Have the Custodians become dysfunctional?

Today’s blog asks the question, Have the Custodians of our club become dysfunctional? Given that “Victory through Harmony” is our club motto, one can be forgiven for thinking that the one place that this motto should resonate would be the Arsenal Plc Boardroom. The appointment of Ivan Gazidis on January 1 2009, should have led to the re-establishment of a calm hand on the transfer tiller, with fans concentrating upon the news of Arsene Wenger’s targets that would have been acquired.
Yet at a stroke, and almost following upon the back of Lady Nina’s shock departure the third major Board member to depart in as many seasons, the Board appears to have not learnt the lessons of history. In that “Divided we fall” It is perhaps a little of an exaggeration to apply the adjective “crisis” to the current Boardroom goings on, but one cannot but express dismay at the current pantomime chorus of “Do we have money? Oh yes we do…(Danny Fiszman) Oh no we haven’t (Peter Hill-Wood)” This at a time that it is for Ivan Gazidis to decide if the funds are there, and there should be no further comment from the other Board members.
I would also suggest that using the term “dysfunctional” may be seen as very harsh and only seeking to create anxiety where in fact none exists. But the Custodians of our great club have a responsibility to be consistent with it’s statements and from where I am sitting, my use of the word is more polite than others being applied by critics and supporters of the board.
One committed and worried fan wrote the following to the AST, so concerned was he

“As a member of the AST, today’s comments (alleged) by Hill-Wood alarm me – alarming not in their content but the discrepancy between his and Fiszmans comments.
DF says there is money available to Arsene, PHW hints there may not be. I’m fed up with the in house fighting and stories that counter each other. It’s time for the truth – supporters are not stupid and have the right to know.
There are a number of questions I think the board has to answer.
1. What’s the truth behind the sales of the Highbury development and if it’s the worst case scenario, what contingency plans have the board put in place? I hear them says its ring fenced from the football operations – how?
2. How do we budget revenue for each year – with or without Champions League income?
3. We all know there is a very real threat of Arsenal not making the champions league spots this year. If so, what impact would that have on the finances of the club in terms of debt management of the stadium/Highbury developments, football operations, player retention and player recruitment (not least the unattractive ‘lure’ of the UEFA cup for current and prospective playing staff).
4. Was the stadium move the reason for Wengers change in policy in the transfer market? I believe this to be the case but the board have always denied it. If this is the case, I accept it as prudent management. However, the truth should out and if the board have been lying……
5. PHW states that they have rejected a transfer request from Kolo Toure who has 18 months to run. Why? We all know that by retaining him (a player that wants to leave) he will go for nothing when his contract expires. We continue to allow player contracts to run down low and run this risk. Frankly, this is terrible management.”

The writer is a passionate Arsenal and Arsene Wenger supporter, and the concerns expressed mirrors the echos of frustration which surfaced at shareholders meetings and the AGM. I wish I didn’t have to say that I told you so but on  27/5/2008 in my blog entitled “If only I could agree with Danny Fiszman,but I can’t ” I wrote the following;


“Frankly I am becoming tired of the rehashed often patronising interview with a Board member, proclaiming total and undying support to the wages structure and Arsene Wenger, and often making contradictory statements about how much there is to spend, and how only one or perhaps no transfer requests by the manager are turned down.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am Arsenal through and through, but really, do the Board really take the majority of their fans for fools?…
…Let us first remind ourselves of Danny Fiszman’s position 2 years ago, stories were circulating openly that there were disagreements between him and David Dein about the direction in which to take the club. Players as usual were saying that “Big names” needed to come to the club, and of course Arsene Wenger was performing miracles in the transfer market.
The plan then was according to major news sources was for Danny Fiszman to cash in his shareholding and seek citizenship in Switzerland and retire gracefully from the scene. He was quoted as having become pre-occupied with other interests and was not totally committed to continuing on the Arsenal Board, some even went so far as to state that he had fallen out of love with the club. The rest they say is history, exit David Dein stage right…”

