Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 3)

This is the 3rd part of the article on the effects of Foreign ownership. If you haven’t read part 1 or part 2 yet than I’d advise you to read it before you jump into the this part. Part 1 can be found here! Part 2 can be found here!

3. Foreign ownerships effects – The pride of a nation

The National team is often the pride of a nation. In times of economic crisis people often look to their nation’s football team as a means to take their mind of the horrid reality of austerity. National games are the only time when fans of fierce rivals can put their rivalry apart and cheer for each others players. For a national team to be successful though, the league needs to supply quality youth that can elevate the national team to new heights. In this part the emphasis will be on the national team and youth and how foreign ownership effects both. It is inevitable to look at the FA’s 25-man squad rule introduced in 2010 and therefore the part on youth will focus on how effective the rule can be.

3.1 Effects on the National team – The loins of the lions

The national team is one of the things foreign ownership affects indirectly. Of course its not the aim of the owners to diminish the talent pool of the national team but it is something that occurs as a consequence. Often people claim that the failure of England to qualify for the Euro 2008 was down to the exuberant transfer made by clubs with foreign owners (Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and Sinawatra bought Machester City in 2007). From the inception of the EPL in the 1992/1993 season until the time of Taylors (2007) study (2006-2007 season) the percentage of English players that start a match have dropped 47 percent. But can this drop be attributed to foreign ownership alone?

Figure taken from Walter et al., 2009

The important thing to note is that in the above graph the flurry of signings by Manchester City from 2008 onwards is not represented therefore it is hard to make a decisive conclusion. Nevertheless from the above graph we can see that since the inception of the EPL in 1992/1993 the percentage of English players in the league has decreased dramatically. In fact, in 1992 there were only 11 foreign players (foreign player here meaning players that are neither British nor Irish) playing in the entire league (Wikipedia, 2012). By 2009 this has changed dramatically: the average foreign player per team was 13 (Williams, 2009). In 1999 Chelsea were the first ever club to have a starting line up which had no British players (Inge et al., 2001) and in 2005 Arsenal was the first ever EPL club to have their team sheet of 16 players be made up of only foreign players (BBC Sport, 2005). Ironically it seems it wasn’t just foreign players who displaced their English counterparts in the EPL but the club owners as well.

According to Taylor (2007) the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was due to the lack of English footballers in English football. He also argued that foreign ownership just compounds this effect and that it would lead to foreign management methods and increase the amount of foreign players entering the EPL. However, I respectfully disagree with this claim. First of all from the figure above it is evident that foreign players have started displacing English players before “project” type foreign owners were even in the league. Furthermore the Chelsea of 1999 and the Arsenal of 2005 were not in the hands of foreign owners. We should not however dismiss the figure above completely as it points towards a double edged sword when it comes to foreign players and management. In part 2. I have demonstrated how these players, owners, and managers enrich the EPL and make it more marketable. What the above figure shows is that it was the English players who have paid the costs of the financial success of the league. And thus the national team is also victim of this. Dobson et al. (2001) argue that the theories of the economic positives on the EPL of foreign influence outweigh the negative effects on the English national team. Whether or not this is true is politically debatable however it points to something Taylor (2007) implicitly conveyed: the incentives and interests of foreign owners are to enrich the club and the club only. This attitude could potentially hurt the national team, but it should be in the FA’s interest to curb the incentives of these owners in a manner that benefits the English National team.

Even before the FA took direct action by introducing the ’25-player’ rule there was an essence of caution about the number of foreign players in the EPL. In 1999 the department that controls immigration in England, made the rules tougher to slow down the pace of foreign players being introduced in the EPL. It has to be noted that these attempts were not too successful as they could be only applied to non-EU citizens since EU law as outlined by the Maastricht treaty (1991) is about promoting freedom of labour movements and thus a work permit to play football in England is automatically given to all EU footballers. However the intent is clear that it was in response to the concern that English footballers were overlooked by clubs.

In 2010 the FA took direct action against the trend of foreign players displacing English ones by introducing the 25-man rule. The 25 man rule basically states that the 25-man squad of an EPL side must be compromised of, a minimum of eight ‘home grown’ players where a “home grown player is defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of 3 entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21)”  (English Premier League, 2012).

3.2 The 25-man rule and youth development – problem solver or problem creator?

The 25-man rule could be looked at as a way by which the FA wanted to promote investment in youth by the teams. It was an effort made by the FA after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. The reason this article has to look at this rule in detail is to determine whether or not the 25-man rule was able to curb the investments of foreign owned clubs in a manner that they invest in youth development.

The first issue with the 25-man squad rule is the arbitrary number of 25. The reasoning behind this is that with such a limit, as the season progresses and injuries are piled up the managers will have to dip into their academy as they could have an unlimited number of Under-21 names on their team sheet. Thus youth will be used more by the managers. The fault with this reasoning is that it means that the most talented U21s who are 1 or 2 seasons away from being introduced to the team won’t be sent on full season loans if any loans at all as the managers will want to play it safe and keep them at home. However injuries in some areas might not occur and some of these young players will lose a year of footballing experience and might eventually miss out on the first team completely if they don’t get any first team football. Therefore this rule might actually affect the most promising youth in an adverse way instead of benefiting them due to the nature of injuries and suspensions being unpredictable.

The other issue is that the teams with money will have the possibility to go and buy players in the January transfer window: The teams with a lot of liquidity behind them can afford to buy someone in the January transfer window when injuries are piling up. However the team has to make sure they have a free spot on their 25-man squad unless they buy a player who is British. This leads me to my main gripe with the rule: it inflates home-grown players prices. One just needs to look at the recent price tags of the English/British players to see this: Andy Carroll (£35million); Jordan Henderson (£15,8 million); Joe Allen (£ 16,7 million); Stewart Downing (£20 million)

Home grown players are a double edged sword when it comes to promoting the national squad. Players such as Cesc Fábregas and Nicklas Bendtner counted as home grown players despite the fact they are not playing for the England national squad. However their presence in the youth academy definitely had a positive effect on other youth prospects. As one coach from the Premier Academy League put it: “There‟s a transfer, there‟s an obvious transfer, because they [foreign players] will come and people will put them on a pedestal and say that they are technically more gifted . . . but they have to come in and get up to the speed of our game and learn to do everything that they do at our intensity, our tempo. But we have the transfer the other way of their calmness on the ball, the creation of space, that first touch, their decision making . . . it works both ways, and to simplify it, I think it‟s a physicality one way, and a technicality the other way” (Elliot, 2009). This exchange is often termed ‘feet exchange’. Long story short: the presence of foreign youth players in the academy raise the bar for indigenous players as well and thus has an overall positive effect. This doesn’t mean all English players who were training with Spanish young midfielders will come through the system, it merely means that the players who have the right mix of physicality and technicality will rise among the ranks.

