Saturday, September 01, 2012

As Long as the Share Price Goes Up, Why Worry About the Team?

So, here we are again - another deadline day is gone, and the world of transfers is (officially) over for the next few months. How did we make out? Not quite like bandits. Analysis as follows.

The Good

Santi Cazorla has already shown in his first two matches that he is a top quality purchase. If we had managed to get hold of him last summer, I think we would have forgotten about the Fabregas-sized hole in the team much more quickly. My one concern about Cazorla is that too much of our traffic may end up going through him - I don't want us to be overly reliant on one midfielder again, as we were, all too frequently, during the days of Cesc. Still, Cazorla is a world-class player, and you can never complain too much when you sign one of those.

Signing Podolski and Giroud before we sold van Persie was no mean feat, and helped to slightly cushion the blow of the Dutchman's departure. If I were to be utterly negative, I'd say this is a bit of a "moneyball" move - get rid of one world-class player, and replace him with two merely "good" players. Podolski bombed out at Bayern, and Giroud really only has one season of top-class football under his belt. However, it would be unfair to judge these two before they've had a chance to show what they can do. Podolski is quite clearly capable of getting goals, and, having watched him a few times now, Giroud also looks like he will not only get goals, but also hold up the ball well, and give us some proper strength up-front. In an ideal world, we would have these two AND van Persie, allowing the new players to settle and get used to the Premier League. But that would be the mentality of a big club.

We did the bare minimum required in the market. All three new signings featured in both of our opening fixtures this year, and we look a more solid team than last season. Granted, we were only playing Sunderland and Stoke, neither of whom showed much in the way of attacking intent. But we looked far less like a team that will be bullied out of games than we have been on many occasions in recent years. If all three of our new players can hit the ground running, it gives us a range of new options in attack. If relatively inconsistent players like Theo, Gervinho, Ramsey and the Ox can produce the goods more regularly, and Diaby and Wilshere can come back strongly from their injuries, I think we have a pretty decent squad. Is it a squad that can challenge for the title? I don't think so. But if we're lucky with injuries (stop laughing) the FA Cup and a top-four finish is certainly conceivable.

The Bad

* Robin van Stapleton. I suppose the signs had always been there, but we just didn't want to see them. Robin is a, ahem, strong-willed individual, and refused to cower even to Thierry Henry back in the day when the rest of the youngsters were terrified of TH. I thought there was a high chance that Robin would leave the club, but I genuinely didn't think he would sign for United. Clearly, he doesn't care about the club he claimed to love, and he's only interested in himself and his career. What should hurt Arsenal fans the most though, is that top players now see a notable gulf between Arsenal and the real elite tier of teams in Europe. Y'know - the ones that actually win stuff. This gap has grown each year since about 2008, and is now a canyon, to all intents and purposes. We finished 18 points behind the Manchester clubs in the league last season, and Robin is 29. His career is coming to a close, and they are the clubs in England that are the only realistic option if you want relatively guaranteed silverware (even including Chelsea, I would argue). It was distressing transfer in a number of ways therefore - from Robin's personal betrayal of the Arsenal fan-base, to what it says about the current state and direction of the club. But more on that in a bit.

Alex Song forcing through a move. If losing van Persie was hard to take, then losing Song was not, in all honesty. He's a good, if not great player, and we picked up a decent fee for someone who showed a real lack of willingness to work for the team last season. However, and as I have written previously, this transfer was perhaps the moment that best showed how Arsene's youth project has been an almost total failure, other than keeping the club in the Champions League. The problem with heaping praise on young football players is that most young football players already have colossal egos. The fact that Song was demanding a new deal with three years left on his current contract, after winning precisely zero trophies at Arsenal says it all. The time and effort that Arsene spent moulding Song into a good player, only for Song to then push through a move, shows that Arsene deserves better than the young egomaniacs he has to work with. Song will fit in well as a squad player at Barcelona, and I am comfortable with the club's decision to sell him in most respects, but it is another member of the starting XI who's left the club. The transfer also, hopefully, ends the association of the Dein family with Arsenal - people who have made millions of pounds from flogging Arsenal's players and shares, with little concern of the impact of those decisions on the club's overall health. Good riddance, I hope.

