Decision time at the Emirates

It’s time to make a decision at Arsenal. With financial fair play looming on the horizon, the financial playing field that clubs have to play on looks to be leveling out – no longer will smaller, wealthier clubs be able punch well above their weight. Gooners everywhere will breath a sigh of relief. For them, it can’t come too soon. However, it is going to take a little while longer before it makes the impact that Arsenal need it to.
In the mean time Arsene Wenger is staring at the possibility of losing the latest crop of his established stars. Van Persie, Arshavin, Vermaelen, Djourou and Walcott are all now two years off the end of their contracts and the club will be looking to secure them on long-term deals in the very near future. 
Without the long-term contracts, Arsenal will find it hard to fight off offers for their best players next summer. Before the introduction of financial regulation, wealthy clubs will use this last opportunity to pay inflated prices to try and prize the key assets away from other teams. The vultures are already circling the Emirates and the rumours have already started as to who and when. 
So Arsenal have a choice. They can, just this once, break the bank and secure their best players on lucrative, long-term contracts. Or they can sell them and invest this money in youthful replacements and debt management. 
What is most painful for Arsenal fans is knowing that their two majority shareholders are both billionaires. Whilst it looks as though Usmanov (one of the richest men in the world) would happily invest some serious money into the club, majority shareholder Stan Kroenke seems much more interested in seeing a regular profit sliding into the bank.
The danger is that if Arsenal become less competitive on the field, they become significantly less competitive off it. Maybe now is the time that Arsenal takes a step away from the moral high ground, spunks some cash and in doing so, protects its short-term future. The long-term seems to be reasonably assured thanks to the strategy in place at the club, but could sticking to their guns leave Arsenal vulnerable because of financial markets outside of their control?
It’s a tricky dilemma for Arsenal and its supporters. Every fan that I know is incredibly proud of the way that the club is run. It is good to know that the team they support has been built organically. Yes, there are a few dissenters calling for private investment, but by and large they are a small (but vocal) minority. The main problem for many supporters is frustration; they pay the highest prices in the league to see their team play, but they don’t see the same level of investment made on players that the other teams make. This is largely due to debt attached to the new stadium, which many fans seem to have forgotten is still being paid off. Still, it’s undoubtedly frustrating for everyone. 
So what are the possible solutions and outcomes?
1.Arsenal carry on as they are, lose a few players and bring a few new faces in. They stay in or around the top four, financial fair play kicks in, they become more stable and as the stadium is paid off, they are able to offer amongst the highest wages on the planet, attracting quality players and future success.   
2.The club invests money now and pay their established players the wages needed to keep them. They invest heavily in new players such as M’Vila, Hazard and Benzema and continue to be competitive domestically and on the continent. 
3. Kroenke stubbornly refuses to step up and take some responsibility for his team. They don’t respond to the financial market and in doing so they drop away from the top of the league.  They can’t compete financially and lose all their best players and so don’t stay competitive. The loss of additional revenues slows the mortgage repayment and it takes Arsenal many years before they are stable enough to challenge again.
There are many more permutations and possibilities. These are the big three. Carry on as is and succeed, increase short-term investment and succeed or fail to respond to the market and in doing so set the club back as many as five to ten years. 
What makes this such a horrible predicament is the choices that it presents. Does Arsenal abandon its principles – the very principles that make it the envy of every responsibly run club in the world – and throw cash at their problems? Or do they stick to their guns and hope? 
This supporter would like to think that they can weather the storm and turn things around before it gets too bad. Arsenal are a great club and given their ethical approach to the financial side of the game, they should be applauded. FIFA and UEFA should be doing more to make sure that clubs that stick to budget are rewarded on the field. The current suggestion is that UEFA will ban overspending clubs from playing Champions League football. We can’t expect the big clubs to take expulsion from European competition laying down, they’ll just form a new ‘super’ league, fracturing the sport beyond repair. Financial penalties for irresponsible clubs are never going to work; I think points deductions for serious offenders are the only way it’s ever going to change the game. 
Arsenal has some decisions to make. Do they stick or twist? Do they stand by their principles or move with the times? One thing is for sure, the next season is going crucial for the Gunners. Even if they don’t win a trophy, they’ve still got to keep moving the club forward, because without momentum they might just go off the rails. 

A win, a win, a four place drop and the striker England forgot.