What I think the FA was hoping to achieve with increasing the pool of home grown players is naturalisation of top footballers. Naturalisation occurs when a player is eligible to play for a different national team but instead chooses to play for England. This is essentially what happened with Carl Jenkinson. Arsenal bought Jenkinson because they needed a young Right Back who could take over from Bacary Sagna in the long run and not be counted as a foreigner in the 25 man squad. This allowed Jenkinson to raise the eyebrows of Roy Hodgson after some good performances on the pitch and the FA naturalised Jenkinson snatching him from the Finnish FA. (Wilfred Zaha of Crystal Palace was also naturalised) So its a win-win for the club and the FA. The FA gets a new English player and the club gets a free spot on their 25-man squad sheet. Now the problem with this is that the players who are willing to naturalise for England are the ones whose nations football team is even worse. Arteta has been in England and not featured for Spain yet but he has stated he would not want to play for England. What I am trying to convey is that naturalisation has its limits as well.

Ever since the 25-man rule has been in place the academies of the big clubs suddenly began to grow. On the surface this seems like a success of the 25-man rule and to some extent it is the case; however it polarised the league even more. Club managers are not stupid and they soon realised that the best way to fool the current rules is to start signing players when they are 16 years old rather than scout them and then only sign them when they turn 20 if they are good enough. If these players are not good they could be sold anyway. Now this all costs money which means the teams with the most resources will have the largest youth squad. Chelseas youth academy has increased dramatically over the past couple of years (but this did not stop them from investing large amounts of cash into their senior squad). Therefore with the help of the 25-man rule the effects of foreign ownership started to creep into the youth system. Now for the England national team this might be a good thing; however it came at the cost of essentially creating a carbon copy of the EPL at a youth level, where financial background is starting to be an increasingly dominant factor.

So while it would appear that the FA and the English Premier League in general are aware of all these recent impacting factors and both the positive and negative effects that foreign ownership’s are having on the league, the key question at the end of this saga is: What realistically can be done about it and where are these choices inevitably leading us? What future consequences do these outside influences hold for the England national team and the mid-level teams of the Premier league that are the very ‘essence’ of the game? While these questions will be answered in time, for now at least it seems that money really does talk in the football world and sadly a lot of the smaller teams that have made this league so fiercely competitive over the past decade may find the road ahead much tougher to travel without healthy financial backing, while a few less fortunate teams may find themselves fading into obscurity as transfer fees continue to rise and it becomes harder and harder for the average team in England’s famous league to attract quality players.

And we are through! All 3 parts are online for you guys to read. If you missed Part 1 where I looked at the different types of foreign ownerships than click here! If you want to give Part 2 a read again (which focused on transfer prices and wages and how foreign ownership affected it) then click here!

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Sources

Match Preview: Arsenal vs Newcastle United

newcastle

So the Toon Army is coming to the Emirates! And on the back of 3 wins in a row this is another must-win to get 3 valuable points before we head into an extremely torrid list of fixtures in January where it’s reasonable to expect we will drop a few points. By contrast to our recent form, Newcastle are not currently enjoying their season and with our team well rested thanks to a screwup with the trains at Christmas and with an energy sapping 3-4 loss to Manchester United just 3 days ago for the toons, now is the perfect time to hit them hard.

Newcastle’s suprisingly poor form this season owes a lot to what I call “Arsenalitis”. This is a condition where the team lacks proper depth and suffers injuries to several key players right when they go up against tough opposition. This usually leaves the team with less offensive power and a shaky back line. In Newcastle’s case they are missing the defensive solidity of Steve Taylor, the playmaking skills of Yohan Cabaye and the star quality of Hatem Ben Arfa on the left wing. So what does this mean for Arsenal? Well let’s look at how they like to play first of all. Newcastle have been favoring playing through the middle with Arfa out injured, they like to retain possession in their own half and attack fairly quickly, using either long balls or thru balls. I think the most telling factor in this match will be whether Alan Pardew opts for playing Newcastle’s standard 4-4-2 formation or the occasionally used 4-5-1 with Cisse on the right wing. Very few teams have dared to play more than one striker against Arsenal this season and most that have learned quickly that it is a mistake. Reading changed to a 4-5-1 after half time to stem the goal flow and even Manchester United who are the undisputed kings of playing 4-4-2 in the Premier League, changed to a 4-5-1 with Rooney dropping deeper to pick up Arteta and make life hard for our midfield.

The only team thus far this season to play a 4-4-2 against us somewhat successfully was Spurs and Adebayor’s stupidity ended that problem for us pretty early on. So if Newcastle do end up playing a 4-4-2 against us I predict that they’ll realise their error fairly early and switch to a 4-5-1 to try and nullify the effectiveness of our midfield trio. This isn’t bad news for us either way as it would mean taking Cisse away from our goalbox and leaving Demba Ba as the only main threat. It’s likely that the combined skills of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla will be too much for Newcastle’s midfield without Cabaye and I would expect their reaction to be sending even more long balls than normal towards Demba Ba, which is why it is vital to have either Vermaelen or Koscielny man-marking Ba and the wings and this provides a selection headache for Wenger. With Koscielny fit and rested, does he stay with the combination of Mertesacker and Vermaelen? Or does he instead play Vermaelen and Koscielny at the back. Newcastle have enjoyed good success this season by playing thru balls for Demba Ba and although they haven’t been great at beating a well organised offside trap, it only takes one to make you pay the price. Per Mertesacker’s greatest weakness is his lack of pace and against a team utilising this tactic he may not be the best choice at the back. He was caught out last match against Wigan in this manner, which we very nearly paid the price for and with Demba Ba taking the shot we probably would pay dearly. Mertesacker is also not as good in the air as Koscielny and since Newcastle will be attacking both with the aforementioned thru balls and also long balls I don’t see him as a great choice for this encounter although Arsene Wenger does suscribe heavily to the theory of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to his defensive selections. This would be an even more dangerous selection if Newcastle choose to play a 4-4-2 and have both Cisse and Ba looking for thru balls.

