Yesterday the clubs top man – in job title anyway – was put in front of the Arsenal Supporters Trust and other supporter groups to answer questions from fans from everything from wage structure, Robin’s contract, right through to commercial arrangements and plans the club have to drive revenue forward for the future. Of course, CEO Ivan Gazidis could not talk through specifics on any arrangements, signings, etc, etc, but there was hope there would be some interesting answers to the questions that were posed.
I’ll not go into the granular detail of what was discussed because a) I wasn’t there and was getting my information from people who were that I follow on Twitter, and b) there will probably be a host of Arsenal bloggers that will report on the questions infinitely better than I can. What I do want to do however, is to pick up on a couple of the subjects that were discussed at the Q&A and lend my thoughts to what was said. Before I do though, I have to give credit to Ivan Gazidis for doing the session, as there are many examples in the Premier League where the fans do not have such a direct link to the upper echelons. What we heard may sometimes sound like spin of the highest possible political nature but at least there is dialogue between the club and fans. Just look at the McCleish era at Aston Villa to see how a club can ignore fan anger at their peril – swathes of empty seats.
Steering back towards the Q&A, and yesterday a handful of supporters were treated to an audience with the CEO. Like every good politician Ivan was well briefed and had all of his answers prepared well in advance of the session. His pre-Q&A interview on Arsenal Player did its job by heading off some of the questions at the pass, however, some fans managed to get a few questions in at the end by the sound of it.
My favourite quote of the night (from Twitter) came from an attending Gooner who said that Ivan talked for a whole hour and gave no answers. A consummate professional politician then.
One aspect that was talked about was Arsenal’s wage structure and policy on wages. As was expected, Ivan explained that the model that the club worked to was a flatter structure with emphasis on equal proportion of wages amongst the squad. In addition, the club looked to put more emphasis on paying younger players more. Ivan recognised that this doesn’t always work but the club have got it right on many occasions.
Here’s my gripe though: if you place a ‘flat’ wage structure and emphasise on youth, when those young players ‘come of age’ and reach the pinnacle of their games, the larger clubs that pay greatly inflated wages will always come in and offer more. To me it therefore becomes clear: as long as the club have their existing policy on wages we will always lose out on our better players. Sure, we MIGHT get lucky by finding one or two footballers who are loyal, but most people recognise that this is the minority rather than the norm. And if your best players are leaving every season how can you expect to build a team capable of challenging when there are changes to the squad composition all the time?
There was a chink of light, where Gazidis conceded that we would have to adapt the clubs wage policy for the top stars, but he said this would happen over a period of three to four years.
The Invincibles were born in the pre-Abramovich era and hence we were able to build an amazing team on a set budget. But the arrival of the first billionaire at an English football club put the kibosh on any team trying to retain all of its players without sending it’s wage structure through the roof. Even Man Utd had a problem with Rooney; easily solved with a few more shillings shoved in front of the strikers representatives.
For me this is the saddest thing about the RvP situation. As fans, I think deep down we all know that this is going to happen every year, and that with the clubs current policies we are bound to see it time and time again.