The Importance of Being Right

Arsenal is the most financially responsible, intelligently run team in the English Premier League. Does this mean they can't win, too?
Share |

There was a time, in sports, when winning was everything and Vince Lombardi would throw his hat Oddjob-style at anyone who argued otherwise. This is still pretty much that time, give or take changing trends in hat fashion.

But because we understand more about how sports work, as a business and a reflection of other non-sports aspects of the culture and a thing that causes head trauma and so on, we have gradually come to recognize that some things matter besides winning. We are, for instance, increasingly somewhat concerned about our athletes not dying shortly after retiring. And some parents and coaches—we can call them “the good ones” for short—stress to the youth that sports should be fun, and if you’re not having fun, then you’re not really “winning” in the most virtuous and valuable sense.

Most sports owners don’t care about their players having fun, or are mostly concerned with them not having too much of it. But they aren’t solely concerned about winning the game either. Every NFL owner wins thanks to the league’s insanely profitable television deal and (not at all socialistic) revenue sharing system. The Pirates have been winning for a decade without ever going above .500. This is to say that, for owners, if you’re not making money, then you’re not really winning; by the same token, winning games and losing money isn’t the sort of victory contemporary owners are pursuing. The exception to that philosophy, though, is vast and expensive and very popular all over the world. It’s European soccer, where perception matters more than consequences, and where almost no team makes money in its quest to win. Some of the best of these teams are losing such vast amounts of money as to make American Airlines look like Apple by comparison.

There is no citizen uprising on this front, unsurprisingly. There is nothing easier to ignore, from the perspective of a glorious present, than the speculative menace of an uncertain future. Manchester United is some $682 million in debt and recovering from an atrocious opening on the New York Stock Exchange, but still was able to scrape together $38 million to send to Arsenal in exchange for top striker Robin Van Persie. There’s no question that they’ll do it again when they next need a superstar—or want one for some vague but mostly acceptable reason—whatever their bank balance at the time. Irresponsible though that may seem, Manchester United isn’t the outlier, here. Arsenal, the team that just sold a major rival someone who is arguably the best player in the English Premier League, is.

Arsenal is the outlier because it has made a habit of being on the profitable end of these transactions; so much so that one has to wonder how much they really care about winning. Nothing is impeding Arsenal from being just like the rest, after all: spending, leveraging, running up debt and taking out mortgages like an Icelandic bank, in hopes of putting together a team whose brilliance almost justifies that irresponsibility. Yet Arsenal is not extravagant. The opposite of that, actually: you could say that they are devoted to a self-sustaining existence of Aristotelian dedication. You could also say, if you wanted to be more clear about it, that this rich, swaggering team that keeps on selling off its best players just has a different definition of “winning” than its peers.

***

Thanks in large part to their Frenchman “manager”—a manager in the way that Bill Belichick is just the Patriots “coach”—and former economist Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have a comparatively brief but well-documented history of selling their top talent with the cold acumen that’s to be expected from an economist, and which is simultaneously the opposite of fan-pleasing reasoning. Wenger sells when the profit margin on a deal looks largest. More importantly, though, he sells whenever the profit looks that way. Wenger is more Hayek than Keynes, with his vicious rationalism standing in contrast to the Keynesian emphasis on the importance of the near-term/now. That outlook, exemplified by Keynes’ infamous, if out-of-context, quip “in the long run, we’re all dead”, is an outlook more accurately attributed to buy-now-think-later clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City. Wenger, for his part, does his best to temper expectations, stressing the “ultimate prizes” of class, skill and beauty.

Which all sounds well and good and smart enough, if a bit abstract. It’s not a particularly fan-friendly abstraction, either: Arsenal loyalists don’t share in Arsenal’s continued strong financial profits; they do, however, share in the happiness that follows wins, and would quite understandably like more of that. Arsenal, after all, won three league championships in a six-year span under Wenger (1998-2004); fans, unsurprisingly, rather enjoyed it. Winning is something you can hurl in the face of Spurs supporters while hiding behind a shield of invincibility. If it isn’t everything, or The Only Thing, it is surely something.

This might not be cool, exactly, but it’s something. To the lowly hotel employee taking a hotel-sized check from Bruce Wayne so Batman’s bro-y alter ego can swim in the lobby fountain with his token supermodels, fiscal responsibility may not seem all that admirable or fun. When your fiercest rivals are purchasing your best players, fiscal responsibility looks even more feeble and less appealing. You want to be the one in the fountain, especially if you know how enjoyable it is to splash around in there. At that moment, it doesn’t seem to matter who will be wet and who cashes the check. Not having to worry about this is one of the great luxuries of being a fan.

