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Fixing what’s ailing Arsenal

Once the bastion of how football clubs should be run, with class and aplomb, we are now an object of ridicule. Daily the way the club is now chided. You only need look at the websites of some of major English red tops and you get a sense that it’s open season on Arsenal.

If you are an Arsenal supporter , like me you are angry. We have every right to be angry. At the most base level our club has been torn away from us and lost its way.

Once the bastion of how football clubs should be run, with class and aplomb, we are now an object of ridicule. Daily the way the club is now chided. You only need look at the websites of some of major English red tops and you get a sense that it’s open season on Arsenal.

I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories. I do not believe journalists have some hidden agenda against the club. What I do believe is that the club specifically those running it have allowed themselves to become caricatures of themselves and by extension have opened the door for continual hatchet jobs by opportunistic journalists looking to create “eyeballs” and page views on their sites.

The problem with all of this, is that it was and is avoidable. We’ve allowed ourselves to be run in away that is counter to the principles and traditions that were established way back when Herbert Chapman charted the direction for this club. We were always the ones who did things with class. As Chris Hudson  put in our interview – it used to be that Arsenal were so classy that it was said the one place you wanted to get injured at was Arsenal.

However, that all changed. It all changed when we decided to put profit over the important stuff. The decision to build the Emirates was one that I agree was likely taken with the right principles and foresight – to make the classiest club in England one of the biggest in Europe. But somewhere along the way we lost that vision and with it the heart of Arsenal FC.

When the Emirates endeavor had began, would people have had any issue with being told that we do this with full knowledge that we have to embark on some financial realities for the near future that may not be acceptable but when we come out of it we should be positioned well to move forward. It would’ve been the truth. It would’ve been honest, it would’ve been classy. It would’ve been the Arsenal way.

No. We weren’t given this truth. We weren’t told anything and we watched as over time Arsenal no longer resembled the envy of England. The denouement of this tragic downfall being 2011 the sale of Fabregas, Clichy and Nasri with a post-script the following season with the sale of Robin Van Persie.

Now in the start to the season of 2013/2014we are at a precipice. At this point as I said in the podcast, I do not think there is anything that Wenger or the board can do, except win the league, to salvage the respect of the supporters, and even then that may not be enough.

We’ve reached a crest, a point in our history as a club where we need to examine how we are operating and looking back on our history and asking ourselves – is this the Arsenal way? Does having supporters taking a pop at each other align with the values of the club? Does having our name continually dragged through the press articulate the stature of Arsenal? Are we doing everything to adhere to the principles of class that were laid before any of the board  were involved in it? In all instances no.

The only thing you can say we are doing right is being self-sufficient. As we said last week, no one ever found themselves supporting a club because they were the model of financial excellence.

So if we are truly at a juncture in our history what can we do? For that we have to turn to “ze Germans” for the answers. Not only do they know how to take PKs but they know how to run a club.

The model of course is Bayern Munich.

In 1979 a 27 year old player, Uli Hoeness, forced to retire because of a knee injury and having no other background in the business of football other than being a player, was appointed General Manager of the German greats.

Following his appointment he put into positions of power other FCB greats – Franz Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Then he embarked on a transformation that in 34 years has made the club the Global powerhouse and envy of many.

At the core of the change though were players like Hoeness, Beckenbauer and Rummenigge who knew what it meant to be Bayern Munich. They knew that there was an expectation that came along with wearing the badge of the club and it had to permeate through every facet of the club and the worked hard to build that into the club’s ethos.

As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Look at the club board:

  • Uli Honess – President; former player
  • Karl Hopfner – Senior Vice President, former Deputy Chairman of Bayern Munich AG (the corporate arm of FCB)
  • Rudolf Schels – Deputy Vice President, entrepreneur
  • Franz Beckenbauer – Honorary President, former player
  • Dr. Fritz Scherer – Honorary Vice President, former club president and player (BC Augsburg)
  • Bernd Rauch – Honorary Vice President, deputy chairman of the Deutsche Sporthilfe Foundation for six years and spokesman for the Allianz Arena München Stadion GmbH joint managing directors

The one thing to note about every one these directors  is that none of them inherited their position. It isn’t an old boys club. They’ve each had service to the club either around 1979 or thereafter. In the case of Hoeness and Beckenbauer, their association is beyond the board room and onto the pitch. In each case they are there because the implicitly know what it means to be Bayern Munich.

