10 May 2013

Fools rush in, or why Arsenal shouldn't spend like drunken sailors

With news of an impending deal with Puma that's set to smash our previous deal with Nike to smithereens, not to mention Liverpool and Man U's deals, and after eight trophy-less seasons, I don't think anyone would blame us if we're drooling at the prospect of going on a spending spree this summer. Jovetic? Sign 'em. Villa? Sure. Lewandowski? Yup. Casillas? Why not? Between new endorsements and (potential) Champions League qualification, it seems like the sky's the limit. In one fell swoop (or two), we could upset the power-dynamic and topple all who stand before us and restore ourselves to the throne that is so rightfully ours, crowning ourselves as lords of the Premiership (and perhaps the Champions League as well).

Stats compiled from transfermrkt.co.uk
However, as with an earlier post, I'm here to be a bit of a wet blanket. Take a cold shower, Put the brakes on. Look at the chart. Despite being heavily outspent, we've managed to grapple with Chelsea and Spurs while keeping close to Man City. Man U is in a class of its own, especially after van Persie sold his soul to those Devils. When you look at the chart, we are the only team in the top five to be spending less on transfers than we've earned. Part of that is our own parsimony (tight-fisted-ness?); part of that is the amounts we've gotten for the players we've sold. All the same, it's impressive that we're even in contention, much less threatening to overtake, two of the teams on this chart despite their rapacious appetites for new players. I don't want to see that change. While I realize that there are other ways to fund player-purchases beyond selling the players you already have, our ability to make our money count is not one we should shed just yet.

Chelsea and Man City have shown how an orgy of spending can deliver short-term results; Chelsea won the Champions League last year while Man City won the Prem. However, despite spending less than half of what Chelsea has spent since 2006, and two-fifths less than Man City, we've kept up on the pitch. For all of Abramovich's free-spending ways, they're only two points ahead and could still potentially drop to 4th behind us. Spurs, much closer to us in their spending, are two points behind. It was only a few weeks ago that we had a legitimate chance at overtaking Man City.

I'm not going to go into the particulars behind the numbers. They more or less speak for themselves. Yes, it stinks that our sales-figure is so much higher than everyone else's, and it would be nice to see our purchase-figure climb a little, but we made a long-term commitment to finance a new stadium, had to work on a tight budget, and have done so without dropping from the top of the table. Now that we're unburdened, the temptation to spend, spend, spend is huge. Before we do, let's consider a few cautionary tales of teams that have spent aggressively over the last five years. Liverpool's spent £260k and sits 7th. Aston Villa? £161k and 13th. Sunderland, £132k and 15th. Spending does not lead to winning, at least not directly.

We've witnessed two dramatic reformations of the world of football. The current one demands extravagant spending, deficits, and aggressiveness in the transfer market. It's one that few of us, except those whose teams are driving it, appreciate or are comfortable with. It's a bit ironic that Americans frequently complain about "European-style socialism" yet it's so many of our leagues that have salary-caps, revenue-sharing, and other means to limit player-movement or team's attempts to amass talent. European soccer football (sorry, old habits) on the other hand, is an apparent capitalists' paradise in which anyone rich enough to own a team can buy all the players he can afford.  That's not a reformation I want us to join in or collaborate with. It has a corrosive effect on fans, the players, the teams, and the game itself. Left unchecked, it would see only a small handful of the wealthiest teams dominate. Any player who showed a hint of quality at a lesser club would simply be snatched up at the first opportunity, deepening the divide. Even if Arsenal might have the resources to be in the "winning" side of that equation, I wouldn't want it.

I much prefer the previous reformation, driven in part by our own Arsène. He helped revolutionize the way football was played and made it attractive and daring and fun to watch. He found and developed players no one had even heard of yet and turned them into superstars. He has worked magic and woven together legendary teams that will be spoken of for decades. Will anyone say the same of this year's Man U? How many will say so last year's Man City or Chelsea? Yes, they each have trophies but haven't transcended the bonds of the ordinary. Indeed, there will always linger something shabby about what they've achieved in recent years.

By contrast, look at us. Battered and knocked about, we're still throwing punches with the best of 'em. Tell me that you're not excited to see youngsters like Jack or the Ox or Kos, players found in their youth, before they were stars, take the field for us. Tell me your pulse doesn't quicken. You'll be lying to me and to yourself. Yes, I know that certain names out there get your eyes to dilate and your brows to rise, and I'll agree that we could use an infusion or two, but I don't want to change the character or identity of this team too quickly. I don't love this team because I need trophies (although they are nice...); I love this team for its identity and its style, for what it's given to me and to the sport itself. If I wanted trophies every effin' year I'd go root for Man U, but it's like rooting for gravity. It's pointless and empty. They'll come back to earth sooner or later.

Sorry to bang on about this. I know it's not the first time I've blathered on, but it's a slow week as we wait for Wigan on Tuesday, and this matters to me. I've spent most of my adult life as an educator trying to close the gap between my students' lives and the lives of the more-fortunate, and it would be a bit hypocritical to wish too fervently for the opposite to happen when it comes to Arsenal. Just think of how satisfying it will be when we're holding a trophy or two next year, and we can look to Abramovich and the Glazers and Sheikh Mansour and say "we did it our way!"