This past weekend saw the next chapter in the tales of two of the most historic clubs in English football. Manchester City took to the Premier League as one of the favorites for the league title and saw their latest new signing Kun Aguero sparkle whilst Arsenal failed to shine and have seen their best player leave. These really are two clubs on two different trajectories, and their stories tell us a lot about the modern game and where we may end up in a few years time.
It is no secret that I dislike the amount of money in the game today. I believe that football is in danger of completely losing its soul if it carries on in the way that it has done over the past decade. The contrasting tales of City and Arsenal illustrate the problem. Arsenal have run themselves well, investing in youth and refusing to pay over the odds for players. Because of this they have been overtaken by City and Chelsea who have both been injected with huge amounts of cash. I love the term financial doping because money is the best performance-enhancing drug a football club can ever take.
Whilst the ups and downs of clubs are to be expected and indeed celebrated, the glory of football is found in its unpredictability. Money makes the game predictable. We all knew before the season started that Arsenal are on their way down and that City are close to the summit. We knew this because there is only one way to get to that summit, by spending. City are not expected to challenge for the title this year as a result of many years of stable management and long term preparation. They are destined to challenge because they have spent over £300 million in three years.
And the truly horrible side of this tale? That the Arsenal fans are turning on Wenger. We have become so used to seeing instant success, so used to seeing teams spend big money at the slightest sign of trouble that when a manager tries to do things correctly, sustainably, then he is treated as if he does not know what he is doing. Meanwhile Roberto Mancini will be showered in praise should City win the league and while I do not wish to lessen the importance of the Italian at City, having the money doesn’t half help build a title challenge.
What happens next to Arsenal is far more important than the next 12 months for City. If Wenger can somehow pull of another season where Arsenal challenge on multiple fronts, if he can keep them in the top four and do well in the cups, it will be good for football’s future. The financial fair play rules will hit soon and if clubs can still compete without over spending then there is hope for some levelling of the field. If Arsenal slide away I fear that we will soon be left with an ever decreasing pool of teams capable of winning trophies. And that really will be the death of football.
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