TThe ghost approached the Spurs slowly, gravely, and silently. He was wrapped in a deep black garment, which concealed his head, his face, his form, and left nothing visible except an outstretched hand. He pointed to the southwest and at that moment the Spurs understood. The Spurs looked at Arsenal and saw not a rival but their own future. Could it be that Arsenal is a vision of Tottenham to come?
This is a story by Daniel Levy, of course, and Mauricio Pochettino and Harry Kane and dozens of others, but it’s also about the broader scope of the story. Football, as we know it today, may have been born in London with the formulation of the Football Association at the Freemasons Arms near Covent Garden in 1863 and the codification of the laws that still form the basis of the modern game, but after professionalization it quickly went away.
It wasn’t until 1931 that a London club won the league for the first time. Soccer became a game dominated by the great industrial cities of the North and Midlands, a pattern followed in most of the great democracies. This was where the largest crowds were and where a sense of provincial pride encouraged local industrialists to invest.
There were moments of excellence for Arsenal and Tottenham, including Chelsea, but it was only in the 1980s with the decline of industrial hubs and a growing focus of capital on the capital that London came to equal Liverpool and Manchester as a great hub for England. . football. It is the only British city to have provided three different Champions League finalists.
But while London offers certain advantages: a large fan base, an attractive cosmopolitan environment for foreign players and managers, extensive business and marketing opportunities, it is also expensive. The Arsenal decided in 1997 that it had to move out of Highbury, a beautiful and historic piece of land that had become narrow and impractical for the modern world of media and corporate hospitality. When they finally moved to the Emirates in 2006, the cost was £ 390 million. They have never recovered.
That is not to say that it was the wrong decision to move; on the contrary, it was the only decision the club could have made if it wanted to compete with Manchester United. But by the time Arsenal moved in, several small things had changed, and one big one as well.
Arsène Wenger had come as a visionary. But by 2006, other clubs had caught up with their advancements in nutrition and their understanding of the overseas transfer markets. By the end of the decade, there was a distinct feeling that he was no longer in the tactical forefront. But worse was the financial reality. Between Arsenal’s purchase of the Ashburton Grove land and the completion of the stadium, Roman Abramovich had taken over from Chelsea and the soccer economy had completely changed. Two years after Arsenal moved to the Emirates, Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City.
That seemingly inexorable shift of soccer power to the capital was suddenly interrupted by far greater external forces. It didn’t matter if Arsenal tripled or quadrupled their incoming income, they could never hope to compete with the wealth of an oligarch or an emirate. And so, as Chelsea and City climbed, Arsenal, operating under budget constraints while paying off the stadium loan, slipped.
Wenger probably stayed too long. Bad decisions have been made. Transfers have been puzzling at times. But many of the errors have been caused, at least partially, by circumstances. Would they have made the same expensive signings, would they have awarded the same extended contracts to aging stars, if they hadn’t been deeply unsure about their waning status?
Of course, the club has been misdirected, but it is no coincidence that Ivan Gazidis, Sven Mislintat and Unai Emery, considered failures at Emirates, have succeeded after their departure. For Arsenal not to have declined, at least to some extent, it would have required something akin to genius.
Like Arsenal, Tottenham moved to a shiny new stadium the same year it reached its only Champions League final. Like Arsenal, as a result, they have seen their budget constrained, their difficulties amplified by the pandemic (it may be the height of “Spursiness” to build a new stadium at great cost to increase revenue and almost immediately be forced to block to fans).
They too had their crisis with an extremely popular coach who had transformed the perception of the club. Supporting Pochettino, which would have involved selling players he felt were out of date, as well as freeing up transfer funds, was the tough option. Levy’s big mistake was, at the time, abandoning the caring care that had previously characterized his approach and instead cosplaying was a big club by firing him and appointing a famous trainer in José Mourinho.
If Kane scores again in the league, Levy’s intransigence over his sale to City may seem justified, but there is also the danger that keeping him will be the equivalent of Arsenal offering Mesut Özil or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a costly extended contract. – An uneasy club about how others see them clinging to the star who offers them status rather than having the confidence to find replacements still on the rise.
Perhaps Arsenal, with its new focus on youth, will build again. They have finished the last two seasons strong under Mikel Arteta and that may offer some relief amid the gloom. But what does that mean? How high can they go? Champions League standings? European League? A Premier League challenge seems a long way off.
For Tottenham, that’s a warning. Their Champions League final may have only been two years, but they must look at Arsenal and see a disturbing glimpse of a potential future: a club with Super League aspirations in a magnificent stadium in a well-equipped part of the country, playing at half way. -table soccer and unable to climb higher due to the huge gap between them and the next level of the sport’s financial hierarchy.