10 Ways in which football (and Arsenal) are changing.
By Tony Attwood
Beyond any doubt Arsenal have now changed their tactics in order to face the New Football. The problems of last summer were not just seen through, but rather they were the basis on which discussions were held, matters were raised, processes refined.
I am not saying Arsenal have just suddenly jumped the hoops as a result of last summer, but rather Arsenal have solidified some policies that were already taking shape.
I have outlined the nature of these changes in a number of other articles, but I’ll ask you to forgive the repeat, as what hasn’t been done thus far is the bringing together of all the changes that we now see before us.
So: welcome to the world of New Football.
1. The billionaire clubs can take any player any time. Players are greedy, agents are greedy, no one has loyalty.
Or as the eternal sage, Mr Dylan, said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears”
This was self evident to everyone – except people who speak in short sharp sentences without any context and write blogs with the headlines “Arsenal in turmoil” and “Arsenal is a selling club”. I think the reality got through to quite a few clubs last year, and many have watched in horror as PSG have made the whims of Man City look like child’s play. So the planning within Arsenal and some other clubs is now: players will be tempted away by the likes of PSG, Chelsea, Man City, and sometimes Man U. That’s how the game is; we have to plan for it.
Contracts are useless – Barca, Man C, PSG, Chelsea show that. So we need another mechanism and we need to recognise that with even a very long term contract as Cesc had, the lunatics who have now taken over the asylum, will still force through a move.
Fortunately, the pressure of the money at Man C, PSG and Chelsea, and indeed the other billionaire clubs produces instability that can be exploited. See points 2 and 9. That is where clubs like Arsenal steal a new advantage.
2. Players and most clubs have not learned of or don’t believe in the Flamini Fallacy.
The Flamini Fallacy traces the success and (mostly) failure of big money transfers from clubs like Arsenal to make it big somewhere else. There’s a review of such players on this site, and it shows that Arsenal have repeatedly made mugs out of either the players or the clubs, or both.
So it is possible to sell on players who are going nowhere, or at least not very far for lots of dosh. The downside is that in the short term it looks like Arsenal is being bossed around, while in fact Arsenal is very much having a laugh and causing havoc in other clubs. Players who have had one brilliant season and will not repeat it are dressed as God’s gift to the game.
The fact is it is ideal to have people not noticing what happens to Arsenal players who leave the club – because that helps move them on. (I only wrote up the Flamini Fallacy because I know no one takes much notice of anything I say).
Thus when someone says, “Van Persie is just about the best forward in Europe at the moment” he is doing Arsenal a favour by ramping up RVPs status and hence his price. The fact is that he had one brilliant season – partially through the luck of no injuries after an injury ravaged career and partly because Wenger moved RVPs position, and other clubs didn’t quite get what was going on. The latter certainly won’t happen any more, and in fact the former probably won’t either.
In short if you want to move a player on for a lot of profit, you make him look brilliant, talk him up, react in horror if a transfer out is mentioned, say that you are sure he will never leave, and then send him for a fortune.
Think how Barca were conned into paying nearly half a million pounds a game for Henry. Think how Flamini contributed to Milan’s financial decline. Think how Hleb at Barca could hardly get a game, and afterwards found it hard to get a club. Think of poor Mr Bentley wandering like a lost soul from club to club, and Arsenal picking up money from the sell-on clause from Tottenham, who then found out what they really had.
Selling on players at specific times and making it look like you don’t want to, can turn into good, profitable business. Arsenal were caught out in 2010, but rarely before, and certainly not in 2012 and are unlikely to be again in the future.
3. The youth project needs 10 or more players for every one who makes it
Mr Wenger has always said that it is hard to say who will come through from the youth project and finally make it. Maybe one in ten if we are lucky. But just for one in ten it is worthwhile – and our youth system gets more sophisticated every year. The links with the loan clubs like Lorient get deeper, managers know how to work with the Arsenal team, and Arsenal know which clubs and which managers to trust.
This year the reserve league is beefed up, and NextGen helps see how players cope with a life in football. The project rolls on and each year gets more productive.
Meanwhile the spotting of great talent continues. Think of a very particular young goalkeeper, and a certain Mr Oxlade Chamberlain. We’re rather good at picking winners – so that side of the club is to be ramped up more and more and more.
4. Injuries are out of control
And are likely to stay out of control. Year after year we get injuries at a level which were simply unheard of ten years ago. When Arsenal won the double in 1971 we had a squad of about 16 players all season. Now we can expect the entire set of full backs to be out for months on end. One season we played 7 different left backs, and there are clear signs that with a favourable ref in control of a game, certain players can be targeted and as a result injured. With refs not taking action, it is a problem that looks like getting worse.