Not replacing Song. I am not happy about the decision to sell Song in one huge, colossal, overweening aspect - we didn't replace him. We literally sold one of our starting XI from last season, and did not purchase anyone as a replacement. We are going to gamble big on the fitness of players like Diaby, Wilshere and Arteta, and the ability of players like Coquelin and Ramsey to have breakthrough seasons. That is a bit mental really, and a a a troubling indictment of how the club is currently being run.

How much will we rue the decision not to purchase Sahin? A lot, I'll wager. He might bomb out at Liverpool, but make no mistake - Sahin is a "top, top quality player",  and I simply don't understand the logic behind not picking him up. As soon as Wilshere, Diaby, or Arteta is injured, we are short in midfield. It's one thing not to buy players - it's quite another to openly reject quality players when they want to come to the club. This is like the Xabi Alonso situation in 2009 all over again.

The Ugly

* Theo's contract. The situation with Theo's contract is, frankly, odd. He's clearly rejected what the club feels to be a fair, and perhaps final, offer. Yet he's still here. Is he going to sign a new deal before next summer? Maybe - but maybe not. And who's going to fork out a transfer fee in January knowing they can pick him up for nothing if they wait just a few more months? Perhaps only Man City. Theo is a player who I don't think should be part of our starting XI - he is too inconsistent, and still displays a worrying lack of ability when it comes to fairly basic footballing manoeuvres, such as ball control. But losing him on a free would be a bit sickening, and another slap in the face for Arsene, after all the faith he has shown in the player. I have no idea how this situation will be resolved, but I will say it's probably more likely than not that he won't be an Arsenal player next season. Neither selling him, nor tying him to a new deal, shows how chaotic it's been behind the scenes at the club this summer, yet again. Whoever negotiates our deals needs to be replaced, as they are now openly negligent.

Selling our best players every summer. This was a trait of Arsene's early years in charge that we seemed to get rid of after flogging Petit and Overmars to Barca in 2000. Between 2000 and 2005, we did not sell our best players and, surprise, surprise, these were the most successful years of Arsene's tenure. Since the sale of Vieira to Juve in 2005, we've sold, or lost on free transfers, a major first team player every year: Cole, Henry, Hleb, Gilberto, Adebayor, Flamini, Toure etc. etc.. At least with some of those players we could claim that we were losing people who were past their prime (although keeping older players has hardly hamstrung Manchester United). But in the last few seasons, we have started to lose our best players while they are essentially in their prime - Nasri, Clichy, Fabregas, van Persie, Song. If we look at this from a purely business perspective, we have squandered human capital on an epic scale, and in a manner that has stopped Arsenal being a competitive club at the very highest level. It's not good enough. Any enterprise that consistently loses it's top performers, and doesn't replace them with individuals at a similar level, will eventually suffer the consequences in terms of its efficiency and ability to perform. As I said at the start of this piece, I think we have done the bare minimum in the market this year to keep us at a level that we are a top four team. But we are no longer seen as a trophy winning club. And the longer that this issue is not dealt with, the harder it will be to overcome. In short, spend some f*cking money.

The value of Stan Kroenke's shares. I can't find a valuation for the price that Stan Kroenke paid for his initial 10 percent stake in the club back in 2007. It was probably less, however, than the between £8,500 and £10,500 a share Kroenke paid for a 28 percent stake in Arsenal in 2009, and the £11,500-12,000 a share that he likely paid for a further 32 percent of the club in 2011, taking his holdings over 60 percent, and giving him control of the club. That he then offered £11,750 for the remainder of the club's share capital, under takeover rules, hints that this was around the price he paid for Bracewell-Smith, Fiszman and the rest of the director's shares in 2011.

As it currently stands, Arsenal shares are valued at around £16,600 by Plus Markets - although there have been sales of shares for over £17,000 this year.

To put things really simply, Kroenke's shares are now worth considerably more than what he paid for them. If he were to cash out tomorrow, he would make hundreds of millions of pounds from his investment in Arsenal. And this is the really troubling thing for me. If the club won the league or the Champions League, the value of the club would increase. But, the value of the club's shares are increasingly regardless of whether we win silverware. In short, what reason does Kroenke have to push for big signings, and a squad that can really compete at the highest level? If we trundle along, doing the bare minimum in the market, and keep qualifying for the Champions League, the value of the shares will keep going up. Sure, they might go up further and faster if we were winning trophies, but is the investment required for that worth the risk? Why deplete our balance sheet and the club's valuation?

