Getting sick of the Arsenal pantomime, loan reforms and more…

Date published: Monday 18th May 2020 2:31

Unai Emery Arsenal

If you have anything to add on any subject, you know what to do: Mail


Football reform
Dear F365,

Really enjoyed the articles on reforming football. I agree totally on loans, but am not sure just limiting the number of loans per club and allowing players to play against their parent club is enough (although it’s certainly a good start). I’m old enough to remember when loans were only permitted between clubs in different divisions, and for good reasons. If we’re trying to maintain sporting integrity while reducing the incentive for the big clubs to stockpile all the shiny young players, even more radical change is needed. The basic reform I would like to see is simply that loans should always be for one full season, with no right of recall on the part of the lending club, so that the player effectively has a one-year transfer to another club and is to all intents and purposes “theirs”. There should also be a degree of risk for the lending club, since, if you can’t fit players in your squad, you shouldn’t really have them. How about a clause that means you can only loan a player out once to any other club in the same league? After that, they have to play for you or move permanently. If you combined this with an automatic option to buy on the part of the borrowing club if the player also wants to make the move permanent – with, say, values determined by tribunal – it would mean lots of very good players circulating around the league, and rebalancing the financial power of the big clubs a bit. It would also mean that they have to do more to keep quality players in their reserves happy.

The other reform I would like to see is a new rule whereby, once we pass the 80-minute mark, the attacking side can only keep the ball in the corner of the pitch (easy enough to measure in line with the 18-yard box) for a maximum of six seconds. If they pass it forwards towards the corner within that space it counts as offside, even if the receiving player isn’t actually offside (and the ball turns straight over to the defending side for a free kick). This would stop the eternal time-wasting that teams 1-0 up engage in, which is an insult to paying fans. It would also mean attacking sides only really have two options when on the break if they play the ball out wide: quickly put a cross into the penalty area, or play it backwards out of the corner and keep the game going. Either way, it’s a win-win: more jeopardy, more attacking, more fun for the fans, more chance of the losing team getting back into the game. Oh, and I’d also like to see the six second rule for goalkeepers enforced brutally. Referees barely even pay attention to it at all these days. And I’d like to see automatic yellow cards for any player that moves towards a referee to question a decision, followed by an immediate second yellow if they don’t disengage straight away.

Finally, I meant to write into your “is streaming stealing?” debate as I felt most people missed the point. There’s a concept in economics called “economic rent” which basically means that, when someone has cornered a market, they can extract excess profits over and above the real value of the product. This is the opposite of a “free market” and is generally a sign of economic dysfunction. Some profit in any sector is good, but superprofits should always be competed away by new market entrants as this is what encourages free markets to function properly and innovate. Football is clearly an example of enormous rent seeking: there’s no doubt Sky improved the broadcasting of the game after 1992, but they also put up a massive wall around it that allowed clubs, players, agents and the muppets on the telly to extract huge amounts of super profits.

The reason this is a problem is that, when aggregated to the level of an entire economy, it stifles productivity and leads to stagnation. It’s no surprise that Britain is the home of the Premier League in this regard since our entire commercial life is characterised by a “toll-booth economy” where “rentiers” generate wealth by putting up barriers to create monopolies rather than genuinely innovating to create better products in markets that are actually competitive. This is why we have the worst productivity in the developed world. Arguing about whether we should be “stealing” football or not just reproduces a binary debate that conveniently plays into the hands of those that control the game. The question we should be asking is, “given that it’s our game, not theirs, what can fans do to bring about the collapse of that financial order as rapidly as possible?” I long for the day when the streams are so good and so widely accessible that the financial bubble bursts spectacularly and the parasitic rentier class loses its control over the revenues they extract from us. The game itself will never die.
Matt, Sheffield


I absolutely agree with Seb-Stafford Bloor’s point that corners do not offer the danger that the weight they are given in the game seems to offer but I’m not too sure about having an enlarged diamond but how about a slight tweak based on short corners in Hockey.

There are two corner marks, the current traditional corner marking and a second closer mark – this could be where the penalty box marking meets the goal-line.  If the ball goes out for a corner within the penalty box lines, you get a short corner – if it goes out between the penalty box and touchline then a normal corner results.  This would have a couple of positive effects – an attacking team get a reward for creating a chance/pressure that causes the ball to go out close to the goal and get to restart from a similar position whilst also putting a bit more pressure on defenders in tight corners – is it worth trying to shield the ball out if there is a risk that a slight mistake will give your opponents a fresh attacking chance?

