Big-spending elite must heed Wenger's demand for sanity
21:37 GMT, 1 September 2012
23:28 GMT, 1 September 2012
The late summer sun was shining but
there was a chill in the air, and the reporters shivered gently as they
stood outside the nation’s training grounds and gabbled their stirring
snippets. ‘Charlie Adam is having a medical at Stoke … Rafael van der
Vaart has just left in a chauffeured four-wheel drive … Dimitar Berbatov
could — massive could — be on his way to Tottenham.’
Back in the studio, a blonde in a blue
dress informed us that precisely 11 hours, 28 minutes and 30 seconds
remained of this momentous day. Then we broke for an advertisement,
which invited us to apply for large and instant sums of money at an APR
of 1,734 per cent. Thus did the crack troops of Sky Sports News bring us
the deathless details of transfer deadline day.
So much froth, so much nonsense; there
is a whiff of high camp about the preposterous ceremonial. It is an
orgy of conspicuous consumption, a brash brandishing of banknotes.
No fee is too high, no salary too
gross. Figures recently published by Deloitte’s Sports Business Group
reveal that, even before the latest burst of excess, Premier League
clubs have spent more than 4.4bn on transfer fees since January 2003.
This takes no account of wages, which have continued to soar with
successive television deals.
Big money: Javi Garcia was the flagship signing on a busy transfer deadline day, joining Manchester for 16million from Benfica
The fact most of those clubs are
desperately in debt is no more than an irritation. It’s trebles all
round and there’s more where that came from. This is the Premier League
we’re talking about, this is the place where tomorrow never comes.
It is an unattractive attitude at the
best of times but, in an age of bleak recession, it becomes actively
offensive. Arsene Wenger understands. A prudent, reflective man in a
sport which sets little store by such virtues, he believes that tough
times will hasten reform.
‘I’m convinced that, basically, society will force football to become more reasonable,’ he says. ‘The
standard of living is dropping, and you cannot imagine that will happen
in society on one side while, on the other side, football continues to
push up with inflation. That cannot work together.’
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The Arsenal manager speaks with the
authority of one who has built and financed one of England’s finest
stadiums, produced an immoderate harvest of outstanding players and
qualified for the Champions League for the past 15 seasons while making
his club a profit every year. And all without the intercession of a
sheik or an oligarch, the kind of benefactors for whom money is not a
limitation, nor even a consideration. Inevitably, his prudence renders
him vulnerable to the shallow clamour of those who demand cups and
trophies, short-term prizes delivered by the power of the purse. When he
loses a Fabregas, a Nasri, most damagingly a Van Persie, then his
philosophy is put to the test.
We can sense his anguish on watching
Robin van Persie celebrate scoring for Manchester United against Fulham:
‘I was thinking, “He has the wrong shirt on. Why does he jump around
like that in that shirt I don’t know at all”. Deep down I knew but I
didn’t like it too much, you know’ But he accepts principles carry a
price. A dim-witted minority of Arsenal followers insist Wenger is out
of touch with their version of reality. Short cuts are the order of the
day; pay the price, buy the results, let tomorrow take care of itself.
You know it makes sense.
Wenger listens and smiles. He bides
his time and places his faith in UEFA’s tritely mocked yet essentially
admirable attempts to create a level playing field. He believes in
‘I think Financial Fair Play will come
through because big clubs who have been spending a lot of money are
worrying about it now. They ignored it until now, but finally we see
they are getting concerned,’ he says. ‘All the clubs are struggling and
we find ourselves a little in the situation of Germany in Europe.’
Arsene Wenger as Angela Merkel; some will dismiss it as an impertinent delusion, others will recognise the analogy. When such an eminent man pursues his convictions with such tenacity, he wants to be certain that others are playing to the same rules. If Financial Fair Play can be equitably enforced, then Wenger will receive his just rewards and the game he serves will be placed upon a saner, fairer footing.
Financially prudent: Arsene Wenger wants to see clubs on a fairer footing
The alternative is miserably depressing. It involves a tiny number of elite teams exercising financial muscle and flaunting all the trophies that money can secure, while less privileged clubs tug their forelocks, give thanks for their loan players and generally make up the numbers.
What was once a league would become a kind of touring company, with two or three stars and a gaggle of bit-part performers. And that chill in the air which set the reporters shivering would take on darker, more sinister overtones.
Unless Wenger’s ideals prevail, then the unthinkable would swiftly become the inevitable. For all its faults and all its failings, football deserves better than that.
Sensitive Allardyce and the West Ham family values
Sam Allardyce, or so his friends tell us, has a thin skin. Bluff of manner and brusque of tongue, the West Ham manager can be easily hurt by a harsh word. For years, this sensitive soul has endured the smear that his sophisticated tactics amount to little more than kick-and-chase. Now he is suffering taunts and innuendoes over the extraordinary influence of his agent.
Happy family: Sam Allardyce
Mark Curtis, himself no stranger to controversy, has long enjoyed a lucrative relationship with Allardyce. By happy chance, he also represents Kevin Nolan, who played for Allardyce at Bolton and Newcastle, and now captains West Ham. By still happier chance, he also acts for Matt Jarvis, who West Ham have just signed for a club record 10.75million and who is apparently paying the agent five per cent of his substantial salary for the next five years.
When West Ham wanted a prolific centre-forward to round off their silky approach play, they turned to Liverpool goal machine Andy Carroll. Who is, wouldn’t you know, represented by the fortunate Mr Curtis.
Now you may see absolutely no conflict of interest in the same agent representing manager, captain and the two most significant players, along with other members of the first–team squad.
Indeed, you will be heartened by the reassuring words of David Sullivan, the club chairman and erstwhile pornography baron, who says: ‘I do not believe there is any skulduggery at West Ham.’
Yet still the Twitterati and the message boards are unconvinced. Ribs are nudged, noses are tapped, there are dark suggestions of an unhealthy monopoly.
Such fears are surely baseless. For those of us who have known the place down the decades will testify that there was always a distinctive West Ham way of doing things, right back to the days when men such as Ron Greenwood and John Lyall created a family club, with civilised standards of play and behaviour.
The cast has changed, but under the resourceful leadership of Big Sam and his chum Mark, Upton Park remains one big, happy, enormously wealthy family. With its own, distinctive way of doing things.
So, farewell Andrew Strauss. The career was glittering, the captaincy exemplary and the going was timely and graceful.
Strauss was one of those precious few sportsmen who exuded an air of something akin to nobility and we understood why those he led would have followed him to the ends of the earth. Well, there was one exception, but he may be swiftly discounted.
History will record that Kevin Pietersen was a superior batsman to Strauss. But as a man, he is not to be mentioned in the same breath.