In a world gripped by a global pandemic, Arsenal have managed to end up in one of the most expensive and nuanced games of chicken ever to take place.
As much as we would like to simplify this down to a case of who should foot the bill to pay the wages of Arsenal’s staff members during the current restrictions, all of the underlying issues that were present at Arsenal have now reared their ugly head, and are complicating what should be a very simple issue.
It did not require a pandemic for Arsenal’s wage bill to be shown to be higher than we would prefer it to be. It did not require a pandemic to show how the club was owned by an absentee billionaire who sees the club as an investment instead of a community asset. It did not require a pandemic to see how football clubs as a whole are hugely dependent on TV money as a source of income.
All of this was common knowledge two months ago, yet all of the above complicates the issue of who should now make up the shortfall.
The easy answer is ‘the players’.
In fact, it’s such an easy answer that a few Tory MPs used it as an excuse to deflect attention from their own shambolic attempts to control the spread of COVID-19. It’s a credit to the players that they set up their own charity to ensure their donations went straight to the NHS, but it was also a message to the owners that if players were required to give up money, they wanted a receipt.
It was very clear to see which owners see the club they own as an investment that needs protecting or as business that has personal emotional investment in it. Mike Ashley, John F Henry, Joe Lewis, Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour, and the Glazer family are six billionaire owners of Premier League clubs. The first three couldn’t have signed up any quicker the British Government’s furlough scheme if they tried. The latter three ruled it out completely.
As for Stan Kroenke? Initial silence. Is that a surprise? Not particularly. But Arsenal released a statement regarding their status, and there was one paragraph of a curious nature.
“Our owners, Kroenke, Sports & Entertainment, are fully committed to supporting Arsenal through this challenging time.
“We are also carefully controlling our costs. We have stopped most capital spend, and our discretionary operating expenditure is being strictly controlled. Earlier this month, our executive team volunteered to waive more than a third of their earnings over the next 12 months.”
First off, ‘our owners’?
Note the attempt to distance KSE from Arsenal as separate entities. That’s not done by accident, and it’s repeated two lines further on with ‘our executive team volunteered to waive more than a third of the earnings’.
Did it say anything about what the owner is doing? Nope. Whoever wrote that statement was going to great lengths to show what the people at Arsenal are doing to help those affected at the club, but is at the same time trying to avoid committing ‘our owners’ to any personal interjection.
That didn’t wash for long with fans.
It was the sort of PR fudge that left more questions to be answered than answers themselves, and it only made the already tricky proposition of trying to convince a couple of dozen millionaires to take a pay cut in order to help the running of the club that much more difficult, because if a player asks back ‘Why do I have to help a man pay wages when he’s a thousand times richer than me?’ what’s a good answer?
We can talk all we want about how players should feel a responsibility to help those at the club who are affected by this, and that is true in some regard. We’re all feeling the pinch right now, and in their position, we would be more than happy to help safeguard the future of the club that’s closest to our hearts.
But if your boss comes to you in your office at work, and says you have to take a pay cut so that Nellie the tea lady isn’t fired, and that the CEO and owner aren’t putting any money in of their own even even though they could easily afford to, what you’ll do is the following; you’ll take a cut, make sure you do all you can to help those you know, then at the first sign of a recovery, you’ll walk into your boss’ office and tell him to shove his job up his arse because you want to work for someone who gives a damn about their employees.
If Kroenke had continued to maintain his personal silence, it would have sent a damning message to those in the dressing room. It’ would have showed them that they’re currently playing for a man who won’t commit to the club in the same manner that the players themselves were expected to. In a sport where you can manufacture a move to a different club at will these days, what incentive would there be for the likes of Matteo Guendouzi, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and every other young talent we have to stay at a club that is demonstrating it won’t do everything that it has the power to do?
When Liverpool furloughed their staff, their fan base were aghast at the move, because they recognised how awful a look it was for the club.
When Chelsea made the hotel behind Stamford Bridge available for NHS staff to use for free and when Manchester United emailed its staff telling them they’d be paid in full even if they volunteered for NHS work instead of doing their jobs, their fan bases were delighted because it made their clubs look fantastic.
Just imagine the conversations that took place between players at different clubs, comparing the differing approaches from owners.
Thankfully, it was announced that Silent Stan would inject cash into the club to cover its finances, but don’t think that won’t come at a cost down the line.
But it’s only natural that his move will stir some players into thinking that a move to a club that treats its staff properly could be good for their career.
How it all plays out over the long-term is only something the Farmer and the Horse know…