The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty


Apologies for that little interlude, I was studying for a hideous standardized test and thus had less than no brainpower to spare for sports of any kind. And as it happens, other than MMA and a little boxing, there’s not much going on just now anyway; Arsenal’s transfer season has yet to really start, the NBA playoffs have limited interest when you root for two teams which both failed to make it, the NFL offseason is frozen, USA qualification for the WC is going passably OK, and the NHL finals feel like they still haven’t finished from LAST year. So, two quick things and then we’ll be more seriously back after UFC 99.

First, a response to part of this blog from East Lower, who is usually very good but with whom I disagree here.

“Real Madrid’s claim that these transfers pay for themselves is hard to believe with the eye-watering numbers that promise to change hands – £140m thus far. I mean, if an £80m transfer made financial sense, why don’t all clubs do it?”

Because most clubs can’t secure the funding or provide the structure required to make them worthwhile, which includes things like building a team within which stars can win at the highest level, correctly marketing them across multiple markets on multiple continents in multiple languages, securing proper sponsorship from associated financial interests (meaning Nike and other apparel companies) and so forth. To do so requires a great deal of institutional gravitas and institutional competence, which clubs like Madrid, Barca, United, etc. all have and which Chelsea have learned to fake through paying for it (and which so far, Man City have not). What’s more, acquiring the sorts of player who goes for these sorts of prices is oftentimes essential to maintaining a club in that status. It’s a little like asking why someone would pay say $150,000 for a car; if you’re driving it to and from work it’s probably pointless and counterproductive to other interests in life, but if you’re a race car driver it’s essential to proper functioning in your field.

“Doesn’t make it right, though….the sheer greed of footballers and agents will doubtless fuel the demands when there are millions being spent across Europe. “

Bluntly put, this argument does not and never has held water. If agents and footballers did not demand half of the money they currently do, does anyone think ticket prices would magically shrink? Of course not- the money would simply end up in the hands of some other plutocrat behind each club, who will go on continuing to charge whatever it is they think the market will bear. Agents and footballers are simply demanding their piece of that pie, and insofar as it’s players who provide the basis of the industry I don’t begrudge them one pound or euro of what they make. For anyone out there who’s actually serious about reducing prices and footballer salaries, the answer is simple: shrink what the market will bear by refusing to pay for tickets or replica shirts or etc., watch games on TV from the pub or home, and support your local club. If that sounds like two much work or hardship, then what you’re really saying is that you’re asking footballers, clubs and owners to do you a favor by indulging your selfishness and voluntarily taking less money than they could make. If you think this has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening, I invite you to take inventory of your own life to determine how often you’ve voluntarily taken less money for your services simply because someone who could afford it didn’t feel like paying you the going rate.

“he Champions League is horrendously predictable at times, principally to satisfy the wealthy clubs. He’s done something about that – and even though it might affect Arsenal, I’m not opposed to the early stages being shaken up a bit.

But I don’t see how he can realistically do much about the money being spent.

We can of course fall back on the fact that money does not buy success. That comes from having a great manager, a sensible board, and with the allowance of time to get things right (and make mistakes).”

I would wholeheartedly agree about the value of Platini’s shakeup to the CL, and the utter uselessness of the group stages (and let’s be honest, usually the first KO round) in recent years. But here’s the thing: repeating that money doesn’t buy success as a mantra would be a lot more convincing if Chelsea hadn’t spent the last 5 years buying a great deal more success than Arsenal, as arguably MU, Barca, Madrid, Milan etc. have as well. All of these clubs spend more than Arsenal, all of them win more than Arsenal, and this is not an accident. Really, the argument as stated is a bit of a paradox: Wenger is the man who can win without money, and money doesn’t produce success, except that clubs which spend win things and Wenger of late hasn’t. What? If people were arguing against spending on moral grounds, I would not accept that argument, but could understand it; if they were arguing against spending on the grounds that the club couldn’t afford it I wouldn’t accept that, but could understand it; but this isn’t either of those arguments, and it feels a lot more like rationalization than appraisal of the situation.