Looking further forwards we can analyse where the potential for Newcastle’s destruction lies. Steve Taylor may be out but their defense are still a physical bunch and due to this I would expect Giroud to start up front, using his power and intelligent movement to break up their defense. Meanwhile on the right wing I would expect Walcott to start although this may not be our best avenue of attack, since he’ll be facing off against Davide Santon, a youngster who I regard as one of the best left backs in the league and certainly their most consistent defender. Without Ben Arfa supporting him the wing will be less dangerous to defend and if Walcott keeps a high line it’s possible he can be exposed but I think it’s far more practical to target Danny Simpson on the other wing and to this end I would hope to see both Gibbs and Podolski heavily involved in this match, particularly if they play the attack-minded Papiss Cisse as Simpson’s support in a 4-5-1 formation.

There’s no reason why we can’t also attack through the middle but I expect Newcastle to try and stifle the center since that will be their own avenue and as a result Cazorla will drift towards Podolski where the space will hopefully be. Defensively Newcastle have been poor of late and Wilshere’s bursts forward can certainly cause problems for them but the majority of play should be centered on crosses from the left wing unless Walcott decides to have “one of those days” and rip Santon apart. Overall I think both teams will score but as we tend to make less individual errors, have much fresher players and a tighter defense than Newcastle at the moment, I would expect Arsenal to emerge victorious at the final whistle. If Newcastle prove to be too fatigued to make a match of it, this is a game where Walcott’s pace in behind from the right could prove devastating. If the defense doesn’t get tight to him they will pay a hefty price.

Newcastle United Dangermen: Demba Ba and Cisse. Ba has been a big goal threat this season with 11 goals already and Cisse has the ability to turn on the skills at any time. Neither player must be underestimated or left unmarked in the box for a second.

Result Prediction: I think Arsenal’s offensive capability and lack of injuries to key players will give them the edge in this one. Both teams will probably score so  I’ll say 3-1 Arsenal.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud

Conclusion: Newcastle are tired from battling United just 3 days earlier. The Emirates crowd have been louder of late and on the back of 3 wins in a row, they should spur our boys on well. Expect an early battle for control of the middle with occasional wing attacks from Arsenal and thru balls towards Demba Ba. Once the game’s tempo is decided, Newcastle will most likely opt for a long ball game while Arsenal concentrate the majority of their attacking through the left side of the field. Right then, let’s get behind the team and enjoy the match, Come On You Gunners!

January Looms, Targets Presented: Etienne Capoue linked with a strong move to Arsenal

With the transfer window looming in 2 weeks it seems we may have a clearer picture to who we maybe seeing at the emirates…………or be linked with various names once again. Eurosport.fr (link below) believes Arsenal are the front runners of trying to sign Etienne Capoue from Toulouse in France. Why is this so key for Arsenal? Because he maybe the solution to a recurring problem in AFC where we have not had a player to stop the gap in midfield (most possibly he’d be a solution to the problem that is Abou Diaby and his injuries.).

Taking a closer look at Capoue, he ticks all the boxes for what Arsenal need at the moment in terms of a midfielder who is able to control the midfield and give his team mates the space to create the opportunities in attack. He is a very intimidating figure in the middle of the park for Toulouse and doesn’t shy away from going into challenges, a very physically imposing midfielder who make sure his defensive duties are first before anything else. A quick glance at his show that he’s one of the best players in the midfield (only behind Matuidi):

Defensive:

Apps=16 Total Per game
Tackle 38 2.4
Interceptions 37 2.3
Fouls 26 1.6
Off Won 5 0.3
Clearances 106 6.6
Was Dribbled 7 0.4
Blk Shots 7 0.4

Offensive:

Apps=16 Total Per Game
Goals 3
Assists 2
Shots 23 1.4
Key Passes 13 0.8
Dribbles 14 0.9
Fouled 46 2.9
Offside
Dispossessed 25 1.6
Turn Overs 19 1.2

Passing:

Apps=16 Total Per Game
Key Passes 0.8
Avg. Passes 67.9
Pass Suc% 80.8
Accurate Long Balls 128/204 8
Accurate Through Balls  1/4 0.1

While he’s not the most offensive minded player he does keep his own area very tidy and provides a position for his team mates to dictate the play. If you look at his stats more closely though you will see his long passes are very good (he completes an average of 8 long passes per game) it shows that his passes are a bit underrated ( though Arsenal don’t play a long ball style it should still give us a better understanding that he can pick out a pass which is key for the style that Arsenal play). Overall, this would be a good signing for Arsenal, he fits the bill for a good defensive minded midfielder but does he actually take the place of Diaby? Perhaps not, mostly due to the fact he’s extremely defensive minded but at this moment in time that is what Arsenal need, a player with the ability to create from the back whilst keeping things tidy and creating the occasional play or two. The stumbling block here is the apparent transfer fee of Capoue which is rumoured to be around 13-14 million euros but it should be noted that Capoue is looking to play in the Champions League and our lure of Champions League football should be able to secure this signing. If Capoue is able to come in to the Emirates it will be a giant step towards a positive direction.

