Daniel Levy, chairman of that club in the blue quarter of North London claimed that the spending by the other 19 Premier League clubs was “just impossible for it to be sustainable” in managing the financial health of a club.
Uli Hoeness, boss of German champions, Bayern Munich said his club would not enter into a bidding war for star footballers. In describing skyrocketing transfer fees, and by extension, salaries, as “madness”, he asked if fans and managers would accept this. Perhaps as a double bluff, he added that setting a goal of winning the Champions League in the face of “such madness… gripping the transfer market” just wasn’t feasible.
Of course, Arsene Wenger has been saying this for aeons, and has been much derided for his views. It’s always easy to jeer at that madman standing on the hill preaching his message. But when others begin to join in, perceptions begin to change, and the movement grows. Suddenly the jeering turns to cheering. And in the case of transfer fees and salaries, it’s certainly a movement that needs impetus.
Fans have been raising their voices for a while with the ever-rising cost of attending matches, especially in the Premier League. But they also demand their respective clubs signing the best players in the quest for success. For many fans, success equates to winning trophies. To others, just staying up with the elite is good enough. Dichotomies to which managers happily play one side off against the other, and justify their need to spend, spend, spend.
It will take a special one, one who has the conviction to stand by a personal mantra of not buying his way to success, for the first crack to appear in the dam. Given the ephemeral nature of their positions within clubs, the long-term for most managers extends to nothing more than the next match. So the oft-repeated lines of ‘restructuring the playing side of the club’, ‘in order to compete, we must buy’, and ‘success comes at a price’.
Some managers have their hands tied due to the parlous financial nature of the club they happen to manage, though they will also loudly complain about not being provided the funds to ‘strengthen the team’. Perhaps these very managers need a crash course in Economics 101 before they are even allowed to set foot into a dugout. More importantly, they need to find new ways to beat the established at their own game.
Others try and fight the good fight, but they are few and far between. Arsene Wenger is one of them, but even he has had to buckle under the strain of the upward pressure on prices. He does drive a hard bargain, and steps away from the table if he feels the price isn’t right – at least in his eyes. To his credit, if a right back and a left back can cost Manchester City upwards of £100 million, and a striker can cost Manchester United upwards of £75 million, the purchase of Alexandre Lacazette, a striker, at £52 million and change, is a steal.
Now, I’m not one to doff my hat at anything to do with Spurs, but what Levy said has implications that need to gain traction. As much for the financial implications of paying over the odds, as for his much-vaunted desire to give the youngsters coming up through the ranks a chance to impress and establish themselves as first team regulars. He should know from first-hand experience, when the windfall from the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid was squandered on 7 players, only one of whom – Christian Ericksen – has been a success, the others having bombed and bounced out at a loss. Perhaps he learned his lesson. Perhaps the financial pressures that come with building a new stadium are coming home to roost, leading to a change of financial heart. Whatever the case, this is a movement that needs to be supported.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, on the other hand feels differently. In a recent interview, he questioned Tottenham’s expectations, arguing that if Spurs don’t win the title or if they get knocked out in the group stages of the Champions League, the club may not consider that a “tragedy”. However, an Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United would.
On the face of it, I’m sure Spurs fans wouldn’t agree. Yes, they may live more in hope than expectation, but I’m sure they feel every loss just as hard as a fan of one of the more historically successful teams. And it’s the fans that are usually left with the shortest straw. Fans make the club, because to them it’s tribal. It is belonging. It is passion. It is for life. It is these good folk who pay hard-earned money, and commit time and effort, to watch their warriors represent their tribe. And that makes fans easy prey for many clubs.
Conversely, players who once would look to stay at a club for life, perhaps even becoming legends, are few and far between. Where is the new Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris? Tony Adams? Bryan Robson? Franny Lee? Alan Hansen? Steve Perryman? It’s all about agents turning heads. Greed is now disguised as ambition and irrationality has become the new norm. It may be a sign of the times, but perhaps it is time for a sign from fans, from club owners, and perhaps some managers that change is gonna come. May the footballing Gods be with them!