Engerland just got demoted by those statistical boffins at FIFA to the 8th best team in the world. The shock. The horror. Presumably our national pride will never recover from this insult.
Engerland were, up until recently, ranked the number four footballing country in the solar system. However, I think that even the most optimistic supporter would recognise that this new ranking is a more accurate reflection of our footballing talents. We’re not the best, but we’re a long, long way off of being the worst (much further away than say…. Wales, who themselves, in 90th place, are nestled comfortably between the footballing powerhouses of New Zealand and the Cape Verde Islands).
That’s a four place drop despite winning both of our games since the last rank update.
Much has been written recently about the national team; the manager, the players, the commitment, the pitch at Wembley. It is my goal to consider all of this, ignore it completely, and blither on about something completely different for two hundred or so more words.
I want to talk about Michael Owen. His brace against Dirty Leeds last night reminded me that he’s still alive.
I miss his youthful face in the white of England. Am I the only one? I remember him scoring goals for fun for the Three Lions. Where did it all go wrong for him? Is it Capello, harboring a grudge from the time that Mickey ‘the joker’ Owen stuck a whoopee cushion under his seat on the coach? Is it to do with old Mike ‘the crocked’ Owen’s regular injury problems? Or could it be the lack of game time that Michael ‘the benchwarmer’ Owen gets at Man Utd?
I find it hard to believe that a man who has played for Liverpool, Real Madrid, (ahem Newahemcastle ahem) and Manchester United can’t get into the Engerland team when fit. Now I’m not leading the Owen to Start campaign, I’m not a frickin‘ idiot, but surely there is a place for him with the squad. The man could be an excellent impact sub – if given the chance.
I realise that I’ve already listed some really good reasons not to pick Owen, but I honestly think that he should be in the mix because his international goal scoring record speaks for itself. The man knows there the back of the net is. When he’s fit and he gets games for United, he nearly always scores.
Walcott has the potential to be a starter for Engerland, but he needs to start upfront for Arsenal first. As for the rest; Carroll is ok, Defoe is ok, Crouch is ok-ish, Heskey used to be ok, Agbonlahor has moments of quality and moments of looking like Bambi on ice. In my opinion there is no clear choice on who should partner everyones favourite hair-grafting striker – El Rooneyo.
It is this cheeky hack’s opinion that Michael ‘insert nickname here’ Owen should be, at the very least, in the England squad. He scores goals, he’s dealt with the pressure before and not been found wanting and he scored that goal against Argentina.
Sadly, I can’t ever see him pulling on the famous white jersey again. For Owen to get picked he’d have to play more regularly for the Red Mancs and Capello would have to have a serious change of heart. I can’t see that happening, can you?!

What the hell happened to football?

Football is broken. It’s turning into a joke. I for one am starting to get disillusioned with the sport because it has become so detached from its roots. It used to be a rough and tumble game, played by real men in front of working class crowds who loved the banter, the excitement and the escapism. Now its a millionaires hobby, filled the brim with corrupt money-grabbing whores with nothing but self-interest at heart. I’m not calling for a return to the old days, when players would roll around in mud and kick the shit out of each other, but we need to bring some integrity back to the game – before it disappears up its own arse in a wave of self-congratulatory money-hording back-slapping corruption.
Firstly, if it were up to me, I’d give every member country of FIFA an equal say in decisions. No more of this elitist ‘big country’ crap. If you’re eligible to play in the tournaments and qualifiers and prepared to take your lickings on the field (San Marino, Liechtenstein etc etc), then you should get a vote. No more of this disgusting FIFA ‘decision’ making, where a couple of fat cats, stuffed to bursting point on the money of honest supporters, make decisions that only further line their pockets. It needs to stop. With a redistribution of power we’d see an end to the bribery that is so common in football’s governing bodies – it’d mean no more oil-rich countries buying themselves prestigious international tournaments.
Next I’d turn the headquarters of FIFA into a copy of the Galactic Senate in Starwars. I’d give each of the delegates one of those hovering platforms and they’d all sit around and talk about football every day. No particular reason, I just think it’d look cool.
My next step would be to introduce video refs in all of the top domestic divisions and in all internationals. The haphazard approach to refereeing that we currently have is just not good enough. Lampard’s ‘goal’ against Germany, Henry’s basketball moves against Ireland; I could go on and on and on with this one, this list is comprehensive. The captain of each team would have three chances to call on the ref, and the ref could go to the video as often as he (or she) liked.
Next I’d ban all communication with the ref from players who aren’t captaining their team. You speak to the ref without being talked to first; you’re off. I guarantee that it would take two or three weeks and a couple of 8 v 8 games and then all the problems that we currently have with hassling the ref, gamesmanship, intimidation and harassment; all gone. It does my nut watching grown men, alleged role-models, spitting their dummies every five minutes and acting like spoilt brats (which they are – but that’s a different matter).
Scrap the new offside rule. It’s a confusing pile of wank.
Wage caps need to be introduced. I’m not suggesting that players shouldn’t be handsomely paid, but it’s not fair on supporters of teams like Tottenham or Stoke that other similarly sized teams (like Manchester City and Chelsea) can just blow them out of the water when it comes to offering wages. I’m not suggesting some communistic approach where everybody gets the same, there should be bands that players fall within – Ronaldo and Fabregas need to be paid more than Rory Delap, for example. But it’s not fair when an average sized club like City can offer players/mercenaries like Nasri triple the wages of a bigger club like Arsenal. It creates a false economy and the people who end up paying the difference are the supporters. Besides, the best players will get more money from their sponsorship deals anyway.
There needs to be a more even distribution of television money. Barcelona and Real Madrid currently hold a monopoly over broadcast rights in Spain. It is not conducive to fairness. The Premier League is pretty good at its financial distribution, but this needs to replicated across Europe. All teams should benefit from the sports popularity, not just the elite.
All football agents need to be taken out back and beaten to within an inch of their lives, just for being money grabbing scum. There is no way that so much of supporters money should be lining the pockets of middlemen.
Clubs shouldn’t be allowed to live above their means. Ever. It just ain’t fair. Is it right the supporters of Bolton or Norwich will never get to enjoy the thrill of their club being in the Champions League, just because some diminutive Russian/American/Arab billionaire/swindler/prince has decided he wants a vanity project? How has it come to pass that we’ve let these super-rich individuals trample over our clubs and our dreams? You spend what you make, the end.
It seems to me that football is, without a doubt, the best game on the planet. You put 22 men on a field (who know what they’re doing) and you’re going to be entertained. When played at the highest level it can, at times, be a joy to behold. The honest competition, the banter, the song-singing, the spending all week waiting for Saturday to come – these are the trimmings that, along with the game itself, make football the most exciting and entertaining spectacle in world sport. Surely we owe it to ourselves to make sure that it’s run with integrity, honesty and in the spirit of fairness.
I’m getting disillusioned with football. I know the rules, I recognise the players, but there is something not-quite-right going on at the moment. We’ve let a few entrepreneurs and a handful of flash-monkeys transform it into something grotesque, something unrecognisable. What happened to my football? I want it back please.