Article: http://mercato.eurosport.fr/football/ligue-1/2012-2013/mercato-arsenal-chelsea-et-le-bayern-munich-lorgnent-sur-etienne-capoue_sto3530182/story.shtml

*all stats provided by whoscored.com

Foreign ownerships effects on the English Premier League (Part 1)

What are the effects of foreign ownership on a League? Are they primarily positive or do the negatives outweigh the positives? These are questions one often stumbles upon when discussing football nowadays.  Foreign ownership is not exclusive to football, however, as its roots are in the business world where it happens rather often. It basically means that a local company is being bought by a Foreign Investor. So why is it so different when it comes to football? The answer is: you. The presence of fans who love the club they support can make foreign ownership in football a bit messy. This piece will be a 3 part analysis with part 1 having the aim to explore the the types of foreign ownerships. Part 2 will look at its effects on the financial success of the league and foreign ownerships’ effects on the transfer market prices and wages. Part 3 will look at the National team and the youth and how foreign ownership affects it. It is in part 3 where we will see if the 25-man rule of the FA was the right decision or not.  The English Premier League (hereinafter EPL) will be the focal point simply because that is the league I follow and thus have a deeper understanding of how things work in it (compared to other leagues).

Even the lampposts hate Glazer

To date there are primarily three scenarios that can happen to a club when it is taken over. I will name these three scenarios as “Project“, “Business“, and “Self-sustaining”. The first twp scenarios are exactly the opposite of each other which will have an effect on the way the fans perceive it. Generally speaking “project” type ownerships are more welcome by the fans (of the club that is being taken over) while “business” ownerships will most probably bring grief to the fans. Whether foreign ownership sells the soul of the club remains to be seen (and I will not spend much time on this specific issue myself) but I will state that foreign ownership is unfair by default as the fans do not know if the owner will look at the club as a business opportunity or as a project, not to mention a project ownerships external effect on the league. 

1. Foreign ownership in general – Selling the soul of the club?

First of all we have to note that currently the majority of the 20 clubs in the EPL are under foreign ownership, and that out of the big six (Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool) only Tottenham Hotspur is in British Hands (with Joe Lewis being the majority stockholder owning 85% of spurs). Newcastle United are a team that looks like they can break the top 6 that I have named and they are also a team in British hands.

1.1 Project ownership – Expensive toys for rich (overgrown) kids

By project ownership I mean an owner who looks at his team as a project. In the EPL the first owner to do this successfully was Roman Abramovich whose business attitude towards Chelsea FC, which lead the team to become an EPL force, paved the way for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Manchester City. The basic idea behind a project ownership is to inject funds into the Football club which will then be used for transfer activities, as illustrated by the table below:

Transfer Market Activity (from Transfer League). Values are nominal and not weighted against inflation

Please note that I only used EPL teams for the representation, and since the EPL was created in 1992 most of the data used in the calculation will be from 1992 onwards. Also note that the table above merely looks at  the dealings of the clubs at hand in the transfer market (in no way are these numbers a representation of the boards dealings) and that I only looked at the clubs within the top 6. There are other clubs that would fit the description of project buyout in the EPL: QPR, Sunderland (prior to Short buyout).

Looking at the table above one might ask if Liverpool FC really does fall under the banner of “project” ownership and it might be argued that to some extent yes it does (especially with last seasons transfer dealings).  But these numbers do not show other revenue streams apart from players being sold and when that is being factored in, Liverpool’s financial activity on the transfer market does not stand out like Manchester City’s and Chelsea’s. In short, John W Henry is a massive improvement over Hicks and Gillet (regarding funds invested in the team), but is far from following the classic “sugar daddy” concept. Instead Fenway Sports Group is aiming at maximising its revenue streams similar to Stan Kroenke of Arsenal FC and and Elis Short of Sunderland.

What is a distinguishing feature of this type of ownership is that the enterprise will have a soft budget constraint. This basically means that the clubs management (this is a wider group than just the club manager) can negotiate with the owners to invest more money into the enterprise’s squad. This is a vital difference as it leads to these clubs having seemingly  limitless demand for players since when they would need to balance the books they simply engage in vertical negotiation with the well off owners to invest more into the club. However by doing so the clubs management loses some control over the club and allows it to be shaped by the owner.

In a “project” ownership the personality of the owner will very much define the managerial aspect of the football club. Ever since Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea, the team has seen 10 different managers at its helm which is roughly 1 manager/season (!!!). This is an alarming figure by itself but factor into the equation the amount of money needed for these manager changes and you get a fortune being paid just for hiring and sacking managers.There is nothing wrong with this but a manager tends to plan for a longer term than 1 season and most of the times the real benefits are only reaped in the 2nd or 3rd season when the manager figured out which tactic is suited for the team and who he should ship in (and out) to make the team better.

If we look at André Villas-Boas record with Chelsea it is not horrible in fact it is better (by a very small margin) than Mancinis record was when he got the Manchester City job (as represented by the table on the left). From the table and the fact that Roberto Di Matteo was just recently sacked after being in charge of Chelsea for a shorter time than Villas-Boas,  it is apparent that Abramovich’s impatience is starting to define Chelsea FC’s decisions. Roman Abramovich wants to produce a team that can consistently win (such as Barcelona FC or Manchester United) but in the process of doing so he is actually taking 2 steps back every time he sacks a manager. If Chelsea do want to be a European force they might have to consider parting ways with Roman Abramovich. The real question is: can they afford to?

Suddenly this doesn’t just seem like a joke

Indeed the first issue that most teams under this type of ownership will experience is that they are essentially locked into a position. Due to the excessive transfer spending (and commercial deals that come from the owners network) these teams generally become indebted to their owner to the extent that they can no longer afford to walk different paths. This dependence is the reason why the personality of the owner will start the define the football club. In fact the more money the owner invests in the club the more it can define what it will look like as the more dependant the club becomes the more superior the owner becomes in any vertical bargaining situation. Of course it is not to say that if the owner leaves the club has to file for bankruptcy but the lavish transfer lifestyle the fans are used to will suddenly come to an end and these teams will have to look to their academy for survival, assuming their academy is good enough to supply the quality needed to stay on top.

