Q: Where are you at in terms of contract talks with Arsene?
IG: “What I really don’t want to do is have a public discussion about Arsene’s contractual position. That would be a daily, weekly fixture on the public coverage if you start getting into that. What I will say is that we think we have got a fantastic manager. We hope that he wants to do what he is doing for the long term. I believe he does. I think he is still ambitious, still driven and sees the potential of the club as he looks forward and I think he is very excited by that. We have a great relationship and he has a great relationship with the board as well. So, quietly and at the right time I think we will make an announcement on that when things are all put in place.”
Q: Have you made him an offer yet?
IG: “I don’t want to get into that level because then it’ll be: ‘you’ve made him an offer’ then the next question will be ‘well, what did he say?’ and so on. This is going to happen very quietly behind closed doors, privately and then there will be an announcement.”
Q: Can you tell us whether you have you even discussed it yet?
IG: “I don’t even want to say that. We have got a lot of confidence in Arsene that he is the right person to take the club forward and I think he will want to do that.”
Q: Will any uncertainty over the manager’s long term future affect the club’s ability to attract players?
IG: “I think players that are concerned about uncertainty probably
think about Arsenal as the most certain place they could be in the world of football. This is a club that has had remarkable consistency in terms of its manager, its football philosophy, its direction and the consistent support from the board and our principal owner for our manager is pretty much unmatched, through some difficult periods as well. So if its consistency players are looking for, I think Arsenal would be a very attractive place to come.”
Q: But it could be a different manager?
IG: “If you are asking me, is that an issue with players, the answer is ‘no.’ Its far more an issue with players signing at other clubs than it is at Arsenal. If players have that on their issue list, I think that’s a mark in our favour, not against us.”
Q: Out of the top four clubs, you are the only ones who have been stable with the manager. Why not take advantage and move quickly for players now?
IG: “It doesn’t only require our decision, it require player decision and other clubs’ decisions, so there is a market that has to move not just dependant on one party, but dependant on a number of parties and many of those parties have been in a period of uncertainty. As those situations begin to play themselves out clubs get themselves into a position where they can start to make decisions. But I think that has been generally for the market, I wouldn’t specifically say just us. Some of the seasons are just coming to an end. The Spanish season has just ended, the German season went on. So we are not exactly deep into it at this point.”
Q: We’ve spoken many times, and you are more often than not very upbeat. This is the first time I’ve seen you so realistic, possibly even pessimistic, in your summary of the season?
IG: “Look as a chief executive it is always an interesting position because you are, on the one hand, it is imperative you are realistic and ambitious about where you want to go but also realistic about what you need to do to get there. At the same time you are also a cheerleader for the club. So walking that line and getting the right tone is sometimes challenging. Look at the end of the season we finished on 73 points, that is more than last year and more again than the season before that when we had van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri. I am not going to present that as a step forward for the club, but I do think we have been resilient and consistent through this period. The disappointment is we haven’t challenged this season to win a trophy. That is my ambition, that is Stan Kroenke’s ambitions, that is the ambition of the board, that is Arsene’s ambition and that is the ambition of our players. So we get to the end of the season and we had to have a very strong run, which required a lot of strength within the club to achieve – and there is certainly a feeling of relief at having achieved that goal. But the is not really the goal we want to be aiming for at the end of the season.
“The critical thing about that is to work out how we don’t have to go through all of that again and we can go through next season and put ourselves in a position where we are really competing for major trophies towards the end of the season. And that is going to require forward progression. I think everybody realises that. There has been a long-term plan in place at this club. You are probably all sick of hearing me talk about it. The plan is incredibly ambitious and we are ahead of that plan in terms of what we are achieving off the field. The key is to translate all of that now onto the field because of course you have a chicken and egg here and you need the financial platform in order to create the sporting success but you need the sporting success in order to supply the financial platform as well. I think we have done a terrific job creating the financial platform. The club can take a lot of credit from that. But it really is time now for us to turn that into sporting success and that is what everybody here is focused on. It is how we make the right decisions to push ourselves forward on the field. I know Arsene is focused on that and we are together in that.
