A catchphrase made famous from a milk advert before the Premier League existed, and best sums up attitudes displayed by that organisation this week. Accrington Stanley’s chairman, Andy Holt, attempted to highlight how life in the lower leagues was a struggle while those in the top flight lived in luxury. The response: a veiled threat to remove all financial support for Stanley and the other members of the EFL.
Mr Holt also suggested in this tweet, that the Premier League was a destructive force:
To begin with, let’s deal with an insinuation the Premier League levelled at Andy Holt. Since the new TV deal (with oversea rights, this now exceeds £8bn) the Premier League upped its contribution to the EFL and grassroots football by 40% to £1bn. Okay, that sounds a very large figure but it needs be placed into context.
The increase in TV revenue was 70%, so already there is a disproportionate redistribution of money. On the bottom line, the Premier League donates a smaller – albeit larger final sum – percentage of its revenue to those below them in the nation’s football pyramid.
Of that £1bn “donation,” the majority of it actually goes to teams relegated from the Premier League in the form of parachute payments. Suddenly that large cake on the table has a big chunk missing.
Before the deal, 3% went to grassroots, now the twenty clubs in the top flight agree to invest £112m a year into this programme. Again, context is required here. Grassroots is a place the top clubs circle like predatory sharks without fronting the sizeable bill. Between them they can just about muster £112m when Manchester United alone are willing to give an agent £41m for a single transfer.
This is where Andy Holt’s fears about the state of football hold the most water. Top clubs are able – and have no qualms – to allow money to leak from the game. Just as boxing promoters act as vampires on the sport, financially benefiting from the skill of others as the grassroots decay, football agents walk away with money that could prop-up entire divisions.
With the best fiscal management in the world, the harsh reality for lower league clubs is a yearly battle with rising costs and increasing debts.
The Premier League has gone past the tipping point when it comes to moral obligations. The desire to be the NFL of soccer has made it lose sight of certain facts. The NFL model works because there is nothing beneath it other than college football.
By the time the Premier League is finished, there won’t even be suitable football training in our schools. They have allowed a cancer to enter the revenue stream of the beautiful game and failure to ignore the final cries for help from people like Andy Holt, is like refusing lifesaving treatment.
Such is the arrogance and disconnect with the real world, the Premier League thought ensuring all staff members at top flight clubs were on the minimum living wage was a show of grace. It was the absolute least expected.
It has made no efforts to control ticketing prices for fans, meaning the working-class man in the terraces hasn’t seen the benefit of increased revenue passed down to him.
Too many clubs in the EFL, like Leeds, Blackburn, Nottingham Forest, cripple under their own weight as they take massive infrastructure into a landscape that can’t provide. It’s a wonder teams haven’t already started dropping out of existence. But that day will come, and it will affect the big and the small in the EFL, because they all have one thing in common: they have been made to sit on the poor table.
The tone of the Premier League’s reply gives the impression they enjoy teams coming to them like Oliver, bowl in hand, begging for more.
The Premier League has forgotten that the football pyramid in this country used to be a symbiotic relationship. That’s what the FA Cup used to symbolise: all ninety-six professional teams and all the non-league ones below that enter, on a level playing field of equal importance.
Nowadays the notion is played with by the Premier League in the same way a cat toys with a dead mouse. The idea of a shared national game is just a novelty to those at Lancaster Gate. They’re not bothered about Andy Holt’s opinions on the matter because they’re not bothered about the EFL, grassroots, or Accrington Stanley.
Who are they?
The indignity of an overhead plane calling for your removal is a moment no manager can survive. While it raises questions about the class of fan that arranges such a display, it is a clear watershed moment. Arsène Wenger wasn’t the first to befall this treatment, but he is the latest and it means bridges can never be rebuilt with a large section of the Gunners’ support. Before the situation declines further, he should do the most logical thing: announce this is his last season at The Emirates.
If only it was so clear cut. Wenger is an open book. His achievements during his time in North London are as obvious as his weaknesses. The main hindrance now being his stubborn nature. It’s that single purpose and drive that once made his Arsenal side become Invincibles. But that was a long time ago – a different era, even. His way is no longer the way. With each passing season when he digs in, Arsenal fall further behind.