Fast forward to the September post transfer window and the mounting discontent about the exodus of key players and the low level of transfer activity. This was eased by the apparent excellent financial results which received great praise from all quarters except here on Arsenalinsider.
I wrote the following expressing my concerns about how the mounting losses from the estates company would be managed in a blog entitled “Business is business but will the gamble backfire?” Arsenalinsider 22/9/08 ,

“It does not seem likely that we reach a situation where all 680 units will be sold, no matter how aggressive the marketing. The numbers of exchanged contracts is also a cause for concern being lower than the number of units the club claimed to have “sold”. the challenge is how we now manage these expected losses…
…The shortfall in expected profits from this business might mean that costs on the estates side may be subsidised by the football club thus reducing overall turnover, or have I got this wrong? This is to my mind a very risky scenario given the need to develop the Queensland Road site and the likely costs involved…
…I have tried to understand the issues that arise from this (financial) set of results. Arsenal remain well managed and quite wealthy in real terms. I am disappointed at the significant increase in our debt due to the increased costs/losses from the building/estates business. I conclude that the club is not as completely isolated from the estates division in the way that we had envisaged. The high occupancy of the stadium ensures that we can settle our interest payments on the outstanding loans. However, if success fails to come to the club, then we may lose our best players and not have the funds to replace them…”

It is not merely a question of debt management, but the need to manage cash flow. We need to remind ourselves that the debt situation is healthier than our opponents,&nb sp;

 Manchester Utd £764 m
 Chelsea FC £736 m
 Liverpool FC £350 m
 Arsenal FC £318 m

However we do have an achilles heel and this works both ways. It means that greedy players can use it as an excuse to depart or as in some cases hold the club to ransom, and on the other hand, it limits the amount that can be spent on new players as other player contracts are renewed. i refer of course to our wage bill and structure. In another blog I commented further upon the financial reports issued by the club.

My other concern relates to the suggestion by the Arsenal Supporters trust that somehow spending over 100 million (up from 89.7 million) on wages has “competed for and rewarded the best players” We have a very young squad, and if our wage bill is this high, then there must be some very handsomely paid teenagers in our ranks. This is based upon the fact that Arsene Wenger operates an egalitarian wages structure, that sees no player being paid excessively more than one of his colleagues.

In fact I still cannot get my head around the fact that Man United have three £30,million players and a similar squad size, and yet we share the same size wage bill which means that someone needs to prune the expensive hangers on at the Emirates, and perhaps Ivan Gazidis may be the one to do it. I have called for Rosicky’s playing contract to be cancelled, and with good reason, it cannot be right that Theo Walcott is in the press expressing his frustration at the lack of contract renewal talks, when contracts have just be signed by Jay Simpson and Jack Wilshere.
If it is just a question of getting around to him, then surely Arsene should pick up the phone and reassure our future Arsenal legend. I know that I would rather have Theo Walcott than Tomas Rosicky if push came to shove.
I had hoped that silence would reign and we could assess the new players at the end of this transfer window. There is a need to regain the focus upon the playing field if we are to avoid the nightmare scenario of finishing fifth. There are risks about reassuring our fans that there is enough money in the kitty, as Manchester City have found when paying an exaggerated £12 million for a mediocre full back in the shape of Wayne Bridges.
Equally being honest about the lack of cash has it’s risks, in that the players agents will not recommend the transfer to the player. Finally, Ivan Gazidis was appointed to deal with these matters and it would appear that these contradictory statements are only going to serve as a distraction.
My advice is for Board members to stay silent, or if they have to speak, then to keep their statements measured and consistent .  Let Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis sort out the transfers and player contracts and hopefully we can kick on with the momentum from recent playing performances. With the loss of Silvestre with a thigh injury for a month there are enough problems for the playing staff, without this dark cloud hanging over the Boardroom. I hope that the key players are reminded that “Victory through Harmony” and “Success begins at the back” are the tenets that will steady the rocking ship and all those aboard.
Fabregas the King.

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