Arsenal’s new normal: robbing the poor to pay the rich

Remember those soporific days of early lockdown? Clear skies, birds singing and fanciful thoughts of a reset for a better world?

Football fans are far too long-suffering and cynical to entertain such notions. But some at least dared to hope that a trimming of transfer fees and a haircut for salaries might be tentative steps towards sanity.

If Arsenal are anything to go by, however, we couldn’t have been more wrong. The Gunners have adopted what can only be described as “a reverse Robin Hood” approach to the new normal: robbing the poor to give to the rich.

How else to explain offering more than Jeff Bezos makes in his sleep to a couple of players, even as they put 55 members of the non-playing staff on the breadline?

They didn’t even have the decency to suggest that they eat cake.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly and it’s not the other way round. The combined wages of the 55 are a small fraction of what the stars pick up. Most are on five figures per year; the players are six figures per week!

Most glaring are the comparisons between the £350,000 a week that Mesut Ozil collects for not playing and the £50,000 a year that some hospitality staff were getting.

As there are still 52 weeks in this abnormal year, multiplied by seven, it comes to 364 times as much.

From a moral standpoint it is completely bankrupt but Arsenal’s American ownership has a huge deficit in that account anyway.

An example of their understanding of fan sensibilities came when they hijacked the St Louis Gridiron franchise, which they also own, and plonked it 3,000km away in Los Angeles. A long way for fans to travel to “home” games.

They also seem to have short memories. Less than three months ago, it was the Arsenal players who took a 12.5% pay cut to ensure that the club’s low-paid workers could keep their jobs.

And to be fair to the players, they are angrily reminding the club of this agreement now. Ozil didn’t sign up as he had doubts about the deal.

But what really makes you question not just the morality but the marbles of the Arsenal hierarchy is that among the casualties are the very people who brought these players to the club in the first place – the recruitment department.

Chief talent spotter, Francis Cagigao, alone is estimated to have saved the club tens of millions, if not hundreds, in transfer fees over 23 years of service.

Among the diamonds he unearthed are Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Martinelli and Emiliano Martinez.

Cagigao was also instrumental in bringing in the likes of Robin van Persie and current manager, Mikel Arteta, as a player.

The savings have been calculated at no more than £2m a year which doesn’t get you much of a player these days.

The figure is also more than covered by the £3.6m Arsenal picked up by winning the FA Cup, not to mention the windfall that awaits their progress in the Europa League.

Rubbing even more salt in is their switch to agent-driven recruitment. Well, good luck with the self-interests of the shy, retiring types involved in that.

The bad news was delivered not by owner “Silent” Stan Kroenke, whose visits to London are less frequent than those of Halley’s Comet, nor even his son, Josh, who does call the shots.

No, father and son made sure they were well away when the protests erupted.

It was left to the Gunners’ sporting and financial chiefs, Raul Sanllehi and Vinai Venkatesham, to explain that the cuts were made to “enable us to invest in the team.” How they could keep a straight face?

We know they are desperate to keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but that £2m would only pay the £250k a week he is asking for two months.

And this week they will offer a £15m package to bring Willian from Chelsea after even Roman Abramovich refused to give a three-year contract to a player who turns 32 today.

This may be how the Trump-supporting Americans intend to make Arsenal great again, but it brings the false claims of penury into sharp focus.

So does that fact that Silent Stan’s wealth has increased by £300m during the lockdown to bring his net worth up to £8.3b, according to Forbes.

All this, at a time of mass redundancies and serial closures of high-street companies, is not a good look.

It has drawn anger from fan groups while Arsenal celeb pundit Piers Morgan has called it “morally indefensible”.

Legendary striker Ian Wright recalled the inspirational words of the late David Rocastle, once of Sabah, who, when Wright joined from Crystal Palace, told him: “Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent.”

The Kroenkes represent only the worst kind of vulture capitalist to darken the door of the English Premier League.

They are light years away from the ethos of a proud football institution or a thinking man like Rocastle.

Given the outrage from their own fans and players, there’s a chance the owners may backtrack but don’t bank on it.

The late chairman Peter Hill-Wood famously summed up Kroenke when he first appeared, saying: “We don’t like his money and we don’t like his sort.”

The old Etonian was pilloried at the time, but it looks like he was right all along.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.