Will the Champions League Become the New Carling Cup?


As Arsenal prepare for Matchday 2 of the Champions League Group Stage this evening, it is hard to look at the changes made to this part of the tournament by Michel Platini, European football’s equivalent to the anti-christ, as being, in any way, beneficial to the competition.

Platini’s motives are somewhat sound, even if his execution is not. Platini wanted to see smaller teams get into the Champions League Group Stage and he has done that. But has it helped the tournament, or will it help the smaller domestic leagues represented by such minnows as Unirea Urziceni or Debrecen or Rubin? I believe not. In fact, Platini’s reforms to the group stage will actually prove detrimental to both of those causes.

First, it has watered down the group stage to the point where, for some sides, it can almost be treated as an afterthought; Arsenal being the prime example. Our toughest fixture, the away tie at Olympiakos, is the final match of the group stage, by which time, Arsenal’s place in the knockout stage will likely be assured.

It is highly likely that we see Arsene Wenger using the last one or two group stage matches to give some of the youngsters Champions League experience, just like he does with the Carling Cup.Wanting to spread the Champions League places around to smaller countries at the expense of the big football nations is a noble gesture but misguided in the extreme.

UEFA’s goal should be to make the Champions League the best possible competition it can be. This is not done by adding extra qualifying rounds which see teams like Celtic or Sporting Lisbon miss out so a club like Rubin can get in. Long-term effects will be felt when television ratings continue to decline for Group Stage matches.

Interest has been waning on the part of the footballing public in the Group Stage for a few years now and this will only perpetuate that trend. If a club like Chelsea, in a 40,000 seater cannot sell out a Champions League match, then something is wrong. And who can blame Chelsea supporters, or anyone else, for staying at home and watching their club on television rather than paying ridiculous prices to watch their side take on a club that would in all likelihood go out of the Carling Cup with a full-strength side in the third or fourth rounds.

Secondly, these changes will hinder more than help these smaller domestic leagues. The benefits of the Champions League Group Stage money to only one side in these domestic leagues will tip the scales of competition. These payouts will give a club like Unirea Urziceni a huge advantage in their domestic league and we will likely see that, because of the Champions League revenue they earn, the same clubs will consistently win their domestic leagues.

This will unsettle the balance in the domestic leagues which send their champions to the Group Stage. So while it may seem that the tournament is “opening up,” in the long run, that will prove to be wrong. At the same time, competition in the domestic leagues will turn into something resembling the Scottish Premier League, only without one of the Old Firm clubs.

Exactly how this will benefit smaller countries’ domestic football and the Champions League itself, is hard to imagine.

Nicklas Fender-Bendtner

Bendtner crash Yes, that is Nicklas Bendtner’s £160,000 Aston Martin. Looking at that picture it is hard to see how he was able to escape that wreck with only some cuts and bruises. Bendtner was heading north on the A1 when the accident occurred and there were no other cars involved. How does someone do THAT to their car in an accident where no other cars are involved.

Further details about the crash have not been forthcoming, but one has to wonder just exactly what was Nicklas doing. I’m no accident expert, but it would seem to me that a fairly significant amount of speed would need to be involved for the car to sustain damage like that. I

‘m sure all of us Gooners are relieved that he did not sustain any major injuries in the crash but I’m sure we also wish he’d be a bit more careful. While he is now unavailable for tonight’s match, he should return for Sunday, Wenger said. (See video below.)

The Development

HighburySo much speculation and false information flies around the internet, and the regular media, regarding Arsenal’s financial health. Uninformed conspiracy theories abound about the Board not spending money so they can keep it for themselves, despite the fact that Arsenal does not pay dividends to shareholders. This is even more ridiculous considering that Arsenal’s financial reports are available to the public, published every year in the late Fall. But those who push these kinds of theories are not predisposed to read or likely to understand a financial report.

Even in the regular media, who are paid to research and understand these things, I keep hearing things like, “Arsenal can’t spend because of all the debt from building the stadium.” The fact is that the Emirates generates over £3m per matchday. That is over £90m per year. The amount it costs the club to service that debt is only a fraction of that revenue at around £30m. Do the math.

In reality, the stadium, due to favorable financing and its subsequent success,  generates considerable revenue for the club. Unlike United and Liverpool’s debt which was incurred by their new owners taking loans to buy the club and then placing them on the clubs’ books. In effect, the supporters are paying for the Glazers to have bought United. That is why comparisons between the debt of Arsenal and United or Liverpool does not make any sense.