I recognize that sounds like a rude description, but with apologies, I do think it’s true. And I think when you look at all these arguments together it’s easy to see a potential source: world football is hitting a moment where money, fame, and thus the capacity to compete at the highest level and retain the services of the best players is being concentrated into a smaller and smaller number of hands. Football has always been a ruthless, capitalist enterprise, but with the breakdown of barriers to player movement and the expansion of audiences alongside massive international branding and marketing campaigns, the number of teams in the highest echelon of the sport has shrunk precipitously. Man U, Chelsea (for the moment), Liverpool, Madrid, Barca, Milan, Juventus, Inter, Bayern Munich- you could make the argument that as of right now, over the long haul these are the only teams in the world which will be able to consistently compete for the CL, and that the window for any of the teams on the bubble to join that club is closing. Arsenal are one of those clubs- consistently competitive in the CL, but rarely a serious threat to win it; possessed of some world class players, but not of players generally considered in the top 5-10 in the world (the jury is out on Arshavin- he may be the exception); generally known around the world, but not a very strong brand comparable to those clubs in the inner circle. I think it’s a legitimate worry for Arsenal fans that they’re slipping behind the clubs which used to be their peers.

The current Arsenal policy is a gamble that one of two things will happen: either the current state of football spending and concentration of competitive capacity will collapse; or that by dint of Wenger’s great skill, Arsenal will still be able to attain a seat at the inner circle without spending the going rate to do so. Personally, I don’t believe the former trend is likely to change at all: people will pay to watch the stars and the highest level of competition (and yes, this is why your season ticket costs so much), and across various industries the evidence is that local ties and traditional loyalties are a losing hand against global marketing and the perception that the best stuff is elsewhere- that’s why you can get a Coke anywhere in the world. I recognize that this is a fact that most people hate, and I have sympathy with that viewpoint, but it remains a fact nonetheless and should be faced.

As for Wenger’s capacity to get Arsenal into the club without spending…well. Wenger is a brilliant man, one of the best football managers of his generation and a first-ballot hall of famer if they had such an institution for gaffers, but there are some things which are beyond even him. For his service to the club he’s earned his try at doing things his way, and he’s getting it, and if he succeeds it will be a wonderfully impressive achievement; but it will be so largely because it was such a long shot in the first place. Always remember: the standard is not a lucky CL run one year, or fluking into a title because everyone else is injury-ravaged; the standard is consistent competitiveness with a chance to win year after year, and we’re not there yet. And personally, if Arsenal never get there under Wenger, I’m glad there’s now someone like Stan Kroenke associated with the club who should be able and willing to accept the need to try things differently in that event. And yes, that means spending money, which is never a guarantee of success but always an aid to it. Right now Arsenal are run a little bit like a local microbrewery trying to compete with Budweiser- and like a well-run microbrewery they’ve carved out a solid niche for themselves, are well run, remain profitable, and are even somewhat well-known; they’re Yuengling, or Anchor Brewery. The difference between selling beer and selling sports is, sports are zero-sum: if Yuengling is profitable as the 4th best selling beer in Philadelphia, say, that’s great for them; but if Arsenal are profitable as the 4th best finishing team in the Premier League, well…how many fans really think this is good enough? And with the number of spaces at the top shrinking, well, you move forward or you die.


Wow, that ended up longer than I’d expected. Let’s do some quick UFC 99 picks and then after tomorrow’s show I’ll do some combined recent MMA thoughts.

Wanderlei Silva vs. Rich Franklin: Silva’s not what he once was and Rich takes a good shot, which reduces the puncher’s chance. My hunch is that Franklin just cautiously outstrikes Wanderlei and baffles him with jab+angles+movement. Franklin by 2nd round KO, when Silva gets tagged by a punch he doesn’t see.

Cain Velasquez vs. Cheick Kongo: Kongo’s not a wrestler but Velasquez is a striker, so it seems like a pretty classic case of one guy who can survive in two worlds vs. another who has to stay in one. I suspect they’ll trade for a while until Velasquez feels the power or finds out he’s not quite a world-class striker yet, at which point he’ll take Kongo down and maul him. It may or may not end in a finish, but I’ll go ahead and pick a 30-27 UD for Cain.

Give me also: Dan Hardy over Marcus Davis (Davis can be intimidated be a good striker), Mike Swick, Spencer Fisher, and Cro Cop. Cro Cop hasn’t looked good in forever and probably is a gatekeeper at this point, but Al-Turk hasn’t even proven to be that so far. Also, I have no idea if this will be shown, but I have an odd hunch that Stefan Struve vs. Denis Stojnic could be a fantastic fight in a potentially comedic sense. Buccholz and Etim could be excellent as well. Should be a good show.


June 12, 2009 - Posted by | MMA, The Arsenal

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