In the last few years, it has felt as if Arsenal are desperately clinging to their status as a top four club.
It’s felt more akin to a relegation battle than a race towards triumph, with the Gunners seemingly spending the minimum and fervently treading water while waiting for a saviour to arrive.
That saviour’s name is Financial Fair Play.
Financial Fair Play (FFP) has a simple aim: to encourage clubs to live within their economic means; spend what you earn, but no more.
It’s easy to understand why these regulations are being introduced. UEFA were shocked into action by a startling report in 2010 that showed that over half of Europe’s top division clubs lost money.
Next season will be the first during which UEFA will actively monitor clubs’ financial activity, although their reports will also take into account the previous two years. Clubs will continue to be assessed over a three-year period in an attempt to offset any anomalous seasons, such as a single failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Arsenal stand to be one of the major beneficiaries of FFP. The Gunners have long been admired for their economic prowess, consistently reporting large profits despite a significant wage bill.
A large part of that is due to the remarkable achievement of building the football cathedral that is the Emirates Stadium. The increase in Arsenal’s match-day revenue has been dramatic.
The Gunners are also catching up when it comes to commercial income. When the club first planned to move to the site at Ashburton Grove, they were forced to tie themselves into long-term commercial deals for both kit manufacture and naming rights on the ground.
Those deals are now expiring, and Arsenal’s commercial team are securing new contracts that will significantly increase the club’s revenue. Emirates have extended their naming rights deal on the stadium for an extraordinary £150 million. Meanwhile, the club are rumoured to be on the verge of securing another £150 million from a kit contract with Puma.
Arsenal’s prudence is now paying off. Under FFP regulations, they should be able to become one of football’s financial powerhouse without driving the club in to the red.
The regulations should prevent what Arsene Wenger had called "financial doping"—as mentioned by the The Telegraph in the past—the practise of making obscene financial investments in transfer fees and player wages that are well outside the ordinary economic means of the club.
Manchester City have been particularly guilty of this. Prior to his departure earlier this season, former Manchester City football administrator Brian Marwood said via The Telegraph, “We’ve got a huge amount of work ahead of us to make sure we are sustainable.”
Arsenal, however, are good to go. They comply with the regulations straight away, and with increasing commercial income can actually afford to up their spending.
As the regulations impinge upon the spending of other clubs, they will actually liberate Arsenal.
The Gunners will once again be able to compete for the top players in Europe. Furthermore, FFP will prevent another Premier League club being bought out by a billionaire and elevated to the top of the food chain.
For a while at least, Arsenal’s position at football’s top table will be secure.
It’s not all rosy in Arsenal’s economic garden. It’s worth noting that a large proportion of their profits have come from player trading. In the financial year of 2011-12, for example, they made an extraordinary £65 million profit from player sales. This has offset a steady decline in the club’s standard operating profit.
Arsenal still have several debts outstanding. Although they have cleared all debt relating to property development, they still have debts created by the long-term bonds which function as a "mortgage" on the Emirates Stadium. Paying these debts off early would be prohibitively expensive.
These financial drains make it increasingly important that Arsenal continue to qualify for the lucrative Champions League.
If the Gunners can win that particular battle this season, they could be in a tremendous position for years to come.
Financial Fair Play is coming, and with it a potential reprieve for long-suffering Arsenal fans.
According to UEFA.com, Michel Platini has described FFP as, “vital for football’s future.” It could be just as vital for Arsenal’s future.
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