Apart from the monetary issues when the enterprise parts way with their ‘sugar daddy’ there is the issue of the managers (Im referring to the boardroom staff here not the manager of the team) having a different set of skills under this type of ownership. Due to the soft budget constraint the teams management will not be as responsive as other teams when the transfer is negotiated. If there seems to be a financial issue the management of these teams usually just go to their owners and engage in vertical bargaining. This does not mean that these  managers are inadequate (vertical bargaining needs skill as well after all) it merely means that the management has a different set of skills. Thus if the owner decides to leave the club it will be a financial and a managerial challenge which is extremely hard to mount.

However the most important question is: Is this type of ownership sustainable? The answer is no. It creates an extreme subordinate-superior position where dependence is what keeps things in place. What if the owner decides to not pay for the team? For a recent example we have to venture into la liga which has recently become another attractive prospect for investors as “there are no more clubs for sale in the Premier League” (Rossell, 2011). There is a high chance that foreign ownership will be popular in this league as it has a financial disparity that stems from televising rights (will talk about this later) which has the potential to “kill Spanish football” to quote the words of Villareal manager Fernando Roig (2011). The team I shall look at is Malága CF which is currently under the hands of Abdullah bin Naser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani. In the summer of 2012 Malága CF were struggling financially and didn’t pay their taxes or the player wages for the past weeks. The management of the team engaged in vertical bargaining with the owner to ask the owner to finance things. However things did not work out and the team was forced to liquidise its assets. This meant that Santi Cazorla and José Salamón Rondon left the club on the cheap for the team to be able to continue. Many things can be said about the owner and how he ‘doesn’t understand the ‘sugar daddy’ concept’; however this attitude doesn’t look at the management of the team: Why did they start vertical bargaining rather than sell their less wanted players? When it was obvious the owner won’t pay the team was at a disadvantage when negotiating their players sales. Of course Malága continued on to the Champions League after the sales but the damage dealt to the club puts it at a huge deficit if it wants to be in the Champions League the next season.

1.2 Business ownership – Fans money in businessmen’s  pockets

Ownership of an EPL team (or ex-EPL team) is a very lucrative investment fuelled by huge amounts of income from television deals. The reason behind this is that televising rights are centrally negotiated and distributed to keep financial equality between the teams. Without a doubt teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal FC could negotiate better television deals than the likes of Wigan Athletic or West Ham United. Of course this all sounds fine but Walters et al. (2009) raises a concern that the foreign investors might be solely driven by business and profiteering and not really interested in the success of the team and the league in general. This moral hazard problem is aggravated by the fact that the fans continue to pay their ticket prices which then end up with an owner who has no interest in reinvesting these funds (neither in the squad nor in increasing revenue growth). Very often these type of foreign ownerships are brief (1 or 2 seasons long) and end up with the owners leaving the club with heaps of cash siphoned from the club. This was the case for Portsmouth FC

Fortunately these types of ownerships are not common for teams who already cemented their place in the EPL; however the same could not be said for lower league teams where the respective team is ambitious to break into the EPL. Breaking into the EPL is lucrative as an average EPL club gets 45 million while an average Football League division team gets 1 million (from televising rights). Naturally this invites investors to buy teams which have a high probability of breaking into the EPL and once they make it (if they do) sell the club for a higher value. Some might even argue that this is the reason why newly promoted clubs often get relegated in either their first or second season. Whether this is the case is debatable, however it points to an obvious gulf between the EPL and the lower divisions of England.

Why should we care about this gulf? The reasoning is simple: The larger the gap in financial power between the EPL and the lower divisions the more desperate the management becomes to break into the EPL. This desperation will lead to the active search of people who are willing to invest in the team. The investment required is minimal and the rewards are huge if the team does make it. The worrying part is that the FA does nothing to address this issue and the EPL is only concerned with maximizing the profits for the top division. In fact if a team is relegated from the EPL it is subject to receive funds from the EPL to help it rise back to the top division. As ‘altruistic’ as this might seem it essentially creates a private club of EPL teams that are always financially better off than their lower division counterparts even if their managerial skill is subpar to that of lower division teams. How to tackle this problem is beyond the scope of this piece, but it does present a question to ponder on: Is financial elitism healthy for the league?

1.3 Self-sufficiency – The clubs that desperately want to fit the bill

This is the category that is the exception to the rule (so to speak) and is the broadest in definition. The owners (foreign or not) will want to make the club as self sufficient as possible. One could think of this as the middle ground for foreign ownership. It is not a “business” ownership since the owners do not siphon money out of the club (YES, Kroenke and the board does NOT take money out of Arsenal Holdings plc.). However these owners don’t handle their clubs as a “project” ownership either by throwing money at the squad. Instead these owners aim to maximize revenue streams. According to Dobson et al (2001) these owners of the football club assess the success of the club not solely on trophies but on five factors: profit, security, attendance or revenue, playing success, and health of the league. It is important to note that just like the “project” owners, the “self-sustaining” ownership model also invests/reinvests into the club. However instead of investing completely into the squad, clubs under this model invest in the enterprise itself in an effort to maximise revenue streams.

The degrees to which how much is invested in the squad and how much in the enterprise varies a lot and is often dependant on the saturation of current revenue streams and the potential of revenue growth. Manchester United and Liverpool FC were both capable of increasing their commercial revenues (Liverpool against the odds since they fell out of the Champions League) which allowed both teams to invest in their squad knowing that revenue growth can cover these expenditures. Arsenal FC, however drove its main revenue streams (matchday revenue and property development) close to saturation before attempting to increase commercial revenue via the Asia tour. Now of course Arsenal are tied down in certain deals until 2014 but nothing would’ve stopped the commercial team to attract new secondary sponsors (think about it: Manchester United have 2 different shirt sponsors for their playing kit AND their training kit). Because of this Arsenal are lagging behind in commercial revenue and in order to keep themselves afloat are forced to dip into their squad and sell their assets (More on this here). Of course for Arsenal this is mainly due to the debt they had to incur to construct the Emirates Stadium, a project which left a huge dent on its finances but in the long run, with a strong commercial team, can make the club a European powerhouse as the board envisioned it to be. But for this to become a reality it is imperative for the commercial team of Arsenal FC to ‘up its game’ otherwise the team will start to drift out of the top 4 on the football field as the management will dip in the squad to keep its accounts healthy.

