Soccer

MARTIN SAMUEL: Arsenal cuts look terrible but this is the new reality

MARTIN SAMUEL: Yes, Arsenal job cuts look terrible when they’ve just offered Willian £400,000 per month and their billionaire owner could keep everyone in employment, but this is the new reality

  • Arsenal faced criticism after it was announced 55 staff would be losing their jobs
  • It is a terrible look, given billionaire owner Stan Kroenke can keep people in work
  • The Gunners have also just placed a hugely lucrative offer on the table for Willian
  • Yet this is a harsh reality of the times and Arsenal are operating like any business 

It is a terrible look. Anyone can see that. No doubt Arsenal can, too. For the club to shed 55 staff on the day it recruits a new player for £400,000 a month is as bad as it gets. 

Jeremy Corbyn and Piers Morgan have ended up on the same side in opposition to the plan. That’s how much this stinks.

And the saving? An estimated £2million. Willian will bank that by January. Probably sooner given bonuses and signing-on fees — and who knows what is paid in addition to his agent? Arsenal collected £2.6m just for winning their last match, the FA Cup final.

Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has come under fire after he decided to cut staff numbers

‘Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent,’ said Ian Wright on Thursday, quoting his friend and club legend David Rocastle. Yet that is the problem. Arsenal know exactly what they are. 

A Covid-affected business, incorporating an elite football team. The sell is one unified whole, but the reality is Wednesday’s announcement. Investment in one, harsh economic reality for the other.

Arsenal, as a football club, is failing. Its television revenue is down, and matchday takings account for almost a quarter of turnover, the highest in the Premier League, meaning ground closure has hit Arsenal hardest of all.

A hugely lucrative offer is to be put to Willian, despite 55 members of staff losing their jobs

Equally, commercial revenues will be impacted by another season outside the Champions League, and the wider effects of Covid-19. There is a reason fourth place is now celebrated like a trophy. If an elite club could mount a giant UEFA cheque and take it on an open-top bus parade, they would. Not so much for the Europa League.

So, with crowds locked outside, the only way to change Arsenal’s current narrative and revenue stream is to be successful: which means continuing to support the team. While 55 members of staff are added to the growing ranks of the unemployed, the rebuilding of Mikel Arteta’s squad continues.

Arsenal have Mesut Ozil on £350,000 a week and are approaching £250,000 a week for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. If he agrees, they will do it. They will do it while severing the employment of people who earn one tenth of Ozil’s weekly wage in a year. 

With fans set to be away from football for some time, Arsenal need to cut costs in other areas

It is utterly horrid. But that’s football.

Breaking up the scouting staff is also part of the redundancy plan and that is more understandable. Arsenal’s recruitment policies have hardly been faultless across the last decade.

Just as Aston Villa’s sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch paid for his poor choices, it is not such a shock that Francis Cagigao, head of recruitment, is among those leaving Arsenal. 

He unearthed Cesc Fabregas, we are told. Yet Fabregas joined 17 years ago. ‘What have you done for me lately?’ might be the more pertinent question. Hector Bellerin has been mentioned, and Emiliano Martinez, but it’s not much of a roll call across 24 years.

Anyway, scouts and staff have not gone just so Arsenal can buy Willian. The two sides of the business are almost foreign, and Arsenal’s deception was linking them to make a humanitarian case when asking players to take pay cuts. 

 Scout Francis Cagigao has been with Arsenal for two decades but will also be moved on

They should have told the truth. The cuts were for the club. To pretend the players were saving the little people was a falsehood. If Aubameyang earns £250,000 a week, a cut of 7.5 per cent amounts to £975,000 annually.

If player wages and the general staff salaries were in any way matched, then, with the savings made, Arsenal could now have the biggest commercial, marketing and scouting network in world football.

The cuts were about preserving large-scale investment in the team. The staff were eventually going to become a separate issue. Pensions and benefits will also be changing, apparently. It is an unpleasantly familiar tale.

Arsenal were going to place lower earners on furlough but saw the negative publicity around that decision at Liverpool and Tottenham, and balked. This is not a direct consequence but, while football grounds remain shut, there will be jobs at clubs that simply do not exist any more.