“This is not some veiled message about this is what we need to do otherwise something will happen. That is what we are all focusing on. We think we have got the right personnel to do that, we have got a good platform on which to build. The key to this summer is going to be making the right decisions without damaging the great team unity and spirit which we have – adding to that appropriately and I think we have the right person to do that in Arsene. I think he will make the right decisions and I think we will go into this next season with a lot of excitement around the team. We are not going to go through what we have gone through the last couple of summers with a major departure we are having to wrestle with. If there are any players to leave the squad those will be Arsenal’s decisions and Arsene’s decisions. So certainly we will take a step forward this summer, how bigger step will depend on how well we are able to execute over the next month or two.”
Q: But you are now – for the first time – operating in a different financial playing field?
“We have got fantastic support from Emirates through the new deal we’ve done with them. We’re very confident with the new deals we’ve got coming through, although we can’t talk about that in any detail. That’s showing really positive progression. We should be able to compete at a level like a club such as Bayern Munich. I’m not saying we are there by any means, we have a way to go before we can put ourselves on that level. But this whole journey over the past ten years really has been with that goal in mind which is why I say that this is an extraordinarily ambitious club. We get beaten up along the way but I think we are an extraordinarily ambitious club. This has been about putting us up with the best in the world and now the question is turning that platform now into on-field success.
Q: What do you think fans want to see?
IG: “I think fans want to see a real form of progression. I think they want to see good players being added to the team. But I think it’s important that whatever happens in the summer that it is only relevant when we start playing in August if the team is better and is performing better. Obviously always want to see big name players and sometimes they can be the critical ingredient but sometimes the critical ingredients are a little bit more complex than just that as well. There are lot of ways in which on field performance can be developed and it’s not actually all about making new signings. There’s lot of different areas that we’re looking into and looking at and making progress in. But certainly getting the right players to add to what is a solid foundation is what is going to be most visible to people and we certainly have the capability to do that.”
Q: It’s very clear that fans want big names, big players, will you be signing them?
IG: If Arsene thinks that’s the right thing to do, yes.
Q: But can you really do it? Every year we hear this but you don’t pay a certain wage?
IG: “I think that’s a little unfair to say that every year you hear this. I know what my messaging has been every year and I’ve been very careful about it. The fact is this year we are beginning to see something we have been planning for for some time, which is the escalation in our financial firepower. And that’s going to happen partly into next season – it’s part way available now in the summer but the following season as well. It’s a progression over the next two seasons. It’s quite significant for the club.”
Q: What does it mean? Can you spend more on transfers, you can have a higher top wage?
IG: “I think it means both of those things. I think it means we can look at some options that weren’t really in our financial capability.”
Q: How close does it take you to the big-shot spenders like Manchester City and Chelsea?
IG: “It’s difficult to assess that because it’s unknown – if you are competing against somebody who has limitless spending, it doesn’t take you any closer at all.”
Q: There aren’t many who are like that ?
IG: “No, there aren’t. My own view is we are moving into a new phase where if we make our decisions well, if we get the right chemistry, and if we do a variety of other things as well, not just the new players that come in but the right kind of things on the football side, that we can compete with any club in the world. We’ve seen two clubs this year in the CL final – both of whom run responsible financial models and they’re pretty fantastic teams and very exciting to watch. There’s no reason why we can’t do that.”
Q: You seem to have identified but not actually got a lot of players that you wanted – Juan Mata, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling. Are you saying you can get them now?
IG: “I hesitate to get into individual discussions. I also think there is a tremendous focus on what we haven’t got. I think there should be a little bit more focus on what we have got. I think we have some tremendous players in the squad and some players that we’ve acquired recently that other clubs would love to have. You don’t have the kind of resilience that we have as a club if you’re only making bad decisions and only failing to get the players that you want. I think we deserve a little more credit than we’ve been given. Having said that, we’ve got more financial capability and I’m sure that will help us to be able to secure the targets that Arsene wants us to do.”