So we need a bigger and bigger squad to cover, and that is what we are getting. Fortunately as shown below, we can use them all.
5. We need to fight the ref bias system
Now that is easier said than done, but thanks to the hard work of Walter and the team, we’ve produced the first ever set of detailed data on match bias, club by club, ref by ref. Plans are already afoot to try and expand this next season. We’ve had covered on the BBC, we have seen PGMOL respond by closing up their website. There is progress. Slow, for sure, but progress. We’re doing our bit.
I can’t prove it but there are just little signs that the work we are doing is being noticed by the club, and they are working accordingly. Just little signs, but still…
6. Player form is variable and we no longer have time to allow players to slip back into form
Traditionally clubs have tried to allow players who have lost form the time on the pitch to find form again. Now the competition is so hot, that can’t be done.
So we need a bigger squad, and players will learn quickly that they have to find their way back in, mentally and physically. I suspect that most clubs now employ several psychologists along with the physios, masseurs, doctors and injury specialists. Getting back into a rich run of form can’t be done by time on the pitch any more.
7. We are going to fight on four fronts this season – and that means we can’t just use the league cup as a chance for the youth team to have a run out. From now on the youth team play in the reserves and in Next Gen and then go on loan. With two or three teams worth of first team players rotating (see point 8 below) we have enough to cover all four competitions.
8. We select the team for the game and the ref.
All clubs make some changes according to who they are playing – but until now they have also tended to expect that the ref will protect them. This is clearly is a fallacy and so clubs like Arsenal need two squads. One for the football matches one for the rugby matches. In fact they could even argue that there is a need for a third team (although it is probably a combination of the first two). That third team is for bus parking teams.
And out of these three teams there are enough players to rotate and pick sides for League Cup and FA Cup games irrespective of who we play.
Referees have quite clearly shown that they will not protect teams and they will not strive to eliminate bias. So the clubs also have to cope with this, and the only way they can do that, is by picking the teams according to the refs and the opposition.
9. Billionaire clubs are unstable; some clubs are run by crooks.
For the first time ever a club reaches the Champs League. It is doing better than ever before. And then the billionaire stops paying the bills for reasons that everyone takes a guess at but no one quite knows. A billionaire buys a club and gives it to his son who is mad about football. But things go wrong. Father deposes son and takes the club back.
All sound a bit far fetched – both happened and they are just two of the everyday stories of billionaires and/or crooks running clubs.
Here’s another one. A club is in a two-club league, and wins trophies. But to do so it comes up with a crazy tax scheme invented by a pornographer who happens to be a fan. It issues fake contracts to the regulators and gives different contracts to the clubs. It gets relegated to the fourth division. It gets a ban on signing players. And there are still more punishments to come.
And another… a club is found to be involved in money laundering and is kicked out of the league. A club repeatedly goes into administration and sacks all its players just a few years after winning the FA Cup. A club already found guilty of fixing matches and is relegated now has its new manager found guilty of a related offence and has him banned for 10 months.
All true – the only stable clubs are the truly profitable clubs who invest money back into the clubs.
10. Football will become awash with the unwanted.
Players like Adebayor will be out there, unable to fathom what has happened to their superstar status as they demand millions of pounds even to take a track suit off, and expect idolisation for doing so. Billionaire owners couldn’t give a toss about them, so there are swept aside.
Decent players like Bridge are shipped down a league with the owning club still paying his wages. Players like Bentley brought in and given high salaries and found to be useless, just moved around from club to club, each time still costing the owning club money.
But there’s a problem: these salaries will impact on FFP – so here’s the next wheeze. Billionaire owners take over second clubs into which they transfer their pesky unwanteds – and their rather annoying football mad sons. And their semi-crazed accountants. There will be no interest in getting these clubs into the Euro leagues, so no worry about their insane wage bills affecting FFP and egomaniac players demanding more. Just tell the idiot players to go home.
The only problem is these are real clubs and they have real supporters – but sorry that’s what can happen.
Eventually a handful of players will realise that being treated with the contempt you deserve is not quite the nicest way to earn a living, and a few (maybe not many but a few) will begin to say, “actually I can live on £3m a year, I don’t need £6m a year and another £5 million signing on fee. Maybe I’ll reduce my demands and try and create a deal that is meaningful to me and to the club.
“And maybe I’ll think a little bit about real people too.”
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