Can imagine there would be a lot of work done on the training ground to come up with routines that take advantage of the closer corner – you could even limit the number of players allowed in the penalty area if the ball goes for a short corner to stop the box being over crowded – say 4 or 5 outfield players and the rest can’t enter the area until it has been touched by a player who is not the corner taker.

Probably over-complicating what is essentially just a way of re-starting a game but it could be fun.

Paul, (someone forget to tell Eintracht that they were playing this weekend) Frankfurt


Emery/Sid Lowe panto
The Emery interview with Sid Lowe just made me sad.

Winning is fun; losing is less fun, we’re all in it for the pantomime at some level. But I did not imagine this fanbase would produce the sort of mean-spirited trash that eventually forces a man to acknowledge mockery of his accent in print. That’s just bullying.

I’m very happy Arteta has a lovely accent. As far as I can see, this has minimal bearing on results, where discernible improvements are likely years away. That’s fine by me.

But I expect the next draw with Brighton or whoever will prompt some wit to identify a flaw in his immaculateness, which will be amplified by the peanut gallery, and nudge-winked on by the blogosphere – effects on actual people’s actual psyches be damned.

And this is a supposedly ‘progressive’ fanbase.

I’m kind of getting sick of the pantomime.
TG, Arsenal


Nick Hancock and “bullying”
Hi there,

Credit to Nick Hancock for reflecting on his behaviour towards Luke Chadwick and apologising. I wonder if it might inspire other figures to do the same. I’m particularly thinking of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, whose racially-charged bullying of Nottingham Forest player Jason Lee on Fantasy Football League detrimentally affected his career, and caused him enormous pain.

Baddiel, in particular, is a steadfast opponent of anti-semitism in football and in wider society, and has done much that is admirable in that field. However,  it undermines his commitment to anti-racism that he has never considered that, though arguably not racist in intent, his “blackface” portrayal of Lee certainly inspired racial abuse of the player. Or, if he has considered that, has not felt the need to apologise.
Dara O’Reilly, London


Owning a PL club, sportwashing or not?

Just read an article in one newspaper which argued that Newcastle shouldn’t be sold to Bin Salman because of the “sportswash” worded by Amnesty international as “glamour and prestige of Premier League football to cover up actions that are deeply immoral”. Now my question is, how does owning a football club change the perception of Saudi crown prince exactly? Has owning of Newcastle United improved how Mike Ashley is perceived by large public? Or owners of Manchester United and City? Do people really think in lines of “oh well, they do own a football club, they must be alright then although previously I was against their human rights violations or horrible political stance”?

To me it feels like that those who know the issues and care about them, are not swayed by purchasing a football company and those who are ignorant or who just don’t care, were ignorant and didn’t care before either.

Maybe I am missing something here. It is after all monday. But personally I wouldn’t even know who Mike Ashley is or have rather negative opinion of him unless he owned Newcastle United. So in fact it seems to do the opposite. Bring attention to all aspects of their actions since they became more scrutinized in media with the heightened profile and publicity.
Matti Katara, Helsinki (maybe I am just in wrong media bubble)


Money in football
John Nicholson ended his weekly column by observing that “as ever when it comes to all things Premier League, it’s all about money, so follow the money and there’s your answer”. I agree; the problem is that judging by John’s recent trend of producing implausible neocommunist fanfiction, he either doesn’t understand money (and therefore doesn’t understand the Premier League) or willfully chooses to misinterpret situations to support his overarching perspective on Modern Football. I imagine it’s the latter but you begin to wonder after the 427th column on the subject.

On the subject of money in football, I think it would be interesting to consider what will happen over the next 1-18 months from a game theory perspective. I’m no expert and don’t have insider knowledge, but essentially, the value of transfer fees and player wages are linked to how much total money there is in the football industry. At present, nobody knows how much money there will be in the medium-term football industry: businesses across most industries are suffering. These businesses are sponsors and advertisers of both football clubs and of broadcasters. As a result, the next time football clubs negotiate contracts for broadcast rights and sponsorship partnerships, there is reason to expect these to decline. The previous assumption had been that football would always retain value or grow. (This should sound familiar to anyone recalling 13 years ago: the football industry was in a bubble like US real estate was leading up to 2008).