Arsenal are owned by a billionaire, Stan Kroenke, who could keep everyone in employment, but that is true of just about every company making cuts and redundancies due to Covid-19. Kroenke is just an owner. Arsenal are just a business. 

For all of Rocastle’s fine words, this is the bottom line. Here comes reality: the Borgias were more of a family than most football clubs.

Just the 31 goals this season… Ronaldo’s finished!

Cristiano Ronaldo is not the force he was, it is said. In Juventus’ ninth straight title win, he only scored 31 goals in 33 games; just eight more and in three fewer matches than the winner of the Premier League Golden Boot. Clearly, he’s slipping.

No cherry on top for frozen out Fraser 

If this was summer 2019, Ryan Fraser could be very much in demand. Back then, he was an ever-present and lively winger who had scored seven Premier League goals and contributed 14 assists as Bournemouth secured a respectable 14th-place finish. Arsenal and Tottenham were monitoring his situation.

So when Bournemouth offered a new contract worth roughly £67,000 a week, Fraser turned it down. He also rejected the chance to sign a short-term contract to feature in Project Restart, meaning he has not played since March 7. 

As one additional point would have kept Bournemouth up, that might not be forgotten in a hurry either.

As it stands then, all suitors have to go on this summer is Fraser’s last 32 matches for Bournemouth in which he scored a single goal — on September 15.

Ryan Fraser finds himself in a very different position than he did approximately one year ago

Meaning Fraser is now an out-of-contract player with a Championship club who, when the season restarts on September 12, won’t have scored in three days short of a year or played a competitive game for six months. 

Unsurprisingly, his best option now appears to be Crystal Palace, whose offer is nearer £50,000 a week.

In other transfer news, Jeremy Ngakia, who broke into West Ham’s team in January and started five games under David Moyes, has just completed his dream move — to Watford, in the Championship. 

It became obvious long before the 2019-20 season ended that Ngakia’s head had been turned and, despite being offered a new contract and given first-team opportunities with more certain to follow, the 19-year-old would be leaving. Perhaps he envisaged remaining a Premier League footballer, too, at the time. Hey ho.

Still, no doubt Fraser and Ngakia are paying somebody very well for such excellent career advice. Although, with recession looming, their mentors might be wise to not spend it all at once.

Bale’s agent talks a good game

What is Gareth Bale these days, apart from a walking advertisement for the negotiating skills of his agent Jonathan Barnett? 

He is rated so highly by Real Madrid that Zinedine Zidane left him at home rather than make him part of the 24-man party for tonight’s game with Manchester City. 

If Madrid progress one imagines Bale will not be in Lisbon, either. He was omitted from the squad for the last league game of the season and was an unused substitute in the six matches before that.

Gareth Bale’s career appears to be fizzling out at Real Madrid with no clear ending in sight

When asked about Bale’s future, Barnett rarely misses an opportunity to crow that none could afford him — drawing attention to his £650,000-a-week contract. No doubt that money makes these humiliations easier to bear. 

Bale was a quite magnificent footballer not long ago and perhaps Barnett’s greatest achievement is successfully projecting this as of no importance.

Now fans will be kept in the dark about VAR calls

The Premier League have hit on a way to stop terrible armpit offsides ruining the enjoyment of football fans: they’re going to keep them secret. 

A player can still be off by the tip of a boot but the authorities will no longer allow television companies to draw lines confirming it. 

So viewers will be in the dark, as will those in the ground. Instead of correcting the problem, the plan is to shoot the messenger. FIFA are not even allowing thicker lines purely for the use of VAR officials, to give some benefit of doubt to the attacking team. ‘If evidence shows three centimetres offside, it is offside,’ announced referees chief Pierluigi Collina smugly. 

FIFA head of referees Pierluigi Collina outlined the coming changes regarding VAR rulings

Yet sometimes it isn’t even three centimetres, it’s one centimetre — and nobody can say with accuracy the precise moment the ball is played. 