Platini behind bars!

The president of Swiss club FC Sion, gob-shite Christian Constantin, wants to throw Michel Platini into jail. That’s just about the funniest thing I’ve ever read. It’s never happening, not a million months of Sundays, but it’s still brilliant that someone is calling for some accountability in the sport. It’s just a proper shame that the man doing the calling is guilty of tapping up players and ignoring UEFA and FIFA directives, but you can’t have everything can you?!
FC Sion tapped up Egypt goalkeeper El-Hadary. They were duly reported to FIFA, who in turn placed a transfer embargo on the club. This next bit is priceless…. FC Sion completely ignored the transfer ban imposed on them by the footballing authorities and carried on signing players.
Some of their shiny new players featured in the Europa League play-off game against Celtic, which the Swiss team went on to win 3-1. UEFA then ruled that they could not play in Europe (because of their flagrant disregard to the transfer ban) and that Celtic would take their place.
Not one to take a beating laying down, FC Sion then took UEFA to a Swiss court, challenged the decision and their appeal was upheld.
Platini has already stated that Swiss law has no jurisdiction over the governance of football. However, the plucky Swiss club have thrown two fingers up at European football’s governing body and called for Platini to be put in shackles. After a lengthy ramble Constantin let loose the dogs of war with this call for justice……
“Then, the police will go and find Mr Platini. Now we’ve given Platini time to fix this – if he doesn’t fix it, then there’s prison.”
He then went on to add…..
“Justice needs to be applicable in football because if not then we find ourselves in the Wild West.”
As I mentioned earlier, I can’t ever see Platini doing time for this, but nevertheless I hope he’s suitably nervous. This might not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but at long last people are calling for football’s ruling elite to actually be accountable to someone, or something, or anything – nobody really cares who or what, we just want some accountability. They’re such a bunch of corrupt bastards it was about time that something was done to shake things up a little.
Where it might, and I say ‘might’ with a pinch of salt; where it might get sticky for Platini and his evil minions is the fact the UEFA are based in Switzerland and the court ruling came from a Swiss court. So you never know, this story might still have legs.
At the end of the day we’ve got to call this what it is; a load of guff from an irresponsible football club chairman with no respect for the powers that be. Even if the powers that be are a bunch of corrupt bastards, in banning them from European football for tapping up players and then ignoring the punishment, UEFA and FIFA have probably done the right thing.
Watch this space, it might just be about to really kick off. I doubt it will, but we can live in hope. If it’s not going to happen now then maybe, one day soon, a club with a genuine grievance will challenge one of UEFA or FIFA’s bullshit rulings in a court of law and actually have a chance of winning. Maybe then we’ll get some changes made to the way that football is run.
I smell the waft of revolution in the air. Either that or my cat farted.