the club’s coffers. True, Fiszman paid out about £10 million buying shares from David Dein. Again however, this enriched David Dein, not Arsenal. It seems that our esteemed “custodians” are happy to be such, as long as they can make huge capital gains whilst risking nothing. A bit of a one-way bet it seems to me. Let us not forget that Peter Hill-Wood is no longer a major shareholder, having sold out all but 500 of his shares to David Dein.
If the board is determined to Make Money With Arsenal, to employ the old ground development lottery slogan, let’s see them show some love and ready cash in return.
Arsenal needs its own programme of glasnost. A good start would be not treating us all like mug punters. I’m not in favour of giving any manager a blank cheque book. It doesn’t work. There is however a happy medium. The discussion with Wenger should start with the board saying, “Arsčne, how much do you need?” Note, I say, “need”, not “want”. We all “want” more, how much we “need” is another thing. If it’s more than is in the kitty at the moment, let’s have a sensible, grown-up discussion about how to find the money.
In the meanwhile, let’s all of us in the Gooner Nation who want Arsčne to remain at the controls to show him the love on Sunday.
Memo to the board. Treat us like grown-ups. Most of us will respond in kind. Enough of all the Leninist, “Don’t worry. Be happy” nonsense. It’s getting very old and, frankly, making you look like plums – and us.
Keep the faith!