Solving this problem, returning the offside law to its intended purpose, could be relatively straightforward, but referees continue to make it hard: so in lieu of a system that works, they are going to keep the paying customers — both in the stands and on the sofa — in the dark.

As football stumbles ever more certainly towards a global financial crisis, it’s a bold move. 

City become another black sheep

Manchester City have a new away kit — not that you would know. It’s another Everykit. Sort of black, like everybody else. 

The manufacturers, Puma, say it’s inspired by the Castlefield and Bridgewater canal. Maybe that’s black, too. It did use to be very polluted. In the 19th century, there was a condition called canal throat that specifically affected those who lived nearby.

Last season, half the division sported an Everykit as second or third change, Manchester City included. It attracts the leisurewear market, apparently. Black works better with jeans. Certainly a single neutral colour does. 

That’s why modern Everykits are so unimaginative and have to be made interesting by specious backstories about tributes to the industrial north. Already, Liverpool and Manchester United have joined Manchester City, back in black for 2020-21.

Manchester City have joined numerous other clubs in taking an all-black Everykit

The irony is that Manchester City used to have a great and unique away kit. Red and black stripes. Malcolm Allison took the idea from AC Milan, but it looked like nothing else in the higher echelons of English football and they wore it in the victorious 1969 FA Cup final. 

Every now and then it makes a reappearance and City look different again. Not next season, though. They’ll just look like the rest. When branding and identity is so important to clubs, why is this?

Sky Blues face a very different task against Madrid 

There are no guarantees for Manchester City against Real Madrid on Friday night. 

Taking a 2-1 lead into a home leg in front of a full stadium with Sergio Aguero up front is very different from the task they now face, with no Aguero and no fans. 

Madrid know what they must do and this is very much in the balance. 

Newcastle’s Canadian deal might not be sensible  

Newcastle Rugby Limited, who own both Union and League teams on Tyneside, wish to purchase the struggling Toronto Wolfpack. Newcastle Falcons are awaiting promotion to the Premiership, while Newcastle Thunder currently occupy a berth two tiers below the Super League. 

Their aim is to secure the Canadian franchise and use it to fast-track entry into the top division. Their rivals are a consortium in New York, who have already applied to join the League in 2022.

Is it not sensible, though, to have a European rugby competition featuring European teams? Toronto’s entry was ambitious but their failure to fulfil the 2020 fixtures in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis has exposed obvious flaws. 

Toronto Wolfpack are subject to interest from Newcastle Rugby Limited, who own both Union and League teams on Tyneside

Why would a fledgling team in New York fare any differently in the current climate? Newcastle Thunder — a relaunch of Gateshead Thunder, sold in 2014 — at least have a solid base on which to build. The old Gateshead team was playing in front of 250 at the time of the sale, a figure that has risen fourfold in recent years. 

The hope is that offering Super League rugby would lead to a surge in interest: the target is to be Super League champions by 2030. It would be nice if the region could make one takeover work — even if it wasn’t the change capable of delivering most happiness locally.

One Tyneside takeover that could happen

David and Simon Reuben have let it be known they remain keen to buy Newcastle United. ‘We were planning on creating one of the premier clubs in the UK,’ read a statement. ‘We hope those exciting plans are not in vain.’ 

With a reported net worth of £18billion and an asking price of £300m they shouldn’t be. Indeed, as most of the complications seemed to involve the Saudi Arabian end of the takeover consortium, this should now be one of the simpler deals to get going. 

So why waste time talking when you could be doing? Unless it’s just more talk anyway.

Give Parker due for his victory

Imagine if Thomas Frank of Brentford had spectacularly outwitted Scott Parker in this week’s Championship play-off final. We would never have heard the last of the intellectual sophistication at the heart of such a victory. 

Instead, it was Parker’s Fulham who controlled the game and cognoscente’s choice Brentford who were again disappointing when it mattered. 

It is now predicted their best players will be sold but, having seen their extended collapse under pressure at the end of the season, it could be argued buyer beware. 

Scott Parker deserves much praise for guiding Fulham back into English football’s top flight




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