Arsenal are scapegoating their players and taking fans for mugs
'Give nurses footballers' wages...'
Football is often used as an obscene extreme to highlight a particular economic perversity. Such is the insatiable popularity and demand for the game that practically every cash figure attached to the sport is inconceivable in its size and implications. It makes comparisons irresistible to those who deal in tortured extremes of logic and populist statements. The old 'give nurses footballers' wages' mantra is such a reductive example of the genre that it is now parodied by football fans everywhere beyond legitimate use.
Perhaps the most famous example of referencing football finances in the context of broader economic realities came in 1992 when Pope John Paul II lambasted Gianluigi Lentini's world-record transfer from Torino to AC Milan for £13m as "an offence against the dignity of work." In fairness to the peeved pontiff, his chagrin was at least aimed at the likes of Silvio Berlusconi rather than the player himself. More often, any accusations of greed in the game are levelled at boot room graduates rather than boardroom fat cats.
This Wednesday, Arsenal released a statement addressed specifically to their fans. Entitled 'An update from your club', it took far too long to get to the devastating point - 55 members of the club staff were being made redundant. Whilst the 504-word statement was at pains to justify exactly how damaging the impact of COVID-19 had been upon the finances of a club, it communicated the stark reality that 55 livelihoods were being severed during a global pandemic and the worst economic depression in living memory.
As well as being the worst possible news at the worst possible time, it was communicated in the worst possible way. Ignoring the fact that owner Stan Kroenke is conservatively worth a mind-blowing $8bn, the club decided to make the announcement just days after winning the FA Cup (plus £3.6m in prize money) and just before their imminent signing of Willian, who will earn a reported £100,000 a week. They are also deep into negotiations to reward star player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a lucrative new contract.
Now as much as this may seem suspiciously like the very same conflation of footballers' wages and other economic considerations criticised above, it is the club themselves that are joining the dots in the most manipulative way. There are certain key phrases within their justification that do exactly that. Remember it refers to 'your' club and addresses the supporters directly. Laced within the deliberately sombre prose are arguments that appeal to the baser instincts of the support in the hope they'll accept redundancies as mere collateral damage.
The statement stresses that the club are making drastic changes to reduce 'the impact of the pandemic' in order to 'continue to maintain investment in the team', and how that is ultimately the 'key priority'. They go on to reiterate how 'it is now clear that we must reduce our costs further...to enable us to continue to invest in the team.' It concludes that the 'proposed changes' are ultimately to ensure 'we have the resources to return to competing effectively at the top of the game here and in Europe.'
There is nothing ambiguous about what they are implying or indeed their motives. Arsenal fans may detest Jose Mourinho and his penchant for throwing players under the bus after a bad result, but at least he never lay job losses at their door. In contextualising the redundancies as a trade-off for on-field expense, the Arsenal hierarchy are both making the cost of their playing staff a direct factor and attempting to patronise and pacify their fans with the hollow promise of better results. It is cynical in the extreme.
The supporters are to be applauded for not rising to the bait. Even those who have lost all patience with Mesut Ozil, are desperate for PEA to 'sign da ting', and consider Willian’s likely arrival a waste of money aren’t playing the board’s silly games. There will be always outliers and gobby contrarians, but on the whole Arsenal fans have reacted with great integrity and impressive nous. They have far more empathy for those affected than the club give them credit for, and they staunchly refuse to blame the likes of Ozil, Aubameyang and Willian.
It takes some brass neck to point the finger at the playing staff now when the majority accepted a 12.5% pay reduction in April - precisely to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and avoid this week's redundancies. How must they feel as they are effectively cited as the prime reason for such job losses now. And how compromised must Mikel Arteta feel? This is a man who has rallied and cajoled his charges to reach greater heights with lesser money, and was by all accounts fundamental to brokering the players' salary cuts in the first place.
It turns out it was largely for nothing. It turns out that the generosity and good will of the playing staff was wasted on a club who have shown their true colours and reflected the cruel indifference of their obscenely wealthy owners. They couldn't allow the fans just a few days of reflected glory, nor the players and manager a brief moment to bask in a good job well done. Instead, the mood is now grim as many contemplate the prospect of job hunting in the most barren of landscapes. This is the state of 'your club'.