Sometimes it’s worth taking a few steps back and asking at which point did we become more than sports fans? At which point did the internal workings of a football clubs begin to weigh so heavy on the minds of supporters? This is central to Arsenal and I’m not talking about the destructive nature of other clubs in England or the rest of Europe.
It was interesting to observe the reaction following the announcement of Theo Walcott’s contract extension on the weekend. All the positives can be spoken about Jack Wilshere, and the midfielder is arguably Arsenal’s best player—but Walcott is the club’s most important at this time.
It would have been far more devastating for the morale from top to bottom at Arsenal had Walcott been allowed to leave, and it’s very difficult to envisage any positives that could have been created from it. But some of the reactions to the makeup of his contract has been a little perplexing.
Maybe it’s the financial information of football clubs that is so readily available; the nature of Twitter and the involvement of many journalists also helps to enhance or complement on some details included in newspaper stories. But why are there such damning conclusions about Walcott’s contract, rumoured to be just shy of £100,000 per week?
I get it, the information available to us means everyone can draw an opinion on what is suitable wages and what exceeds the value of a player. But really, why do so many care? And once again, I’ll point to the fact that I am strictly talking about Arsenal, not the actions of others in the past.
Arsenal are heavily criticised for their wage structure, which should take the shape of a pyramid but which is far more even throughout. The best players should be paid more (and does that include the team’s most valuable, regardless of quality in comparison to others—for me, yes).
It was interesting that I came across a viewpoint that a top striker in a top league—so a player who has the potential or current ability to score 20 league goals—is always going to warrant or command wages exceeding £100,000 per week. So again, with Theo Walcott and what we’ve seen, where is the problem?
The point is, there is plenty of concern for what he is going to earn over the next three seasons, but how much more would have been said if Arsenal didn’t offer him top wages to stay at the club? Did that play a part in Robin van Persie leaving Arsenal? We’ll never know, however a lot of what’s been said suggests the Dutchman always had eyes to leave north London.
Another major point is that Arsenal are not about to crumble by offering Walcott big wages. I don’t believe handing out one or two big contracts is a bad move for a club who perceive themselves to be one of Europe’s elite. I don’t stand by the idea that a lack of Champions League income will cripple Arsenal beyond repair. And I also don’t believe Champions League football is close to impossible to reclaim once it’s been lost for a season or two. Many will use Liverpool as the prime example to counter that stance, but where’s the bigger picture? Where’s the nod to the mismanagement of that club? Where’s the nod to excessive transfer fees being spent on players who are actually worth less than half?
A lot of Arsenal’s transfers in the years leading up to and following the move to the Emirates were small spend in comparison to others. It’s the view of most supporters that the club won’t spend £30 million for a player anytime soon. For that, why not concentrate the finances on retaining the club’s best players and paying the market rate for those who merit those wages?
And I really don’t want to get too far into the idea of who deserves or merits £100,000 per week. This is football, a business that works well beyond the parameters of normality and what most of us are used to. There’s absolutely no use getting into the debate about why people and some youngsters deserve to be paid so much for kicking a ball.
For Arsenal, the club are investing that big pay packet for much more than just Walcott’s abilities on the pitch. I also believe Wenger and the board were backed into a corner and felt they had to extend the player’s contract because of the team’s position and the frustration among fans.
Some hold the view that Wenger lives in a different era of the game, wanting to use the values and an approach that was held 10-plus years ago. Now that the club have appeared to take a step to break out of that ideal, the questions have emerged.
Yes the fans pay big money, but that was something in place prior to this contract being offered and signed. So why worry? Why not just accept football for what it is? The biggest talking point is that Arsenal have secured one of their best talents when something far more damaging looked increasingly likely.