Now, I'm obviously not Stan Kroenke, and I'm not going to get myself sued by casting categorical aspersions on his reasons for involvement in Arsenal football club. But ask yourself this - what motivation do you have to bet big, if you're already making a killing while betting relatively small? If the value of Arsenal shares keeps on ticking upwards, regardless of trophies, are we ever going to see serious investment in the squad?

Who knows. There's nothing for it now except to get behind the squad. But, and it pains me to say it, I foresee a season of discontent at Arsenal Football Club.



Sportgamma said...

Why is it troubling that his shares have increased in value during the time he has held them. If he were to sell them at 17,000 a share, how would that affect Arsenal FC? Not one bit, there would still be as many shares, the equity value on the balance sheet would still be the same and the amount of cash the club has in its accounts would still be there...

It amazes me how everything is upside down when it comes to football...

Goonerboy said...

It's troubling b/c its shows he doesn't have to do anything other than the status quo to ensure he makes a big profit. There's no incentive to make the significant investment in the squad necessary so that we can seriously challenge for trophies again.

Anonymous said...

Stan could take his money and invest it somewhere other than AFC. While some of us may be happy with that decision, it doesn't alter the fact that he is taking risk with his money and is therefore entitled to a return.

Stan's investment, without proper management, could always go pear-shaped. Imagine a situation where AFC misses CL qualification and ,saddled with expensive long-term player contracts starts losing value.

Grooner Boy, you should not assume Stan's increase in equity value is automatic.

Peter said...

New sponsorship deals and new tv deal means income will be up at least £50m by 2014. So we should never lose a player on wages - at least if we want to keep him.

Or we could do nothing different and Stan does indeed get a big share price rise.

Donald said...

Good, well considered points which i largely agree with. I am concerned with the day to day running of the club. It's run like a club which does the bare minimum to stay competitive but must make a profit from its outgoings and incomings. With no attempt to bridge the gap between us and the manchester clubs.
I think we all felt betrayed by RVP, especially Wenger after all he did for him. But the way we allowed him to go to United, how could the club tell the fans who pay the highest ticket prices in the land- we're trying to win when we sell our best, and last years best out and out striker in Europe to a rival?
I hated it when Wenger said we had 'no choice' but to sell him to Fergie. Not true, there is always a choice he was still contracted to us, thus, we still had some power in these negotiations or else whats the point if the outcome was always inevitable? It just shows our small club mentality that we allowed Van Persie and Fergie to dictate the outcome. Hugely troubling.
As for Song, i'm not overly concerned by the sale he's good, but there are much better holding midfielers out there, which was his primary job. Unfortunately, and inconceivably we didn't bother to replace him. Thats sheer negligence. Wenger can't possibly say there was none available when Dembele moved, Garcia moved De Jong moved M'Villa available. What on earth the club were waiting for god only knows.
One thing we were all waiting for just like every transfer window the last 6 years Wenger candidly goes from saying there will certainly be players coming in, to a week later he's only lookin for 'super qaulity' to finally to complete the climbdown: ”the return of injured players is 'like a new signing.'” Painful in its predictability.
What i will like to comment on Song- he was looking for a new deal because his wage was not befitting of a first team regular. He was on 55k a week, but such is the ridiculous equal wage structure at the club it was equal and less than some true stinkers like Park Chamach Squillaci and Djourou. I can't blame him really, i'm awful at football but even i would b offended to be paid less than those diddies.
You are absoloutely right its incredible the ammount of talent we sell on every year. Which stops us bridging the gap on our financial superiors.
If we weren't so completely incompetent at renewing contracts and had a reasonable wage structure at the club, we would already have the players to compete without having to spend lavish sums.
Walcott is yet a further situation, he's now playing into his last year with no agreement inplace.I prefer him not to go for free but i believe Theo might be the weakest winger we have on the books. The Ox is already a better allround player.
Finally, despite the massive problems upstairs. We still have the likes of Cazorla and some good players at the club like Podolski to b a very decent team. Unfortunately despite the early promise of the window this is at best a team which will compete in the domestic cups and aim for a champs league spot.
That won't change until we have a change in ownership and/or an improved wage structure at the club.

Anonymous said...

@Donald....Wenger didn't need to replace Song because we already have Diaby. Diaby is a strong box-to-box player who is better than Song. Wenger said all along that if he were to sign a replacement it would have to be a "special" player. What he meant by "special" is someone better than Diaby.