Would you borrow £250 that had to be paid back at £30 per year, if that money meant that you make an additional £90 each year. Of course. It doesn’t take a business or finance major to know that.

Arsenal have now sold 600 of the 655 apartments at Highbury Square. In the current economic climate, that is not too bad. The rest will be sold in time when the economy picks back up. In the meantime, Arsenal have negotiated a new loan plan for the real estate arm of the company, which is completely autonomous from the footballing side. This means that losses incurred from the Highbury development are not the responsibility of the football club itself.

Yet rumours continue to fly about how Arsenal are keeping the money from this summer’s transfers to pay off the failing Highbury development. The fact that Arsenal, despite the economic situation, were able to renegotiate their loan plan shows confidence in the project and the company as a whole on the part of the banks involved.

Arsenal Station will be analyzing the numbers when they are released in a months’ time to give our readers a clear picture of the club’s financial state.

Arsene Wenger and Media Controversy

Arsene Wenger 5
If you read Arsenal Station regularly, you will know that I regularly criticize the British press, especially their treatment of Arsenal. Today, Arsenal Station guest contributor, Ted Harwood, continues that tradition with a look at the media’s reaction following the incident between Jack Wilshire and Jerome Thomas in Arsenal’s third-round Carling Cup match last weekend.

The football reporter’s job cannot be easy.  He or she is expected to watch 90 minutes of play, attend a post-match interview with a manager or assistant, and cobble together not only about 500 words on the match itself, but related commentary and opinion focusing on the larger implications of the match beyond bulges of the net and league position.

For a club like Arsenal, this process happens probably close to sixty times per year, and the reading public expects every article to be interesting, fresh, and lively.  Every bit of information and talk helps.

Thus, it is not surprising that the following exchange occurred at Arsène Wenger’s press conference on Tuesday evening after Arsenal’s 2-0 Carling Cup victory over West Bromwich Albion:

Reporter: Have you spoken to Roberto [DiMatteo]? He seemed upset with the sending off and particularly Jack Wilshere’s role in that. He seemed to suggest that something had been said that upset Thomas.

Wenger: I don’t know.  My eyes are not great, and my ears are even worse [laughter], because I couldn’t hear anything from the touch line.

The question (or at least the presupposition behind it) is absurd and disingenuous.  Wenger, exuding the maximum of his post-win charm and grace, turned the moment into a self-deprecating joke (this probably would not have happened after an Arsenal loss), but one feels that he could just have easily have said, “I was standing 150 feet away in a stadium full of people yelling in the middle of one of the largest conurbations on Earth.”

Arsene Wenger StatueIf he did speak to DiMatteo, there is no reason to think that a) DiMatteo gave him an unbiased account of events, or b) the discussion would need to be made public.

Being a media critic by training, I cannot help but wonder at the motivation behind asking a question when no satisfactory answer is possible, so please forgive me if I seem to be making a mountain of a molehill.

It does seem, though, that as the media’s need for information grows, this type of question becomes more exemplary, and Wenger, being a manager of one of the world’s largest clubs, will always face this type of questioning whenever there is a controversial moment.

To be fair, he does bring much of it on himself; he has even recently admitted that he only pretended to know nothing about events in the past in order to protect his players from the media pressure.  But to ask him if he knows anything about what was said on the pitch is both fruitless, potentially aggravating, and certainly mischievous.

Even if Wenger did know something about what was said, it hardly matters at all in the immediate aftermath.  The referee is the person solely responsible for interpreting events on the pitch, and (aside from the involved players) the best positioned to know what was said or done and how to handle it.  A manager’s opinion, at least in a post-match presser, will not change the score.Arsene Wenger in the crowd

Asking about a manager’s knowledge of events on the pitch beyond tactics and performance reveals more about the media than it does about the match, and 99% of the time it accomplishes little more than stoking controversy (which, of course, the media desires).

Immediately after a match, a manager is not going to come out and say that player x insulted player y’s wife, even if he had spoken to player x about the incident in the few minutes between the final whistle and the interview.

One almost suspects that the media expects managers to lie to protect their players, and asks of them questions that they could not possibly hope to know the answer to in the hopes of catching them out and creating more news.

Wenger has the trust of his players, and he will deal with any behavior that will damage the club, as would all competent managers, but to ask him immediately after a match what he knows about an incident of words between two players on the pitch is a silly fact of today’s media climate.