By Ewan Roberts
“We pay well. We pay very well. I’ve spent all my life making sure people who work for us are paid well and I believe if you can do it, you do it,” said Arsene Wenger last week, towards the end of one of football’s most drawn-out contract sagas where the Arsenal manager did everything he could not to pay Theo Walcott well. Or at least as well as the player wanted.
Eventually Wenger, for the most part, gave into the 23-year-old’s demands, who is primed to sign a £90,000-a-week contract imminently. The new deal will make Walcott the club’s second highest earner – but still a far cry from the massive salaries offered at other clubs which have been heavily criticised by the Frenchman in the past.
“We have no players on £200,000-a-week,” added the 63-year-old. “We have a more socialist model.”
But Wenger’s notion of a “socialist model” seems at odds with the club’s facts and figures.
Wenger seems to have excluded himself from the socialist model he extols too, picking up a salary in excess of £7m-a-year
In an era of double-dip recessions and austerity measures, applauding a salary cap that nevertheless sees the north London club pay around £150 million-a-year in wages – the fourth highest in the Premier League – seems totally at odds with the idea. As does prefixing a six-figure salary with the word “only”, as in, Lukas Podolski “only” earns £100,000-a-week.
Arguably even more significantly, Wenger seems to have excluded himself from the socialist model he extols too, picking up a salary in excess of £7m-a-year, including bonuses, making him the highest-paid manager in the Premier League – including 12-time title winner Sir Alex Ferguson.
In fact, the only active managers who currently earn more are Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho, Guangzhou’s Marcelo Lippi and PSG’s Carlo Ancelotti.
Despite Walcott engaging in a year’s worth of exhaustive contract haggling, the ex-Southampton player’s new deal will still only earn him £2.5m-a-year less than his manager.
Wenger, then, is a champagne socialist, preaching that which he does not practice himself. The gap between Wenger’s salary and that of his players is more marked than at any other club in the world, not least at the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Paris St Germain where the star attractions – Cristiano Ronaldo, Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – all earn significantly more than their respective managers.
But not Wenger. Is that a symptom of Arsenal’s absence of a star player deserving of earning an intergalactic salary, or has Wenger packaged a more totalitarian, self-rewarding capitalist system as “socialism”?
There are inherent flaws to Wenger’s ideology too, given that it relies on the assumption that all players are equal, which they patently are not.
Walcott, Arsenal’s leading scorer (both in the league and all competitions), earned only marginally more than perennially injured centre-back Johan Djourou and perma-disaster Sebastien Squillaci prior to agreeing his new contract.
Now, the winger-cum-striker will earn more than the classier, more influential Spanish duo of Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta. Wenger says his philosophy is “to pay something that makes sense and is defendable in front of every single player” – but that is impossible within such a tight wage construct.
Instead, all Wenger’s ideology does is anchor brilliance to mediocrity and taper the amount that can be paid to players of genuine quality – or the funds available to keep it in north London, as with Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie.
The likes of Marouane Chamakh and Andre Santos have spent recent years in the same wage bracket as Walcott, earning £60,000-a-week, with deals offered to profoundly average players that not even free-spending, cash-rich Manchester City would green-light. By way of comparison, Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck, who represented England at the Euros, earned just £15,000-a-week until rewarded with a new deal last August.
At Arsenal, there’s absurdly little disparity between the top-end and bottom-end earners, between the experienced veterans and the upcoming youngsters, between the quality players and the not-so-quality players.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis has profited from Wenger’s faux-socialism too, raking in a £675k bonus on top of his £1.36m annual salary for overseeing another trophy-less season at the north London club and selling off prized assets to domestic and foreign rivals.
As is so often the case, it is the fans who lose out. Arsenal have not won a trophy in over seven years, yet the cost of seeing their side outstrips any other club. This week, Manchester City returned a third of their allocation for their weekend clash with the Gunners, ironic given the finances of the Abu Dhabu-bankrolled club compared to the supposed monetary morals of Wenger’s socialist Arsenal.
At Borussia Dortmund – where football is “more than a business,” according to chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, and fans are put first – a season ticket in the iconic ‘Yellow Wall’ at the Signal Iduna Park costs £154. At the Emirates, admittedly with more games included in the package, the absolute cheapest season ticket on offer costs £985 with the most expensive costing £1,955. Socialism, eh?
Wenger, then, is like a kind of warped, inverted Robin Hood, taking from the north London club’s largely affluent fanbase and redistributing those funds among his band of (mediocre) Merry Men/Kids; but, rather than giving to the poor, the Frenchman withholds the largest share of the spoils for himself.
While the club scrimp and save, charging extortionate rates for tickets and refusing to spend big on transfers, the only benefactors are Arsenal’s overpaid and unexceptional squad players and the bank accounts of Messrs Gazidis and Wenger.
And the longer Wenger’s great socialism smokescreen continues, the greater the likelihood that Arsenal fans will continue to experience more trophyless years to come.
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