If you are wondering about Rummenigge, he is Chairman of the board of Bayern Munich AG, the corporate arm of the club. The lineup here is just as impressive and maybe moreso because most of the people here are young (ish). They aren’t looking at the positive side of 60-70. They all have links to sport, finance and business making the perfect blend of operations (in my opinion). Additionally an advisory board rounds out the organization made up of Herbert Hainer, adidas (kit partner) AG chairman, Rupert Stadler, Audi AG chairman, Timotheus Höttges, Telekom AG (shirt sponsor) chairman, Karl Hopfner, FC Bayern München eV, Helmut Markwort, Publisher FOCUS Magazine, Dieter Rampl, UniCredit Group,  Dr. Edmund Stoiber, Bavarian First Minister (rtd.), and Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen AG chairman.

Why are all those names and companies important? They are the link between the club and the commercial partners. One of the key successes of Bayern is that it makes most of its revenue (55%) off of commercial channels.

By bringing these partners into the fold it only strengthens that bond and insures that its not the supporters the club is dependent on.  Only 23% of the revenue the club take in is off the backs of its supporters. Many of you are likely aware that Bayern like all German clubs operates under the 50+1 rule. In the case of Bayern, fans own about 82% of Bayern Munich.

The board respect this model and as such respect their fans. “We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk,” said Hoeness. “Football has got to be for everybody.” They charge some of the lowest prices in Europe with the equivalent of £104 getting you a season ticket. When you think about the fact that they sit in a 70,000 seat stadium they could raise ticket prices and make additional profit but they don’t – once again adhereing to the principles of the club.

So how does that equate to Arsenal?

First, Arsenal and England aren’t going to go to a 50+1 model as much as we’d like to. Swansea has a good fan ownership model but I don’t suspect that it will be in broader acceptance any time soon (or later.)

With that out of the way we can look to what can we fix?

Well, we can continue the upward trend of improved commercial deals. As much as I’d like us to go back to an era when football was local. It isn’t. Accepting that we then have to build a commercial partnership group that continually builds and foster successful partnerships so that it is commercial revenue and not match day revenue that drives Arsenal’s profits.

We are financially sound, something that also is a staple in the German club. Though it should be noted their debt is significantly lower than ours.

With these key factors out of the way, the next thing to do is to restructure how the club is run. The first step has to be for Stan Kroenke to either accept his role as owner of the club and as such become an active participant in its running. He can’t run a club via proxy. He needs to understand that owners in England are active. We don’t want hyper active ala Roman Abramovich we just want active.

Once engaged he hopefully will understand what it means to be Arsenal.  But if not then Stan needs to divest himself of the club and let others lead where he will not.

Then a new board needs to be constituted one that brings the right blend of talent. Much like the Bayern board, it needs to not only reflect the heritage of Arsenal but needs to be consistent with minds who want to carry the club forward rather than entrench it in old Etonian mindsets.

I’d personally love to see a board that had some representation and links from the Arsenal past, when they knew what it meant to be Arsenal. For instance I can think of no finer chairman candidate then Bob Wilson. And then and this one is doozie – I just get a feeling that a kick ass executive to have on the board is our Deuscher Einfluss (German Influence) Jens Lehmann. I’ve got nothing other than a gut feeling is that Mad Jens would make one hell of an executive.

How many ex-Arsenal players you bring in to the fold, is irrelevant to the restructuring. What is relevant is bring back players who know what being Arsenal is all about and will work to make sure it permeates through the fabric of everything – from the business side to the playing side and everything in between.

In addition to the changes in how the club is run from a board room standpoint, obvious changes have to be done into the power wielded by the manager. Either of his own design or because he simply became bigger than the club, the manager is doing multiple jobs that deflects him from his real purpose maintaining the performance of the on the pitch product.

Is it any wonder that all areas relative to the players, the transfers and the salaries are all a mess when they fall under the purview of one man. It is not possible in this modern era of sports to allow one man to have so much control and for that to go unchecked.

When the board room changes its structure part of that change has to be for the addition of a director of football whose sole purpose is to be a partner/foil to the manager. Working together they can bring success on the pitch and leave the rest of the business to the other board members.

While I don’t know the direct relationship between Bayern Munich AG and the club, it may not hurt to also explore a similar model where a corporation works on the business side of things and lets the club be run by football people.

Whatever the model, something needs to be done now. The harm is done. Arsenal are not being run the way it should be. It has to place its values and priciniples above all else. You can still be effective as Bayern Munich has shown in all dealings by doing so.

The board is no longer made up of anyone who has a strong connection to our past – even our recent past and any of the remnants that exist have long since past their sell on date. Their dysfunction and lack of direction and connection has led to the gradual decline of the club and has led us to this point.

The AST and BSM have called on the board to immediately address the issues. The AST has called on an independent review. A review as much as I’d like it to happen is going to show what we already know, that the priorities are wrong and that there is dysfunction across the entire enterprise.  Something has to be done, no matter how drastic to change the course of this club and put it back on the path to its glorious past.


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