Given that transfer fees and wages are linked to total money, and nobody knows to what extent total money will decline, we will begin in a situation where selling clubs refuse to discount their pre-COVID19 valuations of players, and buying clubs will refuse to pay them. A new equilibrium needs to be determined to benchmark player valuations post-COVID19, but nobody will want to make the first move. We have seen this happen in previous summers of major transfer spending, with 1 player/manager changing clubs causing a chain reaction of related transactions. The first moves will be made out of desperation or necessity, almost certainly due to clubs at risk of going bankrupt. Clubs going bankrupt will need to sell players urgently, and in-demand players will create a bidding war. This will establish the “new normal” for transfer fees (by the way, the notion that we won’t see multi million pound transfers post-COVID19 for moralizing reasons is silly, unless you expect governments to legislate this, which is IMO even sillier). The exception is state-backed clubs acting as buying clubs, who obviously play by different rules and have different objectives as ownership groups.

The issue of ownership is where the situation becomes even more interesting. As everyone has noticed, professional football clubs are not profitable enterprises. The overwhelming majority are either losing money, breaking even or turning a tiny profit relative to their overall revenue: if a club has an annual revenue of 500 million, but annual average profits of 1 million, this is a terrible return on investment, particularly considering the risk. I am not aware of any football club which is annually profitable to a degree which would incentivize ownership investment in football. Some club owners will take dividend payments and salaries, but even these are minute compared to the size of their investments and what they could gain by investing in other businesses or financial products. So why do they do it? It’s primarily based on the assumption that football clubs will continue to grow in value. To take the easiest example, FSG purchased Liverpool in 2010 for 300 million GBP; the club is now valued at 1000 million GBP. FSG would not have been concerned with annual profit, other than satisifying FFP requirements. Most owners’ long-term strategy to profit from football, or even simply break-even from football, is to sell the club for more than they purchased it for.

The problem is, given the likely upcoming decline in broadcast and sponsorship contract values, the overall valuations of football clubs will also likely fall. So what happens next? If you are the owner of a football club and your projections on the club’s growth have all been shattered by COVID19, why would you continue to make any investment whatsoever into the club you own? Based on this, I think we are going to see a lot of clubs cutting their own cloth, so to speak.

I don’t think the above analysis is 100% complete or accurate, but I am quite confident that this is something along the lines of what we will see over the next 18 months. I would be very interested to read what others think on this line of thinking.
Oliver (or maybe the entire financial system will lose all meaning during this time + collapse, in which case John would be proven right in a way!) Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland


So, John (it were all better in my day young ‘un) Nicholson is back shaking his fist at another cloud. On this occasion it is the restart of the Bundesliga which, despite not having watched a single game, he has decided will lead of the downfall of the world’s most popular sport. 150 years of football in this country will be over because people will forget what football is if games are televised with no fans. Wow.

I am sorry if I didn’t follow the thread but it appeared to be that if there are no fans on the telebox screen when the football is televised people will stop watching and literally forget that they used to watch football. The alternative, presumably, is that football doesn’t restart to complete 2019/20 or for the whole of 2020/21. This is where he lost me, will people come back in 2021/22? I can’t quite work out the argument at this point.

However, the central thesis is that people won’t watch football on a TV screen if there isn’t a crowd in the stands. Quite frankly this is a weird argument. I watched Dortmund’s match against Schalke and you know what it looked like? Football. That’s what it looked like. It looked exactly like a Bundesliga football match because that’s what it was. This idea that football, or wider sport, only exists if people are there in crowds is bizarre. Have you watched test match cricket anywhere in the world except England or Australia? Have you ever seen television footage of county cricket? Domestic athletics will get the families of the competitors and that’s about it.

Sport is an athletic or skill based contest between highly dedicated people. To say it only exists if people are watching it is to say it is an entertainment business which is something John has always railed against.

Anyhoo, it was the bit that people who, thus far, have loved football endlessly will drift away if the game they are watching on TV has no crowd that is the biggest nonsense. I think John comes from a rose tinted view whereby the terraces were rammed by flat-capped hordes and the players earned less than the fella on the turnstile. A simple look at the past says this ain’t necessarily so. I have always loved Nationwide/ News of the World annuals and have loads going back years. These have stats and facts and all sorts. For example, in 1992/93 Chelsea’s average gate was 18,754, Everton welcomed in a massive 20,445 on average, Arsenal wowed crowds of 24,403. Blackburn Rovers were champions just 2 years later and averaged just over 16,000. Six teams averaged fewer than 16,000. Spurs averaged under 28,000 and even the mighty Manchester United averaged 35,000. These matches were still televised and people still watched them. The average top flight crowd that year was 21,000.