Another point to note is that “self-sustaining” ownerships interest is making the league better as the financial success of the owners are closely related to the financial success of the league (to a large part due to televising rights) as Dobson et al. (2001) rightly point out. In this sense it is closer to “business” ownership since both of these types of ownerships look at the success of the league for potential financial profit. However while  “business” ownership free-rides the success of a league a “self-sustaining” ownership aims to create the success of a league. “Project” ownership takes a neutral standpoint on this matter and one might even argue that it is against the financial success of the league as it decreases financial disparity between teams (increasing competition), and decreases the teams dependency on the owner. However this is debatable and I will stick to “project” ownership being neutral to the success of the league as the team under the owners control has nothing to lose if the league becomes financially successful.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which the financial success of the EPL is looked at and how foreign ownership affected this. If you are interested in transfer market prices and wages and how  foreign ownership affected it then this is the piece you don’t want to miss out. Part 3 will be published shortly after part 2. Youth development and the national squad will be looked at. If you are interested in how the mixture of the 25-man rule and foreign ownership turned out to be then this is what you’re looking for.

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Sources

Arsenal 0 – 2 Schalke 04: Nutella with Nutella doesn’t work…

Apologies for the late review. All the authors had their life say “LOL TIME MANAGEMENT?!” and none of us had the time to write something up (sadface). In all honesty I was hoping I didn’t have to say this but the game panned out similarly (read: exactly like) as it did at Carrow Road. We didn’t keep our width and got punished for it…hard. We knew before the game that Schalke have players who are capable of utilizing space in the middle of the park so we sacrificed our right wing in order to have more players in the centre of the field. Why the right wing? The answer is twofold:

  1. Jenkinson prefers sticking back unlike our leftbacks
  2. We had our first choice LW (Podolski) fit while our first choice RW was out injured

Enter Ramsey. If you guys recall we had a similar tactic versus Southhampton when Ramsey was played at RW so we have superiority in the middle. This broke down their parked bus quite well as the defenders didn’t know who to pick out: Cazorla or Ramsey. However it only worked because Gibbs did his job of stretching the defence on the left side allowing Podolski to cut in, essentially giving 2 targets for Ramsey and Cazorla. As pointed out in the Norwich Review piece: Santos is not Gibbs. Now this does not mean Santos is a bad player it merely means that we cannot utilize the Podolski-Santos duo on that left wing. Why? Simple: if you already have Nutella you don’t need more Nutella. You need bread. Look at our first choice Right wing: Sagna – Walcott. It works because the players’ styles complement each other (Walcott is the Nutella and Sagna is the bread).

I hope I made myself clear that I don’t want to see Santos playing behind Podolski. It’s torture that only Jigsaw would want me to watch. Instead I’d like to add some bread to our Nutella so here are possible left wing options we could try when Gibbs is unavailable:

  1. Bread/LB: Meade; Nutella/LW: Podolski – Promote Meade from our Reserves. If you watch our U21 games you know how he like to play wide when going forwards (which he does a lot) and if he cuts in he only does so near the line which would create space for Podolski to utilise as Meade drags the defender wide. Some might even say Miquel could play LB, but that wouldn’t quite work out as he is a natural CB and because of this he doesn’t venture forward enough to create space for Podolski. However there is a risk that Meade can’t handle the pressure psychologically and we would be back at square one.
  2. Bread/LB: Vermaelen; Nutella/LW: Podolski – The positive of this scenario is that none of the players play for the reserves. Another positive is that we can play Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Vermaelen at the same time (sure both Koscielny and Vermaelen had made some mistakes nowadays but wouldn’t it be an awesome backline with Koscielny and Vermaelen on a good day?). The negative of this pairing is that we play Vermaelen out of position and he would be automatically targeted by the opposition.
  3. Bread/LB: Santos; Nutella/LW:Giroud – You are probably thinking “Giroud on LW? You’ve lost it Threkie!” to which I would reply: “I’m not crazy! My mother had me tested!” (Big Bang Theory anyone?). Giroud actually played LW in our Pre-season game versus Köln (when we were experimenting with Podolski at CF) and I gotta admit he did better than I expected in that position going wide and stretching the defence. Giroud’s LW playing style naturally lends itself to a LB who likes to cut in and take a shot which is Santos!
  4. Bread/LB: Vermaelen or Meade; Nutella/LW: Santos – I guess you all saw this coming. Santos at LW since he is a defensive liability (to keep it politically correct) when paired with a LW that likes to cut in as well.

So the lesson from this game was: Never mix Nutella with Nutella…and that we don’t have a backup LB that is compatible with our first choice LW.

Adrian Lopez: A Real Target or a Media Delusion?

Adrian Lopez has been a name that’s been thrown around in the media and been linked with Arsenal (claiming him as their number 1 target for the winter transfer window) as of late. Arsenal scout many talents around the world largely due to its extensive scouting network but is Adrian the correct transfer target for Arsenal? Let’s take an in depth look at the player from Atletico Madrid:

Contrary to popular belief that Adrian is a striker, he is actually a winger. This is where you bring “well he is a striker though!” nope not anymore. When Atletico Madrid had gotten the 24 year old from Deportivo on a free transfer where he was a striker at the time, (as he was with Oviedo where he started his career) many people believed he would be a back up to Falcao but it was completely the opposite and Madrid moved him to the wings. The move surprised people but it paid off with absolute dividends as he became a key player right away. Many people believed he was the signing of the season for Atletico as he drove many key assists and goals from a wide position with his ability to create space for attacks. So that’s him in a heart beat, a very good winger who can play up front given the opportunity as well but is this what Arsenal need? When we look at wingers we usually have to look at his defensive attributes and his ability to keep the ball and it has not been all bright news from Adrian this season:

Defensive stats;
Apps=6 Total Per game
Tackle 4 0.6
Interception 1 0.1
Fouls 5 0.6
Clearances 4 0.5
Dribbled Against 2 0.3
Passing stats;
Apps=6 Total Per game
Key Passes 5 0.9
Avg. Passes 22.9
Pass Success % 76.5
Crosses 1 0.15
Accurate Long Balls 4/4 0.6
Accurate Through Balls 1/1 0.5

