Gunners keep powder dry as others spend up
The 'will he stay, or will he go' saga surrounding Arsenal captain Robin van Persie will be answered only after the final whistle at Euro 2012, but one thing is clear, if the Dutchman decides to leave it will be vindication of how tightly the financial ship is run by the Gunners.
This is the underlying message Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis stresses during an interview with the Sunday Morning Post. The rest of the English Premier League might be in the red, but that colour can be associated with Arsenal only by their playing strip.
'Arsenal are not in the red. We have always run our club a little differently,' Gazidis says proudly. 'We have not relied on outside investment for our success and we only spend what we earn, which is basic budgeting, something any household is familiar with.'
This basic household accounting, prudent expenditure successfully keeping down costs, could also mean the end to an eight-year relationship between Arsenal and Van Persie. Rumours are abuzz the Dutch master, who is under contract for another year, could make a lucrative move to another club in the Premier League with champions Manchester City the prime suspects to lure him.
Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood was quoted in the British media recently as saying 'if somebody comes along and offers Robin GBP250,000 (HK$3.02 million) a week then I am afraid we cannot compete with that'.
Gazidis, who was in town this week for the official announcement of Arsenal's visit next month to take on Hong Kong champions Kitchee, refuses to speculate about his star player but sings from the same hymn book as his chairman.
An agreement between Van Persie and Gazidis, before the club's talisman left to join the Netherlands for national duty, will see both parties silent until after the European Championship.
'The most significant challenge for the game is that, while the league is growing, a lot of the clubs are losing money,' Gazidis says. 'A large portion of this goes on players' wages which keep creeping up every year. I don't think this is healthy and if it keeps rising, it will not be sustainable over the long term.'
A Deloitte report into soccer finance in England says in the 2010-11 season the proportion of income Premier League clubs spent on wages reached a record high at 70 per cent.
While the combined revenue from the 20 Premier League clubs hit GBP2.27 billion, the salary bill accounted for a whopping GBP1.6 billion. It left most clubs struggling to balance the budgets, except for the likes of Chelsea, who can write off huge debts thanks to billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
'The discipline we have exercised is part of the reason why we can consistently be at the top of the game. What we do is relatively rare in football and this problem has now been recognised by clubs all across Europe. They have been crying out for a solution and have broadly supported and driven the financial fair play (FFP) initiatives Uefa are implementing and which comes into effect next summer,' Gazidis says
The Gunners are well ahead of the rest of the pack and have been at the front of the FFP movement, even before it became a catchphrase across all the European leagues, from Serie A to the Bundesliga.
'We are proud of the way we have run our club,' Gazidis says. 'Our model is different to others and gives us independence from ownership and gives us the strength to stand on our own two feet and to look to the future with confidence.'
The South African-born Gazidis, 47, enjoys pointing out that Arsenal made a profit in the past two seasons, but stresses the ultimate goal is to maintain a steady graph which shows no alarming troughs.
'The profits are a healthy story and a good story but over time our objective is to break even, some years make a profit, some years make a loss but overall to have a sustainable plan which is to break even. We are fortunate to be in this position already, unlike other clubs like Chelsea or Manchester City whose models rely on their owners, or Manchester United who run according to a controlled business plan.'
Fans of United, Chelsea or City can, however, point out that despite the prudent housekeeping, Arsenal have little to show in terms of results. The last time the Gunners won a trophy of any note was the 2005 FA Cup.
So does it pay to be tight-fisted, or is this a case penny-wise, as far as silverware is concerned?
Abramovich has pumped in GBP819 million since be bought the Blues in 2003 and finally reaped his reward when Chelsea won the Champions League this year. And Manchester City, fuelled by its oil-rich owners from Abu Dhabi, ended a 44-year wait for the English Premier League title.
'Money is obviously an important factor but I don't think it is the only key factor,' Gazidis says. 'If you don't have the resources, you can't compete at the highest level but at the same time it does not guarantee success, for you need to manage your resources carefully and well. This year, City have had a tremendous season, but the example of Arsenal show you can be at the top of the game over a long time.
'We are only one of three teams in the world who have qualified for the Champions League in the past 15 years. We have done it again this year [by finishing third in the Premier League] and we have had a consistent record of success using our own resources and not the owner to fund our success. We have built our success on our values and we are very proud of that.
'Of course, it is disappointing we have fallen short but we have never fallen out of the top group of clubs. It would be a bigger worry if we are not in competition to win things. We continue to be self-critical and to work out what are the steps needed to take to win trophies for that is certainly an imperative for a club like ours. We want to make our fans proud. We make them proud the way the club is run, the way we play and the aspirations we have, but we need to win things and I'm convinced we will.'
While the future of the club captain is in doubt, manager Arsene Wenger's term at the Emirates gets unqualified backing from Gazidis.
The Frenchman, who has been at the helm for the past 16 seasons, is contracted for another two years.
'Arsene has been with us for a long time and he will be running the ship for the foreseeable future. I don't see his appetite for the game diminishing and his health seems to be good, too,' Gazidis says.
Apart from his travels to Beijing and Hong Kong, this summer will be spent mapping out the strategies for the coming season as Wenger and Arsenal look at the Champions League and the Premier League with renewed enthusiasm. A young crop of homegrown players - the likes of Jack Wilshire, 20, Aaron Ramsey, 22, and Carl Jenkinson, 20, among others gives Gazidis a feeling of optimism.
'If we are to have a healthy and sustainable future, we have to develop our own talent. We do that at Arsenal. It will never be everything, it is unrealistic to expect when other clubs have the best talent from all around the world that all of your talent can come from your local community but it can be a significant source if you do things right. We have an exciting British corp coming through and we are excited about their future. They will be the core around which we can build in the future,' he says.
And that future will include overseas stars, but within reason or Van Persie would have already signed.
is the year Arsenal last won any silverware when they brought the FA Cup back to Emirates Stadium