Wenger doesn’t have this luxury, but he didn’t always need it. In his glory days, Wenger didn’t have to choose between profits and victories. In 1997, he bought Nicolas Anelka for ₤500,000 and two years later traded him to Real Madrid for a new ₤22.5 million training facility. In 2007, Wenger was named the most financially savvy manager in the Premier League, the only one to make a profit on player transfers over a four year span. “Le Professeur” has been valuing profits, soccer purism, and winning in equal measure as long as he’s been in North London; he has been the constant while others have adapted. All that success, naturally, did not make him popular.

Other clubs wanted to stop paying Wenger to be a glorified recruiter who could beat them in the process. As any good economist knows, comparative advantages never hold for very long. In the past few years, Wenger has been forced to choose between winning and selling. His choice was obvious in 2008 when he boasted (in what we can only assume was a gravelly, Bale-as-Batman voice) “I make success, I won’t buy it.” The integrity fairly jumps off the statement, at least until further examination. At which point something else resonates: is this really so irreducibly stark a binary? Is it even necessarily a choice?

***

There may or may not be an inherent tension in the separate goals of consistently profiting from player development and winning trophies. But considering Arsenal’s recent trophy draught and the league’s winners over that decade or so of soccer—an unbroken string of exuberant spending by oil-rich owner, extreme debt, exuberant spending by oil-rich owner, extreme debt and so on—it’s clear that something isn’t cooking right in the League. Irresponsibility can work well, for a while and in some cases, if it comes backstopped by the impunity of untouchable wealth, for a somewhat longer while. But in the long term that sort of ultra-leveraged approach simply doesn’t work, and can’t work. Consider the dismal fiscal state of other European leagues, or consider non-German European economies in general. The general impression is of a mountain of bricks suspended, implausibly, in the sky; it will tumble, it must tumble, and it will probably happen soon, but there those sky-bricks are, aloft, now.

Wenger hopes he has perched his club on a sturdy surface, and in a good spot; that is, that when those bricks fall, as they must, Arsenal will be safely out of the landing area, in a reinforced and tastefully designed bunker of its own design. This is thrift with a purpose, in other words, but also thrift dictated by a certain values-based approach and marked with a streak of puritanical belief: when these other teams crash out, crippled by debt, Arsenal will not only be the fiscal champion, but the moral champion; Wenger will not only be able to say that he won, but that he won the responsible way. He won with class, skill and beauty, the prizes above the prize itself. This is team management as practical theology.

But in Wenger’s quest to avoid the consequences of debt, he has discovered unexpected consequences of responsibility. A new identity is borne by and born into the players who are supposed to uphold an identity forged over decades. After seeing former-teammates depart for massive paydays, players refuse to sign lucrative contracts with Arsenal, knowing that a ludicrously large contract from another owner will invariably follow. Both sides get what they want: the player gets his extra $25,000 a week and Arsenal its large transfer fee, further supporting the development of 10 promising youth stars they can hope to flip—and, moreover, will have to flip—in a decade. The system works, to a point.

But only to a point, because the ones who don’t get what they want are the fans still clinging to their identity as winners, and left wondering when Wenger will make good on his promises of restored glory. If you can’t or won’t accept Wenger’s wager on the long-term, or simply value the pleasure of winning over the logic of profit, then you’re not winning with Arsenal. With the reliability of gravity, Arsenal fans wait for those other bricks to fall. They might get to win again, someday. Until then, winning can’t be everything. They have to settle for the cold comfort of being right.


Share |

Comments

Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking about writing a very comparable post over the last couple of weeks. I’ll probably keep it short and sweet and link to this instead if thats cool. adult traffic

I will need this post to total my assignment in the college, and it has exact same topic together with your write-up. packers and movers pune

Here you will learn what is important, it gives you a link to an interesting web page: Red Smoothie Detox Factor

I guess the hotels management was very thankful with your honest feedback. I am sure they have now improved their service...more information

This is helpful, nonetheless it can be crucial so that you can check out the following website: Magnetic Messaging

Here you will learn what is important, it gives you a link to an interesting web page: Ways to Turn a Guy On

On that website page, you'll see your description, why not read through this. Forever Yours Review

I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. delhi to jaipur cab

Within this webpage, you'll see the page, you need to understand this data. The Magic of making up Review

This is a wonderful article, Given so much info in it, These type of articles keeps the users interest in the website, and keep on sharing more ... good luck. What Men Secretly Want Review