Adrian is one of the players that has been performing poorly as of late and has been seeing the bench due to his ineffective play. It has come to the point where he has to rely on coming off the bench to prove his worth(he hasn’t been doing that too effectively either). Coming off a great season many people expected Adrian to shine bright this season as well but his poor start coupled with the coach still trying to find the position to compliment the tactical style Atletico play in, has meant its all been a bit haywire for the 24 year old at the moment. Of course when talking about Arsenal many people believe Arsene Wenger is the best at bringing the best out of a player especially when they’re performing badly but at this moment (taking into consideration what the media is saying) should Adrian be a player at the top of our list in the transfer market? A player who needs to rediscover not only his best form but his positional sense as a striker? I’d think if Arsenal were looking for a striker we’d be looking for a striker who’s already known for his positional sense and focused more towards creating an impact for us (almost like a Gervinho-type that is an actual striker). Either way maybe Adrian is a long term target for Arsenal but the thoughts of him being a target in the upcoming transfer window may just be a pipe dream made up by the media (especially if you consider a team like Arsenal who’s bad at set pieces, mixing in Adrian’s defensive abilities would be a recipe for disaster). The player himself is still a work in progress so this move for me would be just media hype move for now.

*stats provided by whoscored.com

Match Preview: Norwich City vs Arsenal F.C.


So, off to Carrow Road to play out of form Norwich City after this incredibly dull interlull and I must say, I think this is the perfect team to be playing against after the break. A team that we should be able to punish and blow out the international break cobwebs against provided our team turns up on the day. So let’s look at what we can expect to see from this one.

Norwich are currently 19th on the table and have shipped more goals than any team in the league conceding 17 in just 7 games. They typically set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation similar to our own and prefer a short passing game, usually attacking down the right wing through the combination play of Jackson and Snodgrass before crossing the ball into the box often to try and create chances and smother the goalbox clearances. They are a team that is not shy about shooting and have scored a couple of decent range goals, although happily the majority of their efforts fly wide, averaging only about 25-30% of all shots on target, their lead scorer Grant Holt has only 2 so far. The best news for our defense however is that they haven’t scored any goals from set pieces which our team is particularly vulnerable to.

Offensively we can hurt them a lot. Norwich play an offside trap which quite frankly, is suicide against the pace of our team even with Theo Walcott currently injured. Despite their lack of success Norwich are a team that likes to come out and play rather than park the bus and cower in their own half (particularly when playing at home) and this will play into our hands. Our lightning fast counter-attack play should be easily able to give them a torrid time. Norwich are not a physical side and are poor at retaining possession averaging only 42% possession so far and prone to individual errors which also benefits us and I would expect our midfield to completely control the game and dictate play through Arteta and Cazorla. So far this season they have been largely hurt by attacks down the wings so expect to see our potent left wing attack up to it’s usual tricks, the downside of this being that Kieran Gibbs will most likely not feature due to the injury sustained against the brutes of West Ham United.

Formation-wise expect to see Arsenal in their shiny new 4-4-1-1 setup with most of the usual suspects in place. As I mentioned Gibbs is doubtful for this encounter so expect to see Santos at Left Back provided he’s not booked for speeding on the way to the stadium(take the bus mate).  Let us hope he can provide the attacking sting that Gibbs has given us recently. Koscielny like-wise may be recovering from the small knock he took while on international duty and coupled with his dip in form in his last two matches, he’s unlikely to feature in this one. With Szczesny still injured Mannone will continue as first choice Keeper and with Diaby still out the third midfield position is up for grabs. Norwich are rather poor at preventing shots from range so I’d like to see the combination of Arteta, Cazorla and either Ramsey or Chamberlain (2 players not afraid to shoot) to give us an extra scoring option if the opponent is proving stubborn, however Wenger may choose to put his faith in Coquelin instead. Also, owing to Giroud’s excellent efforts for France (sticking it to Spain) and the fact that Norwich are weak at winning aerial duels I’d like to see him given the nod at Centre Forward to muscle up on their defence and dominate the opposition’s goalbox. Gervinho has been excellent in the Center Forward role but with Walcott not on the subs bench I’d like to see him start at Right Wing. Lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would LOVE to see Jack Wilshere given 10 minutes or so towards the end of the match if his fitness is up to it.

Norwich City Danger Men: Jackson, Snodgrass and Holt.

Result Prediction: Conservative because of the interlull: 1-3 Arsenal. More goals and defensive shutout if our team plays well.

Expected lineup: 4-4-1-1 formation – Mannone, Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Jenkinson, Podolski, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho, Cazorla, Giroud.

Conclusion: This is a game we should win and win well. I will be doing a post-match breakdown of the game after the weekend, till then let’s get behind the team. COME ON YOU GUNNERS!

The Evolution of Arsenal’s Gameplay

The Invincibles are gone, they’ve parted ways and chosen their futures. Some have gone on to rot on benches, others to try new prospects. As the dust settles Arsenal’s style of play has changed from the impressively successful 4-4-1-1 employed by the Invincibles side to a 4-5-1 formation for the modern game built around 1 man, Cesc Fabregas.  But as time went on the big teams learnt how to deal with this amazing playmaker and Arsenal’s offense looked more and more unimaginative and while it was at times, dazzling to watch, the majority of games saw us passing the ball around on the edge of the opposition’s goal box without ever taking a shot or looking threatening. As more and more teams cottoned on to the fact that they could stand off Fabregas(who rarely shoots) and simply man mark all the target players he would pass to, we also started to see how often and easily we could be undone on Counter-Attacks as the team got more and more aggressive, committing more and more bodies forward and leaving our back 4 very exposed in our desperate search for goals, despite having the self proclaimed “World’s best striker” Nicklas Bendtner, on hand to hit the target, or chair row Z, or simply put his shot out for a throw in.

