The Unreformable Game

arsene-wenger[1]It’s same old same old at Arsenal.  A bad loss in the first game of the season and the press were screaming crisis, the disgruntled fans are calling for more money, player after player is linked to Arsenal, some said to be on the verge of joining, only for them to join another club at the eleventh hour.  Eventually Wenger will panic and bring in a clutch of new players at 2300 on transfer deadline day, most of whom won’t make any impact whatsoever making a mockery of his supposedly prudent and diligent transfer policies.

Sound familiar?  Because exactly the same thing happened two years ago.  Indeed depression at our transfer dealings, or lack of has become something of a recurring theme for Arsenal fans.  As an Arsenal fan, I admire and respect Wenger’s principals, his desire to remain financially prudent in a time of incredible excess, I love his ability to dredge up new talent from nowhere and get them playing fantastic football and I love the fact we get written off every year and still always get in the top four. Moreover I’m pleased we haven’t become a Chelsea of Manchester City or worse a Monaco or Anzhi, the footballing equivalent of a Rover masquerading as a Bentley.

Yet does this mean that I don’t want Wenger to spend, spend, spend in the next two weeks, hell no, he should spend as much as it takes, even if it means spending well over the odds for a star player. The truth is however much I admire Wenger’s philosophy, and hope to someday see sanity restored to football transfers, I want us to win trophies more, and with Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool making some big signings, Arsenal should keep up the pace.

The fact is however laudable our financial stability, our shiny new stadium and youth academy, frankly many Arsenal fans want more. We’re bored with the battle for fourth place which although financially lucrative offers nothing substantive and will be forgotten as quickly as the yesterday’s newspaper. We want to win trophies, all fans do above all else, and the sad thing is that isn’t going to happen without spending obscene amounts.

A friend of mine is a Portsmouth fan; you may think that he regrets the transfer spree his side went on, leading to FA Cup triumph in 2008, but also financial collapse and a plunge down the leagues? Of course not, he would rather have gone through the triumph and the collapse than endured years of lower division mediocrity. This pretty much sums up the dilemma facing football clubs and the hypocrisy of the game, everyone in principle wants financial stability and prudence. But after a couple of bad results, all of that goes out of the window for the quick fix, discontent at a lack of transfers can create panic at a club before a ball has even been hit and even the most rational fan can become a rapid Adrian Durham listening emotional wreck if his club is seen to be idle in the transfer market.

The whole game is rigged towards this short termism and financial largesse, stability and prudence is only for when you’re winning, the answer to the slightest hiccup is to spend. A whole industry has grown up around football transfers with insufferable and often ill-informed speculation on the internet and radio stations such as TalkSport starting before the season has even began, with clubs that fail to make the medias lofty expectation labelled as ‘crisis clubs’ before a ball is even kicked. It’s no surprise that owners often take the easy option and spend their hard-earned money on a last minute spree rather than face the ire of the media and fans, in this environment it’s virtually impossible for a responsible financial culture to develop with only a few, notably Arsenal and West Brom not falling victim to this madness.

It’s easy to blame the media for creating this beast, however the fans have to take a share of the blame as well as the media is just reflecting their prevailing mood. At the end of the day we all want our club to win, to better itself, and we all live in the present and its little surprise that in football the ‘peoples game’, a sport that frankly matters more to more people than any other these populist tendencies are so strong.  Many of us, myself included would sacrifice tomorrow for glory today despite in principal supporting financial prudence, even if it risks turning our club into a Portsmouth (although I’d would like to think that some sort of happy medium could be reached). I’d love us to shell out £60 million for an overpaid, overrated, troublemaking South American striker. It’s why football finances will never be properly reformed and wage bills and transfer fees will continue to spiral. But it’s a bubble that will continue to inflate for the foreseeable future as no-one, least of all the fans are willing to put a stop to it for fear of the consequences.