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In the absence of Lisbon Lions we’d all settle for a fantasy football owner

by Aidan Elder | August 30, 2012

ON THE MONEY: Who wouldn’t want a billionaire owner like the star of our latest ad?

By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer

Transfer rumours will be read, unverifiable claims made on club forums taken as gospel and every estate agent showing a client a mock-Tudor mansion will be examined as proof of an imminent arrival. The transfer window is closing and optimism for the new season would be boosted with a couple more arrivals.

The passion, intensity and woeful refereeing of Premier League season has begun, but fans and band-wagon jumpers alike will still be hoping their club makes a last-minute purchase to ignite the side’s potential. It’s a time-honoured tradition and the arrival of the world’s nouveau-riche into European football in the last decade has intensified the annual off-season rumour-mongering.

Being a multi-millionaire just doesn’t cut it any more. ‘You’ve less than £500 million to invest in our club? The soup kitchen’s that way, peasant.’

Billionaires are now what’s required and if they’ve got an overwhelming desire to seek the approval of the masses by sinking chunks of their personal wealth into the club, all the better.

Not for the first time in his Arsenal tenure, Arsene Wenger has grumbled about the limitless resources available to an increasing number of European clubs. You can tell he’s annoyed because he didn’t even bother with the thinly veiled façade he often puts on his more critical comments about opponents.

“A club can buy players like PSG has done or Manchester City or Chelsea, with unlimited resources, but overall football suffers,” he claimed, by extension suggesting that money is ok, but too much money is bad.

In a month when Arsenal took advantage of the wheels apparently coming off at one of the new mega-rich clubs by buying Santi Cazorla from Malaga, there’s a touch of irony/poetic justice about his comments, depending on your point of view. With the signings of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud taking Arsenal’s spending to around the £40 million mark this summer, you’d have to guess Wenger’s tongue was firmly planted inside his cheek as soon as the words were uttered.

The reality of modern football makes an understanding of intricacies of finance almost as important as understanding the intricacies of four-four-two. The Frenchman has generally stayed true to his principles, but on the flip-side, Arsenal’s trophy cabinet remains as under-used as Eden Hazard’s sense of modesty.

But is that what football fans want? Is taking the moral high ground on spending just ‘losing on a budget’? Do football fans really care about footballing ethics as long as they win plenty of trophies?

Moral high-ground means little in football

The short answer is ‘no’ and the slightly longer answer is ‘no’ with a bit more awkward mumbling tagged along. Fans can cling to the ‘doing things the right way’ line as justification for the lack of silverware, but it’s nowhere near as satisfying as being able to gloat about actual silverware.

The truth is, in professional football, the moral high-ground is only short-lived. Everything Arsenal have done since Wenger took charge has been done to make them a more attractive investment over the long-term. Long after Arsene has not seen his last controversial decision as manager of the Gunners, the club will need to look like an enticing prospect to potential investors with a few billion burning a hole in the pockets of their tailored Gucci slacks.

The fancy stadium, the pleasing set of accounts, the global brand – it’s all part of the proposition. While it’s unthinkable at the moment, there may well by a point in the not too distant future when a manager of Wenger’s unique abilities can’t be found and a wealthy benefactor’s open chequebook will be welcomed with open arms.

We dream of Celtic’s Lisbon Lions

The influx of Arab money at Paris St Germain, Manchester City and Malaga has brought varying degrees of success with even more a distinct possibility. Before that Chelsea were elevated by the wealth of Roman Abramovich and long before that in 1923, the Fiat-founding Agnelli family provided Juventus with the funds that would transform them into the most successful team in Italy. Of course we’d all like a version of Celtic’s Lisbon Lions – local lads who were all from within 30 miles of Celtic Park – but we also like to see our clubs winning and the method and make-up of the team isn’t all that important. It’s just the reality and very few teams can dream of being successful self-made clubs.

For all their posturing as a footballing utopia, even Barcelona wouldn’t have been able to flourish without the support of influential supporters at the head of Catalonia’s major financial institutions. For all their talk of being ‘mes que un club‘ and not needing the support of the mega-rich to succeed, plenty of Barca’s history of being footballing purists is facilitated by banks letting them amass vast debts.

It may not be coming directly out of the pocket of a slightly deluded billionaire, but it has been achieved through favourable financing and the money-men being very accommodating when it comes to repayment. Last month, the Catalan club announced annual profits of nearly €50m, but that leaves them in debt to the tune of €335 million – and that’s after a few seasons of extensive cost-cutting.

Principles are nice, but when it comes to our clubs, we’re all a bit Gordon Gekko. As football fans, we’d like it if our teams played brilliant football using only players conceived on the hallowed turf of the club’s pitch. As fans of individual clubs however, we’ll take whatever is on offer.

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