The idea that I can’t enjoy televised sport without close ups of grown adults shouting racist abuse at players is a little insulting quite frankly. As with anything John, if you don’t want to watch it, don’t watch it. I watch football for the football and, by jove, I desperately want to watch some football.
Micki Attridge


Well, if the Bundesliga games this weekend are anything to go by, then I won’t be rushing to renew my Sky subscription anytime soon.  Even though the Cologne game on Sunday wasn’t short of goals, both were surprisingly ‘meh’ (IMHO).  Despite looking forward to these games, I found my attention drifting back to my laptop after about ten minutes with the footy reduced to mere background noise.  In short, training ground matches only of mild interest because we’ve been starved of the real thing.  Johnny Nic’s latest piece is rather dark (There’s a shock!) and, whilst I wouldn’t agree totally with it, I certainly wouldn’t relish the prospect of watching a whole season of sanitised, and rather soulless, football either.

Also, what on earth is the point of eschewing pre-match handshakes and adopting wrist-bump goal celebrations when, for the remainder of the game, 22 blokes are shoving, pulling, spitting, and tackling exactly the same as before?  Seriously?  You could put wet paint at the start of the match on the hands of any random player and, within the first 15 minutes, every player on the pitch would have paint on them somewhere.  Either social distancing is a vital tool in fighting Covid-19 or it simply isn’t.  You can’t have it both ways.
Mark (No way Haaland will go to the Dark Side) MCFC


The most surprising end of career swan songs
Instead of doing my work this morning I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of the three most surprising end of career swan songs. That means no Zidanes, Pirlos or Milners.

1. Dean Windass. The younger readers of the mailbag will certainly be thinking: who? A Humber side native, who I believe I am legal required to call a local Hull lad, who started his professional career relatively late at 22. He scored an initial 64 goals in 205 games for the Tigers before being sold to Aberdeen due to financial difficulties at Hull in 1995. Fast forward to 2007, when he would return to Hull to lead them into the Premier League by scoring a volley from the edge of the area in the play-off final. He would stay around for one more year to ensure that he became the second oldest scorer in Premier League history. Not bad for a man who resembles an overweight Wayne Rooney.

2. Gary McAllister was aged 35 when he rolled up at Liverpool on a Bosman. Safe to say, more than a few eyebrows were raised upon the signing’s announcement. However, 8 goals across 49 appearances, a UEFA cup, a FA cup, a League cup, and the April 2001 Premier League Player of the Month award would prompt Houllier to describe McAllister as his “most inspirational signing”. Admittedly an incredibly low bar for the man who signed Bernard Diomede, Salif Diao, and El Hadji Diouf.

3. Henrik Larsson is a fantastic reminder that Barcelona used to be a sensible club that would work hard to find value in the transfer market instead of spaffing €100M+ on shiny overachievers. The Celtic legend was already 32, yet 3 goals at Euro 2004 was enough to persuade Frank Rijkaard to give up his pursuit of David Trezerguet and convince Larsson to swap Glasglow gloom for Barcelona sun. His first season in Spain was blighted by an ACL injury, however in his second he contributed 15 goals in 42 games. He reserved his greatest moment in the fabled blue and red for the 2005 Champions League final where he came off the bench to provide a match-winning pair of assists.

Interested to get other people’s favorites!
Oliver, London


Let’s crack on
Up and down the country people have returned to work and most like footballers are fearful of catching coronavirus. To be a footballer is a job just like any other. Football is a business that employs thousands up and down the country. They should go back to work like anybody else who can’t work from home. Footballers will also have afforded to them the luxury of knowing those who they are working with will of been tested and are clear of coronavirus unlike many up and down the country who are no doubt working in close contact with others.

What are they waiting for? Do they want special treatment? I’ve heard many excuses included one from saying they need 5 weeks training prior to any start? Why? If any player has let themselves go over this period while on full pay at home then that is unprofessional and they only have themselves to blame. Everyone will be in the same boat here remember.

Squads are of 25 players and if any feel they don’t fancy it then someone can easily take their place. Any players that don’t play should of course just like any employee who doesn’t want to work not get paid.

Footballers shouldn’t get treatment any different to anybody else. Let’s crack on, get back to work fellas.
Ken. Ireland


Ah Bobby Bear took the bait I see, your forensic analysis of the Milan goal was wonderful using a random still from the game genius, I didn’t even mention Gerrard diving for the penalty the one you think Gattuso should of seen red for, what I will agree with you though is the Germany game the only time England’s best two central midfielders actually played together, Gerrard and Scholes bossed that game yet never got a chance to do it again, cheers Sven.
Paul Murphy, Manchester


Oh forgot the Henry/Gerrard answer, he gave away a penalty with a shocking backpass to give France the win
Paul Murphy, Manchester (glad I could help)


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