Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis today claimed that the north London club could cope well with the financial blow of failing to qualify for the Champions League.
Gazidis said that it would be “foolish” for any club to rely on revenue from the Champions League, which earned Arsenal £26 million in Uefa handouts when they reached the last 16 last season, and £45m for runners-up Manchester United.
Arsene Wenger’s team are 15th in the Premier League after losing four of their opening seven league matches of the season, which has thrown into serious doubt their chances of finishing in the top four for the 15th consecutive campaign.
“We would rather qualify for it but we have a really sustainable model that can cope without it. Not just cope, but we can do well and compete,” Gazidis said at the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge.
“It would be very foolish to build a business model that relied on being in the Champions League for perpetuity and I don’t think any clubs do that and, if they do, then they probably aren’t being run as responsibly as they should be.”
Arsenal announced a £15m pre-tax profit in their latest set of financial results last week and, even though revenue growth was flat for the year ending May 2011, Gazidis says the club are well positioned for the future.
“Every club has the temptation to think that money is the answer to issues and ‘if we only spend just a little bit more, it would push us over the top of a curve’ and that is what drives the cycle of spending that you see in the game and that is not by any means always what is successful, actually,” he continued.
“It is tempting to think that it is. It relieves pressure for a while but actually builds long-term pressure in other ways. We will continue to act with discipline to make sure we have got a good short-term and long-term future.”
A number of players – including Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy and Mathieu Flamini – have left Arsenal in recent years for teams where they have negotiated higher salaries, but Gazidis denied that the club’s wage structure is holding them back.
He said: “We don’t have a salary ceiling. I don’t know where that story comes from. We have a very sophisticated business model that looks at what we need to do to compete today and what we need to do to compete next year and five years from now. I’m comfortable we will be able to be competitive in whatever environment is created.
“We are not looking for credit for being a self-sustaining club. I do think it is the right model for us. It gives us stability and the ability to look forward with confidence without worrying too much about the ups and downs, the competitive cycle or the economic cycle.”
Gazidis gave short shrift to the possibility of billionaire Alisher Usmanov, Arsenal’s second biggest shareholder, presenting Wenger with a transfer war chest and claimed he “had not seen” comments from the Uzbek tycoon in the past about ploughing money into the club.
The Arsenal chief argued that the sums of money and risk involved in investing in Premier League clubs had put off a number of investors.
He said: “Those two things go together. The amount of risk in order to be able to compete and the amount of money you have to spend to play the game is dramatic and that means there are a handful of people in the world, literally, who are prepared to play at that level.
“But there are many people who see the potential of the Premier League, for example. It is those people, I believe, we could get involved right through the game to actually create a more competitive environment like they have in Germany, a healthy environment for the game, and also take the dramatic pressure off to spend in order to compete. While it can be attractive in the short term, it is incredibly damaging for the game in the long term."
Gazidis believes one of the consequences of Uefa’s new financial fair play rules will be to make the Premier League less predictable.
“No club wants a system that boxes in the current hierarchy forever,” he said. "Even if you are at the top, it is not healthy. I don’t believe it is healthy in Spain to have Barcelona and Real Madrid locked in at the top.
“I believe it will attract strong and capable ownership that clubs at the moment are struggling to attract investment. There are many clubs in this country that have enormous potential that could be unlocked. But can it be done in a year by buying players? No.
“There has to be a longer-term plan in terms of investing in infrastructure and developing fan engagement and relationships, and engaging more commercially. I don’t agree it locks in the hierarchy. What we have now is more predictable.”