His presumed principles should be applauded. On the surface he is against the modern way of buying success. He’d rather develop players. A by-product of this has been the club’s ability to quickly payoff the outstanding loans on their new stadium.
For a while, a new stadium – bought and paid for – was enough to satisfy the supporters. It was always accepted with the understanding once it was paid off, they’d once again compete in the transfer market. Well, the bricks and mortar no longer require financial nurturing but the team does. And Wenger refuses to budge.
What is baffling, is how the stance on transfers is broken now and again (Mesut Özil £42.5m; Alexis Sánchez £35m; Shkodran Mustafi £35m; Granit Xhaka £34m) without an air of caution or appreciation for market value. Still, a feeling persists they are two or three players short of a title winning team. The problem is, they’ve been short for years now.
Not to take anything away from Leicester’s achievement last season, but that was Arsenal’s best chance to put a decade of being happy with top four, and title nearly rans, behind them. Chelsea were recovering from a Mourinho meltdown, Manchester City had a long, painful goodbye with Pellegrini, Manchester United and Liverpool were still missing in action.
Their local rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, showed they lack experience and maturity when it comes to leading the pack, eventually finishing below The Gunners. It was a case of “now or never.” Arsène’s players opted for the never.
And no matter how long he clings onto power, further success will continue to elude him at The Emirates.
FA Cup victories are not sufficient. Top four finishes – as lucrative as they are – are not satisfying. Success in Europe is, but that’s gone for another year. A Premier League title is, but even in the unlikely event Chelsea implode, other teams will be more likely to capitalise.
The truth is, players and fans alike no longer believe in the Frenchman. It is sad to see such a great record at Arsenal be bookended by disharmony and a lack of respect. But he has to realise his continued presence is having a negative effect as the club try to evolve.
Outsiders will never know if Wenger is carrying the can for the board. They say he has money, but behind closed doors the story could be much different, with his professionalism forcing him to tell the press a skewed version of events. There must have been pressure on Wenger from above because when they moved stadium in 2006, and up to 2013, they actually turned in a profit of £40m in the transfer market.
Had his ideology always been to spend less, develop more, why hadn’t Arsenal turned in a stadium-sized profit every season before this?
Historically, he was happy to bring in imports that required a final stage of development. The team that went unbeaten all season during the 2003/04 campaign added José Antonio Reyes in the second transfer window for £13m. That’s about £18m adjusted for inflation, which doesn’t take into account the new TV money and modern day premium on Premier League transfers.
Could you imagine Wenger sprinkling a player short of £20m on his squad in January nowadays? It’s less likely than when his team hadn’t lost a single league match.
Reyes was the final cog that had followed a series of highly priced acquisitions. The list reads something like this: Marc Overmars £7m; Patrick Vieira and Freddie Ljungberg £3m; Kanu £4.5m; Sylvinho £4m; Thierry Henry £10.5m; Lauren £7m; Robert Pires £6m; Sylvain Wiltord £13m; Francis Jeffers £8m; Edu £6m; Giovanni Van Bronckhorst £8.5m; Richard Wright £6m; Gilberto Silva £4.5m.
Those are just the most eye-catching (not adjusted for inflation) from the summer of 1997 to 2002, they are punctuated with many more that exceed millions and offer sparse evidence that Wenger has treated his time at Arsenal as a place to develop cheaper players.
When it suited, he spent big. It’s hard to believe he had a paradigm shift in attitude, unless he’s an all-out hypocrite. But even these big names moved on to pastures new, including golden boy Theirry Henry.
Since then the state of domestic leagues has changed. The Premier League has more cash but foreign top flights have the wealth of better players. The time to develop unproven talent is forever diminishing. To make matters worse, his record with young talent reads very poor.
Has Theo Walcott improved that much under Wenger? He’s one of many young players that have stagnated under him rather than reach full potential.
His methods are antiquated, his views romantic but out of date. One more season isn’t going to bring about the change he’s struggled to find in the last ten years.
The Arsenal fans should be eternally grateful to Wenger, likewise, he should acknowledge that those buying the most expensive seats in the Premier League deserve a fresh direction.