Q: Is Wenger averse to spending £25m on a single player? Is there an idealogical narrative going on from him here? Doesn’t he prefer developing players?
IG: “No. There is no idealogical narrative at stake here. The idealogical narrative is we want to have the best possible players, the best possible team and compete for trophies and Arsene will do what he thinks is right to do that. There is no philosophical line in the sand and I suspect that he would pay £25m for Lionel Messi.”
Q: Is there a recognition from you and Arsene that maybe that needs to be done this summer?
IG: “I think our fans are going to respond to what they see on the field in August. I didn’t hear last summer an outcry that we must sign Santi Cazorla, but we knew he was a top-class player who would add to our team and give us something that we needed. There is a short-term narrative that we play through week by week where we will get linked with every name under the sun. People will get excited, disappointed and excited and disappointed again, for every club. In the end the most important thing is that we have the right chemistry, the right talent to be able to excite people once we open the doors in August. That is the most critical thing. That could be players that are big-name players. But it also might not be. It’s going to be the players that Arsene believes in. He is pretty blind to price tags. He looks at what he sees with his eyes and makes judgements based on that. And not on reputations and prices.”
Q: In the past, Arsene Wenger has called the wage policy a “socialist wage structure.” While we may smile about that in football, is it time for it to change?
IG: “Our biggest expense is our wage bill. It’s not something that we simply stumble upon by accident. There is a massive amount of thought that goes into it by some very very smart and thoughtful people at the club including Harvard analysts and Arsene Wenger himself is a pretty smart mathematical guy. I have been doing that myself for 14 years at Major League Soccer, where I was responsible for the management of the player pool within a budget. This is something we think about deeply and we know a lot about. We have outperformed our spend, in virtually any metric you can look at, consistently for the last 15 years. It’s an extraordinary record. So we are doing something right in the way that we spend although it may frustrate some people. We are doing something right and we are very thoughtful about it.
“It’s not something that happens by accident. As we develop new financial capabilities, clearly, that wage bounds will change. It’s under review all the time. It’s never been fixed in stone. It really depends on what the circumstances are as you move forward, what the market looks like, where you see the opportunities, where you think the value is. That will change and if we – which we do – want to attract and also keep the very best talent then we have to pay them the market rate. There is a complete understanding of that at the club. So yes, our wage structure will evolve, as it has over the last five years. It will continue to evolve with a new financial capability behind it, which means we can do some things perhaps that we haven’t been able to do while we have had one hand tied behind our back.”
Q: Can you buy a Martinez like Bayern? Big fee, not astronomical wages? Would you ever buy a player for a big fee who is not on massive wages?
IG: “The assumption behind your question is that there have been rules preventing us from doing that in the past. There haven’t been rules. There has been a financial constraint and we had a strategy within those financial parameters which hasn’t delivered what we all want, I accept that, but that has been carefully thought through. It doesn’t mean that if we had the opportunity to sign somebody we thought was extra special at a price we thought made sense that we wouldn’t do it. So when you come back to the socialist wage structure or limit on transfer fees we would pay. These things don’t really exist. It really depends on individual circumstances and how much Arsene believes a particular player is the critical piece for us. We’re going to be emerging into the new period in our development, a very exciting period, I think, which will mean if we think we can get the right value and a player is really special and Arsene believes in it, we can make some exciting moves and I think our fans will be pleased over the next couple of years to see the club making some progressive steps.”
Q: For example, would you be able to buy a player for £25million and £200,000 a week?
