Arsenal saga raises awkward FFP questions

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Officially, in English football, formal links between small clubs and bigger clubs, where the smaller clubs operate as “feeder clubs”, is prohibited.

However, it seems that we are getting to that position informally anyway. Because as every closed season sets in, the evidence is increasingly conclusive that Arsenal is a feeder club for Manchester City.

It now appears inevitable that Robin Van Persie will soon be making the move from the Emirates to east Manchester, following Samir Nasri, Kolo Touré and Gaël Clichy. City fans must be wondering how on earth they let Cesc Fabregas slip away.

Of course, this is galling in the extreme for anyone with the remotest strain of Gunner in their blood, though I suspect that pretty much every proper football fan is feeling the pain. Apart from the City fans, of course. They must find this all hilarious.

Ultimately, the way the plug has been pulled from Arsenal, with their superstar players being sucked out one by one, is bad for football and proof that the game does not work.

Of course, there is a boardroom sideshow currently playing itself out over the Arsenal ownership, with Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbeck oligarch lobbing bombs from outside of the board.

You cannot but sympathise with Usmanov’s position and frustration and you just wonder: why can’t they just take a cool billion from him? And: surely there is income from the transfers of departed players that they could spend?

We ask these questions every year and, really, it is all a distraction. Arsenal is a football club that is attempting to run itself properly. The fact that this policy is so clearly backfiring should be the subject of the debate.

The debate should not be: why don’t Arsenal splash the cash? It should be: why is prudent management suicidal?

At this stage, of course, we have to mention the old caveat: Financial Fair Play (FFP). This really is an old caveat, an ancient one in fact. The FFP principles were first agreed in September 2009 and were due to be applied for the first time in the 2011-12 season – which, of course, has come and gone. The timescale was then lengthened for the full rules to apply in 2015 instead.

You do not have to have been around football long to have profound doubt as to how strictly FFP will be applied, if at all. However, if you believe in Arsenal and what it stands for, then you should be offering prayers of hope to Uefa that it will be tough.

The ultimate solution to football’s financial problem would be the franchise system, as employed in American sports. The idea that a top new star, like basketball player LeBron James in the NBA, should be drafted to a struggling club, like Charlotte Bobcats, is total anathema to big budget football. It would be like Wayne Rooney going to Portsmouth.

Yet that model has clear advantages: it gives smaller clubs access to decent talent. And it then gives them the chance to sell or trade them, which keeps them financially bouyant.

But what the franchise system can never do is give hope – or promotion – to clubs on the way up. With a franchise system, we would not have Swansea in the Premier League, nor Wigan, and there would be no hope for any other club trying to follow them.

So there are your two extremes. The franchise system, which doesn’t work. And the current system, almost entirely unpoliced, football management the wild west way – and that doesn’t work either.

The answer is somewhere inbetween. Because otherwise we will not be asking ourselves “Do you remember when Arsenal were Premier League champions?” We will be asking: “Do you remember when Arsenal were in the Premier League?”

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Robin Van Persie
Premier League

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