The Diagram shows a fairly standard scenario from a few seasons ago when we still adopted this style of play and it’s easy to see the problems with what we were doing back then. Fabregas naturally plays fairly advanced and with the other midfielders pushing up in support you can see the huge gap it leaves in between our lines between Song and the Center Backs, that can be exploited by teams with a quick long ball to a target center forward who can then run at the defense or really stretch us if they have speedy players flying down the wings, like say United. By ignoring Fabregas, Player A intercepts a pass from Fabregas to Bendtner, hits it long to Player B who lays it off to Player C and then we’re screwed. You can clearly see how Song is outnumbered, Sagna is caught high up the pitch, Clichy is overlapped and the result is an attack with width running at our two Center Backs and the hapless keeper beyond.

Now,  jump forward to last season. Fabregas is gone, Na$ri(who?), Clichy(who?)  also and Wilshere is injured indefinitely. In their place Arsenal has Rosicky,Gibbs, Gervinho and Arteta. Now while these players are being utilised the same way there are some important differences. Firstly Gibbs is much more of a winger style player than Clichy ever was, Clichy was a no-nonsense Fullback who pushed forwards at times whereas Gibbs is more often further up field than his Left Winger. This has created the occasional problem defensively but weirdly it has also solved a big problem for Arsenal. Clichy was often found to be playing attackers onside resulting in a heart attack inducing 1 on 1 with “gulp” Almunia. Whether because Vermaelen is too aggressive or because Clichy was just useless at staying in line with his Center Backs is up for debate but since Gibbs is so eager to go forward this problem no longer exists.

Gervinho and Rosicky added some much needed energy to our offense, both have great workrates however the best thing that Rosicky inadvertedly did is get the other players involved. With their crutch Fabregas gone from midfield the other 10 players on the team started to take on more responsibility on the pitch and even though a certain Dutch traitor who we shall refer to as “Voldemort ie “He who can not be named”  was banging in the majority of our goals, the assists were coming from everywhere. In the later half of the season once the excellent Arteta had firmly stamped his mark on a midfield position in our side, the trio of Arteta, Song and Rosicky started to show their potential and with this new confidence we started to see a shift in formation, when attacking from the normal 4-5-1 to a very fluid 3-5-2. In possession, Gibbs would bomb down the left wing providing width, Gervinho would slide inwards into a secondary striker role and the Center Backs would adjust their position to compensate for this. This gave Arsenal an extra attacking option and allowed one of the best crossers on the team, Gibbs to show his attacking potential. With the speed of Theo Walcott on the Right Wing, Arsenal were able to not commit Bacary Sagna at Right Back forwards too much and still provide an attacking threat from both wings, crucially stretching the oppositions defense.


It’s a shame Rosicky is too old these days to always start as he did a fantastic job in Attacking Midfield when we really needed someone to step up. While all this was happening Arsenal also shored up their defense with the arrival of Per Mertesacker and the development of our young Keeper Wojciech Szczesny.  Mertesacker in particular was becoming a key player for us as he asserts his authority and experience on the back 4 and provides much needed organisation. Arteta likewise in midfield became more important than anyone save maybe Arsene Wenger could imagine as his performances are just so damn consistent it’s like having a machine in midfield. You program it to your specifications and then watch in awe as he carries out your instructions with unerring accuracy.

Present Day

So fastforward to this season and predictably the season started with  several players being sold.  While the article on this site written by Threkstari explains why this is necessary it is no less damn annoying. So adios to Song who suddenly discovered he had Barca DNA, while Voldemort has definitely turned to the dark side as he joins Manchester United. Wenger brings in Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud as his key signings, as well as promoting a young player by the name of Carl Jenkinson in place of the currently injured Bacary Sagna. Happily unlike last season the new recruits bed into the starting eleven much quicker than expected and Arsenal only drop a few points at the start thanks to not having a proper pre-season warm up to familiarize with each other. Cazorla proves a revelation in midfield and Podolski who struggled to play well in Bayern Munich’s 4-3-3 play wide formation quickly strikes up a great partnership with both Gibbs and Cazorla. Giroud impresses early also but fails to get the goals his performances deserve and loses his starting position to Gervinho who after looking rather unimpressive last season as a Left Winger, really seems to have hit his stride in the Center Forward position. But the most impressive thing about all these early signs is what we start to see in the formation.

That’s right, a return to the 4-4-1-1 formation that was the staple of the most glorious days in Arsenal’s history and we have the players to make it work, we have a sexy beast of a Center Forward with brilliant positional awareness and the attitude to get on the end of a cross regardless of if he’ll break his foot doing it.  Meanwhile we have Cazorla pulling the strings and the metronomic Arteta as the midfield anchor. Perhaps the most crucial change to this formation is the doing away with a traditional Defensive Midfielder. Instead we have in it’s place the double pivot of Arteta and Diaby ensuring 1 player(usually Arteta) is always covering the back 4 and eliminating problems we had in the past with 2 defensive lines of 4 players, thanks to the workrate of both Podolski and Gervinho on the wings.

While this is Arsenal’s standard formation now it’s worth noting that in offense we switch to a 3-5-2 due to Gibbs bombing down the flank and I think this is what utilises Podolski’s potential. It’s clear on the pitch he doesn’t like playing wide so having Gibbs provide the width and Podolski slide inside to become a secondary striker is perfect. This also moves Podolski closer to where Cazorla is playing and allows the great linkup play and intricate give and goes we’ve seen them play this season, most notably when Cazorla scored vs Liverpool and when they tore Southampton apart.The starting eleven is almost cemented with maybe 3 or so players who can give it a nudge. Players pushing to get into the starting team is great for promoting good performances from those on the field however and even though Wenger has to decide on which two Center Backs to start and which player should be at Right Wing etc these are decisions that are much preferred to not having any options at all.

Looking to the Future

This current Arsenal squad looks to have loads of potential with far more steel in the side thanks to the veteran players that have been introduced and the willingness of the players to defend and attack as a team. I think we can look forward with hope and belief that this is a team that can win consistently. There is still room for much improvement, particularly our defense on set pieces and also the tendency of a certain newly promoted captain to make rash tackles and press forwards too much but the team chemistry is looking stronger every week. Add to this current crop the fact that our young prodigy Jack Wilshere is soon to return from injury as well as other solid players such as Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky and the future looks positively mouth watering.