IG: “Of course we could do that. We could do more than that. We have a certain amount which we’ve held in reserve. We also have new revenue streams coming on board and all of these things mean we can do some things which would excite you. What excites Arsene isn’t necessarily what excites you. We can think about all kinds of things. The important thing for us as a club, and it may frustrate everybody but we don’t think about what’s going to excite our fans for the next couple of weeks, we think about what’s going to excite them when we start playing in August and hopefully when we’re in March and April and competing. That’s what we’re focusing on. For Arsene, it’s a question of getting the right players, the ones he believes in, not necessarily the players the fans want. He’s very disciplined about his beliefs and how he wants to structure a team. And he’s done a fantastic job at that over a long period. He has new tools available to him financially and I think he’ll make good use of them.”
Q: Can you compete with the three clubs who finished above you, three new managers bringing in big players?
IG: “Can we compete? Yes we can. This year we were five points behind Manchester City and two or three points behind Chelsea.”
Q: What about financially?
IG: “I can’t compete with somebody who has an unlimited budget. I don’t know what their budgets are. If you are telling me they have unlimited budgets, no I can’t compete because I double my bid and they will double it again. There are new rules in the Premier League and we will see how those are enforced. There is a wage cap, for example, so teams are not allowed to spend more than they did last year in wages from the new TV money unless they have commercial revenue, as we do, coming in from other sources. I’m not quite so sure it is going to be a free-spending bonanza that you are envisaging with the question.
“Teams will have to live within those constraints. I can’t foresee exactly what the transfer window will be. What I can tell you is that I believe that we will have a team next season that is more capable than the team we have had this season for a couple of reasons. One, some of our younger players will develop and get better. I think we saw that even in the course of the season. We had a team with a number of new players who had to fit in and learn the English game. I think they will be hitting the ground running and there will be new additions over the summer. I think those three things make me confident that we will have a squad that is more capable of competing.”
Q: You talked about the boffins who drew up the wage policy…?
IG: “They don’t draw up the wage policy – that is not what I said. We are not advised. Arsene and I have a huge amount of experience in this area. Arsene is the guy that decides the talent that we want to have. We also have people who do analystics, at our direction, to help us to think about that.”
Q: But on the back of a fag packet, if you ask a fan, do you want to pay Squillaci, Chamakh and Djourou 60k a week or pay 180k on a stellar signing, they’d say pay someone 180k a week. Why don’t you do that?
“I’m not going to get into an individual debate on individual players. I’ll come back to what I told you before…”
Q: But there are players nowhere near the first team on 60k a week?
IG: “Ok…there’s an awful lot of hypotheticals you can come up with with every club about wouldn’t you rather have this guy, who turned out to be a bargain, rather than these three guys who turned out not to be a bargain and cost just as much. You can go through every single club and find your examples of that. The way to assess whether a club is doing it well or not? I don’t know any other measure to see whether a club does that well or does it poorly, than to look at their overall spending and compare it against their performance and when we do that with Arsenal, every single year, we outperform our spend.
“It’s very possible to do it for a couple of years, either because you spend money a certain way or because you are lucky, it is extraordinary difficult to do that consistently over time. It doesn’t happen by accident. We get criticised a lot because we are perceived as somehow foolish with some of our choices, or not ambitious with some of our choices. I don’t think that is fair criticism. I think we do this, not as well as we can, we need to improve, every club needs to improve, but I think on any objective measure we do this well.”
Q: So imagine how you would do if you spent more money?
IG: “That’s exactly right, I totally agree. Thats why I’m excited as I look forward because our capability to spend is going up and our efficiency of spend has always been good and I don’t think that is going to fall away over the next couple of years. We have got a proven record. So what you will see is certainly an Arsenal team that is getting better over the next couple of years unless we make big mistakes but historically we have got a manager who has got a proven of doing this extremely well over a long period of time. And his financial capability will be better. Do I think that Arsene will always be somebody who gives chances to young players? Yes I do. Do I think he’ll always be out on the training ground, developing talent? Yes I do. But do I think that means he can’t appreciate world class established talent and make bold decisions? I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.”
Q: What do you think will happen at Manchester United, post Fergie? Will they be as much of a threat?