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. The Penguin method Review

This is very good posting from you. You've done absolutely nothing wrong here and I really liked reading this article. I just wish that you will continue to do this kind of work! Cheats Clash of Kings download immediately. buy Soundcloud plays

I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job ! The Coconut Oil Secret review

It's a thing to be familiar with that there are such events exist. I agree with your Blog and I will be back to inspect it more in the future so please keep up your act.Online College

La Salle University is a Catholic liberal arts school located at 20th and Olney in a section of Philadelphia that’s not quite North Philly and not quite Germantown.. cccam server

It contains wonderful and helpful posts. Keep up the good work!
عقاري جدة
دليل بروكر
موقع شعلة

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article DUI Defense Lawyer

I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. I wanted to thank you for this websites! Thanks for sharing. Great websites! delhi to jaipur cab

Its a great pleasure reading your post.Its full of information I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work..cheapest car insurance guide

What a really awesome post this is. Truly, one of the best posts I've ever witnessed to see in my whole life. Wow, just keep it up. Γυναικεία Παπούτσια

though, is vast and expensive and very popular all over the world. It’s European soccer, where perception matters more than consequences, and where almost no team makes money in its quest to win. Some of the best of these teams are losing such vast amounts of money as to make American Airlines look like Apple by comparison.
shadow fight 2 hack android |
wie bekommt man bei clash of clans juwelen

I know that you explain it very well. And I hope that other readers will also experience how I feel after reading your article. garcinia cambogia reviews

Your work is very good and I appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. all natural pain relief

I know that you explain it very well. And I hope that other readers will also experience how I feel after reading your article.. fibromyalgia alternative treatment

wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated. Solid tires 14 x 4 1/2 x 8

I finally found great post here.I will get back here. I just added your blog to my bookmark sites. thanks.Quality posts is the crucial to invite the visitors to visit the web page, that's what this web page is providing. Freightliner Cascadia fairing

I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job ! http://www.beartarot.com/psychic/free-tarot-tops-sites-get-tarot-online-free/

I think this is the best blog I have been through all this day.bosphorus dinner cruise

The most interesting text on this interesting topic that can be found on the net .. Bulk buy Twitter accounts

In this article understand the most important thing....
Blog comments

There on this topic, but you have captured another side of the subject. This is good content thank you for sharing it. ivc filter perforation attorney

Blue Paisley Fine Rugs is Toronto’s newest premier provider of luxurious high quality rugs offering the widest selection in size, colour and services. We believe that every fine rug tells a story and manifests a tradition; it is an investment for generations to come and selecting one should be a tailored fulfilling experience. Our family works closely with our clients and suppliers to ensure that every selection leads to satisfaction for decades.
toronto rug cleaning

Interesting post. I Have Been wondering about this issue, so thanks for posting. Pretty cool post.It 's really very nice and Useful post.Thanks DUI Defense Lawyer

The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought you have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.Cosmic Ordering Secrets

At that moment, it doesn’t seem to matter who will be wet and who cashes the check. Above All Safety Calgary

Nice share of information here. I really find this information really helpful for me. Thanks a lot, dude, for putting up this vital information on the internet for everybody to use. risks of xarelto

What a really awesome post this is. Truly, one of the best posts I've ever witnessed to see in my whole life. Wow, just keep it up.The salvation diet review

I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article. taxi from jaipur to ajmer

Bard IVC Filter lawsuit
Its a great pleasure reading your post.Its full of information I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work...

I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics, i will be always checking your blog thanks... Clash of Clans Hack Android

Already saw many blogs but I like this commenting platform. Thanks a lot for your guidance and sharing information. Impressive article for our nursing students. Thank you. what is a sinkhole

The opposite of that, actually: you could say that they are devoted to a self-sustaining existence of Aristotelian dedication.affiliate marketing programs

So luck to come across your excellent blog. Your blog brings me a great deal of fun.. Good luck with the site. boost facebook likes

I am unable to read articles online very often, but I’m glad I did today. This is very well written and your points are well-expressed. Please, don’t ever stop writing site traffic

though, is vast and expensive and very popular all over the world. It’s European soccer, where perception matters more than consequences, and where almost no team makes money in its quest to win. Some of the best of these teams are losing such vast amounts of money as to make American Airlines look like Apple by comparison.
hill climb racing hack |
clash of clans hack deutsch

Great info! I recently came across your blog and have been reading along.cccam server

Some of the best of these teams are losing such vast amounts of money as to make American Airlines look like Apple by comparison.cccam server

Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing.. learn about debt management