The problem at Arsenal isn’t Wenger or Kroenke. It’s not Gazidis or Chips. It’s not Alexis. It’s not Özil. It’s not Ramsey or Ox or the failure of the British core. The problem isn’t the agents, though they certainly haven’t ever helped anyone. It’s not defensive frailty or this chronic inability to get off to a good start in matches this season. And the problem at Arsenal isn’t just down to the fact that Arsenal can’t beat other top clubs. The problem also isn’t the other fans, no matter how embarrassing they might be with their banners, chants, scarves, bin bags, and neatly printed A4 signs. The problem isn’t the referees or the FA or even the Premier League. The problem is me. I’m the problem with Arsenal.
I picked Arsenal. I watched some games on TV and on the day that they beat Man U at Old Trafford, the day that Kanu jumped over the moon, I decided that any team who beat Man U would be my team. I picked Arsenal.
And then I did something that few others did at that time. I flew over to England for a game. I went to Highbury and sat with people I didn’t know. I was 36 years old and I went to England as a football tourist. I wasn’t a pioneer in that regard but I was certainly one of a tiny minority of Americans who took their vacation in England, to watch football, in 2006.
I paid a ridiculous amount of money to use someone’s season ticket and sat next to strange faces and heard strange chants and tried to join in with strange songs. I tried to be part of the surge of excitement when Hleb scored but I was a stranger in a strange land and didn’t have a clue when to rise or sit, when to clap, or when to sing. I took a selfie. In 2006. I guess I pioneered that crappy art form as well.
I fell in love with Arsenal at Highbury but I had no right to fall in love with Arsenal. It turned out that I was less of a tourist and more like an old explorer. Like Gauguin, I was just another colonialist. I went to some place where they had a well established culture, passed down from generation to generation, and I planted my flag right there in the middle of the emerald green grass of Highbury fields. I claimed Arsenal as my own. And like Gauguin, I probably deserve syphilis for what I have done.
I had to fight for my right to be there. I was told to “go watch American football” and “support your local team” but I stuck to my guns. I even took up Arsenal as my topic to write about every day, despite — and let’s be boldly honest here — knowing “fuck all” about football, about Arsenal, and about English football culture and history. Christ what hubris.
Perhaps I’m being harsh. I don’t blame myself as the ruiner of your game. I didn’t intentionally fly to England and decide to globalize Arsenal. The globalization of English football, the corporatization and selling of the game to the highest bidder, was inevitable. That’s what capitalism does. Nothing beautiful and pure goes unpimped in the global marketplace.
David Dein knew this. He saw this whole thing coming. Which makes the fact that he sold his shares for so little so strange. He sold his shares in Arsenal to Usmanov for a mere £75m. Those same 9,000 shares are now worth £150m. At least £150m. Sporting Intelligence used a formula to value Arsenal at over £1bn which means that each share is probably worth closer to £19k, rather than the £17k that they were last traded for*. At 19k per share, David Dein’s 9,000 shares are worth £170m. And in five years, they will be worth £200m.
Which is entirely the point. That’s what Kroenke is here for. He’s an investor, a long term investor. This is his prize asset. A huge, brand new stadium, in the middle of the biggest city in the world, in a League which is one of the most beloved, in a sport that is the most popular sport in the world. I suspect that Arsenal could drop to Man U and Liverpool level mediocrity – we have too much money to be involved in a relegation battle – and the value of the club would continue to rise.
Sure, we would lose some sponsors but Arsenal would just rebrand and resell – we’d become the plucky team from North London, fighting to get back to where Arsene Wenger once had us. Or we would become a tragic figure, the once great club that has fallen on hard times. Players and managers would come and go. Arsenal would still be on TV, the stadium might not be nearly as full, or maybe Arsenal would keep filling the stadium, we do have a long waiting list for season tickets.
And as soon as the story at Arsenal changes from “20 years of Arsene Wenger” to “exciting new project” the fans would lap it up — no matter how poorly Arsenal did, we’d suddenly have something new to write about, something new to talk about, something for the thousands and thousands of Arsenal bloggers to blag about.
Kroenke knows this and he’s going to hold on to Arsenal with both hands, folks. He isn’t going anywhere. You know what he’s going to do instead? Insulate himself from criticism.
I laughed when I heard that Arsenal are telling all the papers that they are going to hire a Sporting Director. Ostensibly, this person is there to buy players and hire Wenger’s replacement. But what they really do is create confusion about who is to blame for when Arsenal still don’t win the League. Think about the confusion right now! Is it Wenger? Is it the players? Is it the owners? And now add a Sporting Director and you have yet another layer to blame/fire when fan unrest gets too vociferous.
And a Sporting Director will come in this summer and Wenger will get a new contract it all make perfect corporate sense. The Sporting Director isn’t going to help Arsenal organize our defense. Or make Arsenal start matches with a bang. He isn’t going to teach Arsenal how to pass the ball, which we have incredibly lost the ability to do over the last two years. But he will “take some of the burden” off Arsene Wenger and people will say “now we can really see what Arsene can do” and “this is going to be like a return to the David Dein times.” And perhaps they are right. Maybe Wenger Unleashed will prove to be the winning formula.
We don’t know what will happen with Wenger in a manager only role. It’s what he loves to do. And maybe it will be good. I hope so. I love the man. He brings me so much joy with his wit and has given me all of my favorite sporting moments in my life. I also don’t think he’s a disastrous manager or that Arsenal are in quite the crisis on the field as people think. We aren’t great, we do seem to have some chronic problems, especially with regards to recruitment, organization, and mental strenfth. Losing the League to Leicester last year was the lowest point I’ve had as an Arsenal supporter, which again just shows my colonial roots.
But again, those aren’t the real problems at Arsenal. The real problem is globalization. The game as you know it has changed. Kroenke is just a symptom. Globalization and corporatization of the game are going to continue, with or without Kroenke. With or without me. You can’t have your Arsenal back. You’re never going to have local guys owning shares in the club. You’re probably not even going to have too many kids who grew up Arsenal fans playing for the club ever again. You’re certainly not going to have a guy like Tony Adams down at the local boozer or riding the train car back to London with the fans. I’m sorry.
And I understand the desire to “burn it down.” It’s the same impulse that led to Brexit and Trump. We feel powerless in the face of globalization. We ARE powerless. What can you really do to force Arsenal to change? Stop going to games, stop watching games, stop talking about games. You could have a million fan march, every week, and Kroenke will sit in his Texas ranch, crack open his minute egg and dunk toast points all morning. If you could get half the stadium to quit going to matches for an entire year, you might, just maybe, get his attention. But I think all he has to do is change the story slightly — hire a new manager, fire the Sporting Director, buy an expensive player — and you’ll all be back at the stadium, back watching Arsenal on TV, complaining on YouTube, writing blogs, and reading newspapers. Consuming the product.
We know this inherently. So, we react by wanting to tear the system apart. Usmanov represents the “burn it down” vote, the Trump vote, the Brexit. This is a man who is good friends with Putin, a brutal dictator. This is a man who made his fortune off the privatization of public resources. Maybe he’ll win more trophies. Maybe not. But judging by what he’s said, I have a feeling that he would do a lot of firing at Arsenal. He’d drain the old swamp and put in his own new swamp. Just like Trump. And so your choice is corporate Arsenal or autocratic Arsenal. Though, I doubt Kroenke will ever let you get a chance to choose Usmanov.
It’s incredible to me that humanity is at this point but like I said at the beginning, it’s all my fault. I’m sorry I ever went to Highbury and brought my American disease with me. I’m the face of globalization. I changed your club. I’m sorry.
*I’m sure someone will quibble with this.