IG: “Who knows? Manchester United are a fantastic club. Anybody who thinks they’re going to take a dip is making some optimistic assumptions. We’re assuming everybody will be more competitive next year and we have to be more competitive. We’re a very transparent club. Our accounts are there, and if you’ve got the right skills you can get to the bottom of them.”
Q: Can you be certain that none of your good players will leave this summer?
IG: “Quietly we did a good job during the season of tying down most of out important players to long-term contracts. We’re in a very strong contractual position, not just for this summer, but looking forward. We’ve got a lot of players locked into contracts, which is why we’ve got a very strong, robust foundation going forward. The critical thing for us is making the right decisions in terms of additions.”
Q: Will Sagna go?
IG: “I don’t want to comment on any individual player.”
Can you confirm there is a buy back option on Fabregas? Would that interest you?
IG: “I’m not going to comment on any individuals. I don’t want to comment on it. I just don’t want to comment on individual players and targets and speculation as to whom we might be interested in and so on. It’s not where I wanna go.”
Q: There must be a need to get the right players in now?
IG: “We’ve got an important opportunity. We’ve got the right guy in charge to make those decisions, but you can never guarantee things will work out the way you want in football.”
Q: Can you win the league next season?
IG: “We need to make improvements for me to be able to see that, so I’ll have a fairer idea once we get through the summer, but yes I do. That’s what our ambition is, what our goal is, and what the whole thing is about.”
Q: Your message about Arsene’s continuity has been very clear. Will his long term future at the club be dependent on whether you go through another season like this? And if it ends up trophy-less the fact that Arsene represents the philosophy and approach and he embodies that, will that prove more important than the fans’ frustration about a ninth year without a trophy?
IG: “I don’t want to talk about hypotheticals in the next season. We’re focusing right now on what we have to do to move forward into next season. I’m very optimistic about it, we’ve got the right man at the helm. That’s where we are at the moment and looking forward to being able to put together something that will make our fans excited optimistic and most importantly it will have us in competition to win something next year.”
Here are some questions from the floor, submitted in advance to Ivan Gazidis
Q: Since you’ve (Gazidis) been at the club, I think we’ve descended into a second rate team. I don’t think we can attract top class players like we did when we signed Sol Campbell and Dennis Bergkamp. What evidence can you give us that we can sign that class of player?
IG, once again showing a cute self awareness; started by acknowledging that “I know my answers are usually too long so I’ll try to shorten them this time! The landscape has changed significantly in the last decade and again in the last few years, but we have a vision not to put our football club into the pockets of a wealthy owner. The key for us is to be able to generate enough resources to be able to compete. We think we can extend our revenues to around the £300m mark in the next couple of years, which is about what Bayern Munich make and they have a similar philosophy to us, they rely on their own resources. Nobody would suggest that Bayern Munich aren’t able to compete for the top talent in the transfer market.
If we make the right decisions, there is no reason why we can’t compete at the same level as them. We will continue to trust the judgement of the manager on our talent and the decisions he makes. It’s impossible to predict the future, we wouldn’t have predicted 5 years ago that Abu Dhabi would pump the money in that they have, we haven’t seen yet quite how FFP will work out. But with that £300m turnover, we will be able to compete with other top clubs and the way that other top clubs do.”
Q: Why did we give Manchester United the title by selling them Robin van Persie?
IG: It’s one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever had to make. I understand the people that say we should have let his contract run down and I accept that what happened is difficult to agree with. Our motivation was not to pocket £24m, it was a decision about how best to develop our team’s potential with the choices that we had- all of which were bad. It hurts me to see him score goals and win the league with Manchester United, of course I don’t feel happy or good about myself seeing that.
Retaining players in the current environment has been one of our biggest challenges. I don’t want to say it would have been impossible to keep him for the last year of his deal. I’ve been involved in player contracts for over 20 years and I’ve seen that work and I’ve seen it not work. So I don’t want to lie and say it would have been impossible. But none of our choices with Robin were good ones.
Q: Yes, but why didn’t the club incentivise him to stay? Whether it be through goal bonuses or bonuses for winning trophies?
