The Equitable Wage Structure Debate
Arsenal FC confirmed yesterday that after an incredible 44 years with the club, Pat Rice is finally retiring in the summer.
Most young Gooners and those of us who have only followed the club since the mid-90s know the Northern Irishman as Arsene Wenger’s constant companion by the touch-line. But he also had a distinguished career as a player and youth coach. You can read a nicely written bio-tribute by Tim Stillman at Vital Arsenal to know more about his achievements pre-Wenger.
As expected, Steve Bould has been named successor. AW spoke of the need for continuity and it’s also reward for the current youth coach’s achievements with the Under-18s. There is a line of thought that as a former central defender, he will have a positive influence on the much-maligned defensive side of Arsenal’s game. Time will tell.
I read an interesting article yesterday on Arsenal’s financial situation by Daniel Cowan at North London Is Red. While I don’t agree with some of the conclusions, it highlights the club’s failings in some areas, especially with regards to developing commercial revenue.
The article also discusses Arsenal’s equitable wage structure of recent years. There’s been plenty of debate over this, popular opinion being that the strategy is flawed and prevents us from attracting and retaining world-class players while paying handsome amounts of money to mediocre squad members.
I admit I agree with this popular view. Our best players should be paid wages competitive enough to keep them at the club. Paying hefty salaries to fringe players definitely affects our ability to pay higher sums to deserved performers. It’s simple, really.
So why did Arsenal choose to take this path? The primary allegation is that the management are clueless.
I think it would be extremely vain on our part to suggest that the fifth most valuable club in the world is run by idiots. Think about it, how many of us can claim to be even remotely involved in running an entity that is the fifth most valued in their line of business? Not in the local community mind, but in the world? So while we opine, let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.
Also, as someone rightly said, the best source of insight is hindsight. The road just trodden is always clearer than the murky pathways that lie ahead on a foggy day. Still, one has to choose which way to walk. I am not trying to be overly dramatic, just making the point that it’s too simplistic to explain everything away by questioning the competence of people in charge.
So why did Arsenal choose to go this way? In my opinion, it was because it was thought to be the best way to be competitive.
Consider these external factors. Chelsea was dominant in the transfer market after winning consecutive league titles and were paying the best wages at the time. Manchester United were throwing money to acquire players in order to regain the title. Elsewhere, Real Madrid were setting new records in transfer fees.
At Arsenal, we had just moved to the new Emirates Stadium, laden with debt. The club decided to continue the self-sustaining model i.e. not to incur additional bank debts or shareholder loans. At the same time, we had a group of youngsters with undoubted world-class talent. And a manager with ambitions to win the title and the belief that it could be done, regardless of the financial odds.
In this scenario, I think the club decided that the best way to be competitive was to:
a) keep the talented youngsters together (Fabregas, Van Persie, Bendtner, Denilson, Walcott, Clichy, Diaby)
b) supplement the team with experience (Almunia, Hleb, Adebayor, Gallas, Rosicky, Eduardo, Arshavin, Sagna)
c) maintain a strong bench in order to challenge on all fronts (Fabianski, Silvestre, Eboue, Djourou)
The above mix itself is suggestive of how the equitable wage structure came into being; talented youngsters were rewarded with salaries commensurate with their potential, experienced players were offered wages in line with what they would command as regular starters at other top clubs and the squad players, most of them being internationals themselves, although being paid lower were probably not too far off.
Yes, some of the youngsters have not progressed as well as may have been hoped and others have chosen to leave. Yes, some of the experienced players have been poor or had unfortunate injuries and have moved on. Yes, some of the squad players have not done their job when called upon.
But these are variables that are difficult to predict when contracts are signed. And Arsenal are not the only team facing this problem. Manchester United bought Hargreaves and Berbatov for enormous sums of money – these two can be compared to Diaby and Arshavin at Arsenal. The difference being we paid a pittance for Diaby and half of Berbatov’s transfer fee for Arshavin.
Also bear in mind the present situation with Manchester City’s entry into the equation – Wayne Bridge is rumored to be on £150k a week, Roque Santa Cruz is supposed to be over £100k and Adebayor on £175k – and all of them can’t make the bench at City. When Manchester United start complaining that rivals are throwing too much money at players, you know there’s trouble in wonderland.
As long as Arsenal continue with a self-sustaining model, supporters should realise that policies like the equitable wage structure probably give the club the best chance of competing within the limitations. If these limitations continue to persist, I am afraid we may have to live with such policies – the occasional spring cleaning and clear out aside.
Of course, you can argue that the self-sustaining model itself is incorrect but that’s another can of worms altogether – to be opened at an unspecified future date.
What is important to note is that in 3 of the last 6 seasons we’ve been in the title running until at least January or February. This should be a cause for respect and admiration for the club, not considered as lack of ambition.
At the same time, the undeniable fact is that we haven’t won anything. Player wages can explain the absence of Eden Hazard or Fernando Torres at Arsenal, but it doesn’t sufficiently answer the footballing questions asked of us on the pitch during the crucial run in stages – the capitulation to lesser teams, defensive frailty, lack of determination etc.
Manchester United’s famed winning mentality is being severely tested this year. They may still win the title on Sunday, but is it a coincidence that their vulnerability so late in the season has coincided with increased team roles for younger players like Wellback, De Gea, Young, Jones, Smalling, Rafael and Anderson?
While as supporters we are free to discuss and debate club finances and policies, the simple fact is that we are not in a position to change much about how the club is governed. However, a better understanding of why certain decisions are made may help us to accept them.
The best we can do as fans is to give full vocal support to those playing in the middle. I am sure our away support will do exactly this at West Brom, as they’ve done all season, and help us clinch third place.