IG: Financial incentives are not always the issue. Robin van Persie is a guy who always gave his best, both for Arsenal and now for Manchester United. Financial incentives weren’t all that was important to him.
Q: Arsene Wenger says, in his words, that he’s only interested in super quality players. Yet we’ve seen some far from super quality players arrive. You’ve spoken about the money available to him. Is Arsene Wenger committed to spending it and spending it on more expensive, better quality players?
IG: Arsene is committed to top class that he believes in. That’s not always necessarily the most expensive. Santi Cazorla wasn’t that expensive but he is top class. Now I’m not sending a message that all deals will be like Cazorla so everything will be alright. But any deal starts with the talent with the manager believes in. We believe in his judgement, if we didn’t, we’d have the wrong man. We think he has done an outstanding job in this environment.
We have always made the money we generate available to him to spend, it’s a very simple philosophy. That hasn’t been enough to compete with a club like Manchester United and Chelsea and Manchester City. Where Arsene has done an outstanding job is to stay in the mix of the top teams, not where we want to be, but in the mix, on a relatively limited budget. He is not scared to spend money but he has to believe he is getting a top class player. The parameters in which he has to operate is to spend what the club can afford and my job is to make that as big as possible and Arsene’s job is to think about which talent he wants to spend that on in the best way possible.
It’s absolutely a joint mission between myself, Arsene and Stan Kroenke to put Arsenal at the top of world football. We haven’t gone forwards, but we haven’t gone backwards either. Now we have to go forwards. You’re asking me to guarantee that money will all be spent. But it also depends on what talent is available. If we only find one player that we like, we won’t spend twice as much on him just so we can say we spent all of the money. That doesn’t make any sense to me. The key will be to buy the players Arsene Wenger believes in.
Q: You’ve been quoted as saying that the club has to reconsider the flat wage structure in order to pay the best players the best salaries. Yet just a few weeks ago Arsene Wenger said he decides what players are paid and that he prefers a ‘socialist’ wage structure. Can you confirm that player salaries are your responsibility?
IG: Where we start is assessment of talent before we even think about the wages. Arsene assesses the talent. Once he makes that assessment we look at how to fit it in. We’re going to have to pay market rates and we’re going to have to evolve. I think the situation will evolve so that top players will earn more and players in the middle will stay about the same. So our structure will have to evolve.
Arsene is completely on board with that. He is not afraid to pay world class money for world class talent. We have never said that there was an absolute structure and I’m not sure I know which comments from Arsene you were referring to. We’ve competed against clubs that have spent much more than us and overall- I know that’s a word Arsene likes to use a lot- we think he has done a good job.
Q: Why do Arsenal labour in the process of buying players? We don’t seem to ever get business done early or quickly?
IG: The last couple of windows haven’t been easy. We’ve lost players which has made planning difficult. If you have an unlimited budget, it’s easier to do. I wouldn’t choose to go through what happened two summers ago again when we bought a lot of players towards the end of the window, some of whom didn’t work out, some of whom did work out. Last summer we did most of our business early, we knew we wanted Cazorla but had to wait for the situation at Malaga to ripen.
For this window, we don’t have the same uncertainty as the last few. Though it’s another strange window this year with a lot of managers changing, the influence of financial restrictions are being seen now. But there has to be agreement with his player and his club. Obviously our aim is to do business as early as possible. The Champions League qualifier in August won’t affect our plans. It’s never been an issue when we’ve discussed with players before and it doesn’t affect our planning.”
Q: How long before the Financial Fair Play regulations take effect and do you think they will make any difference?
IG: UEFA have set out to assess the last two seasons, this being the last season before decisions are made and the first round of enforcements. Most financial results aren’t published until October, so next summer we’ll begin to see that. The wage cap is already in where clubs cannot raise their salary spend compared to the previous summer, unless they have significant commercial money coming through. We’re well placed for that, but nobody really knows how this will play out yet. It will depend on the will of UEFA and the Premier League and we don’t control that.
Q: What are the specific roles of yourself, Dick Law and Stan Kroenke and what would you say are your successes on the playing side?
IG: I have been asked what it is I do before but much less politely than that, so thank you! We have an owner that hasn’t put any debt on the club, who hasn’t taken any management fees, he doesn’t treat the club as his own personal fiefdom or as his plaything. He’s respectful of the club’s freedom. We’re lucky to have an owner with a vast experience in sports and sports ownership, with significant contacts and he’s supported the club very tangibly. A lot of our commercial successes are down to his knowledge.
My job is off the field, to represent the club and supporting the manager and his footballing conditions. Dick Law works with me and Arsene in negotiation of player deals, he has vast experience in that, he speaks 5 different languages and flies all around the world to negotiate deals. Arsene is in charge of the talent and myself and Dick Law give him support.
Q: Many have turned against you and the manager this season, inside and outside the ground. How does that reverberate around the club? How does it influence you and your planning? Does it make you doubt yourself?
IG: Many work around the club and I don’t just see myself as an individual here, and we give everything we have got every day. We are all motivated by elevating this club to the top of world football. This is not a job or club you come into without a passion for it. Everybody here has a passion, they give their lives and live for our results. It saddens me that people don’t understand that and it’s my failing that I haven’t communicated that well enough.
We are weaker when we are not united as a club with the fans. The criticism hurts us and it doesn’t do the players any good. But I don’t criticise it, I understand it because we are all frustrated. If you think I come away from a game like Bradford or Blackburn and feel good about myself I can tell you I don’t. We all care about the same things. We are building the football club, we’re doing it the hard way but believe me, we are making progress. But I think over the last couple of years, in the really difficult moments, the fans have come together. I think of the 8-2 against United which was a horrible day and I think of the second half of the last two seasons and I think the fans have really pulled together for us. That unity can push us over the line.
Q: I’m sure you’d agree, Ivan, that Arsenal have some of the most loyal and passionate away support in the country. We routinely sell out our away allocations domestically and in Europe. Yet in the Premier League, away support is continually taken for granted. Arsenal fans are charged category A prices everywhere we go and often face poor conditions. The AST have talked with fans from other supporters’ trusts about pressuring the Premier League to deal with this centrally. Can you and the club throw your weight behind this?
IG: I think you’re right. The fans are brilliant, everywhere we go. Home and away as you say, we always have huge numbers. We have been encouraging and pushing the Premier League to look at the issue of away tickets and we’re supportive of finding a solution. It’s complex, not least because of the sensitivities of how you treat home fans versus how you treat away fans. But we’re fully supportive of the process of reviewing this and of any recommendations that come from that review.
Q: Has the club reviewed the situation in the boardroom in terms of succession planning?
IG: I have seen the AST suggestion and spoken with the AST about the report they commissioned into the boardroom which we are grateful for. We are in the process of reviewing that. It’s no secret that we have an ageing board, they understand and acknowledge that too. But this is something that we are currently reviewing.
Q: Clubs such as Aston Villa, Sunderland and West Ham United have publicly supported safe standing. Is there any chance that you and Arsenal will do too?
IG: Both myself and Arsene have gone on record as being open to the idea. There’s a lot of work to be done in the area and there are a lot of complex issues and emotional issues around it too. If the government shows a willingness to open that door, we’d definitely look at that. We’re open minded about it. But I have to be candid and say that, at the moment, there’s no suggestion that the government will open that door.
At this stage, unvetted questions were invited from the floor.
Q: I’m surprised that there has been no reference to Red & White Holdings tonight, everybody’s been very quiet about it. If they’re talking about putting money in, why don’t we take it?
IG: We’ve supported financial restrictions and they would prohibit the sort of cash injection you suggest. So it wouldn’t do us much good. Not sure an explosion of spending on salaries and transfer fees is healthy for the game overall. Arsenal Football Club will always do well, but it’s bigger than just Arsenal, it’s about the whole of football too. It saddens me to see great clubs having to compete for outside investment, we want to broaden good ownership in the game. If that doesn’t happen, Arsenal will still go on and do well.
Q: You’ve spoken a lot about Bayern this evening. Is there any chance we’ll ever hear you say what Uli Hoeness said recently about ticket pricing?
IG: They are in a different environment in the Bundesliga. You look at this year’s Champions League final between two great clubs and two great teams. I think there’s a lot we can learn from the Bundesliga. I’ve been a big fan for more than a decade. Their model on ticket pricing is very different and the way they make their money is very different. They have relatively low ticket pricing and very high commercial revenues.
One of things coming into Arsenal that was very clear to me was that we were too dependent on local revenue streams and now we’re moving towards ‘spreading the burden’ if you like and diversifying those revenue streams. We hadn’t really grasped the international value of our brand and commercialised that. We’ve relied hugely on our ticket revenue streams, but as our commercial revenues grow and actually, as our broadcast revenues grow, it balances our revenue in a better way and it takes some of the pressure off. I cannot tell you that we’re going to go the whole way of the Bundesliga, because their model is very different, but if we develop our commercial revenue streams, it takes the pressure off of local revenues.
Q: What does the club do if the financial restrictions aren’t applied?
IG: We’re in favour of it, but it doesn’t mean it’s part of our strategy. We don’t control it so we can’t rely on it. What would we do differently? Nothing. We’d do the same things in both worlds, just like Bayern are doing. They have revenues of around £300m and we’re nearly there. We’ve every chance of competing in an unregulated world like they do.
Q: Since 2005, the defensive side of the squad hasn’t been good enough. It seemed to take the manager until around March this year to put his mind to it and it showed he can do it when he tries. Do other coaches have enough influence?
IG: We had the second best defence in the league this season, now that may be down to personnel and form. I think certainly having players in the midfield that helped protect their defence helped. Players grew into their roles and became more confident as a unit. We had a lot of new players, there’s been a lot of change at the club over the last few summers. If you want my opinion, I think we looked more cohesive as the season went on.
Of course Arsene listens to his staff and they are not shy about coming forward, believe me. They have added their own dynamic to the set up. Arsene takes overall responsibility, but yes they contribute and he listens.
Q: A few years ago, you spoke about applying your ‘laser focus’ to some of the players in the squad that weren’t contributing. The club have released three players this week that weren’t contributing. Will you be applying your ‘laser focus’ to the remaining deadwood?
IG: This is the sort of question that terrifies me! I don’t want to get into a discussion on individuals, some players haven’t been able to contribute as we would have liked, we all know that. We need to make sure we address that as an absolute priority. Overall, our spend is very strong and much better than other clubs. That’s not to say we can’t improve, we need to get better.
Q: The underlying atmosphere of these questions tonight has been that the transfer deals and the performances haven’t been good enough, which is why the questions have been phrased as they have. Have we already missed a trick this summer by not getting deals done quickly and catching Mourinho, Pellegrini and Moyes with their pants down?
IG: No, I don’t think we’ve missed a trick. We need the agreements of clubs and players to do deals. We deal in a relatively small group of players at the top level of the game. We’re working very hard but in every case, I know the reasons why the deals for players we’re talking to haven’t happened yet.
Q: Is there any prospect of a stadium capacity increase and what are the club doing to encourage a better atmosphere in the ground?
IG: We’re in a good place with capacity and due to the stadium design, it’s not easy to extend anyway. We think 60,000 is about right for us. With regards to atmosphere, we’ve looked at things inside the stadium and made some changes to make it more welcoming. It’s been challenging to get like minded fans together, which certainly contributes to a better atmosphere inside. I know there’s a long tradition of fans going to the pub before games and we don’t want to stop that, that’s how I went to football before I worked here. But we have worked to make the place more welcoming. If we can get food at the right prices- and I think I’m right in saying we have some of the cheapest pies in the league here now (said with wry smile), then we hope we can help create a more welcoming environment.
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