On Friday afternoon, a group of us tried to explain to Arsène Wenger the squabbling and turf war behind the dispute that Leyton Orient have with West Ham United over the latter's future occupancy of the Olympic Stadium.
"But it would have been the same problem with Tottenham, no?" Wenger said, bemused. "What do Leyton Orient want? Do they want the stadium as well?"
"No, they just don't want West Ham to have it," someone replied.
Wenger contemplated another of English football's uniquely intractable problems, one connecting history, politics, tradition and, of course, money. He has seen a few in his time. He laughed. "I can't sort out that problem as well."
Only in England could we spend £547m of public money on a brand-new stadium and then, in the process of trying to gift it to a football club, descend into a bitter row that has found its endgame in what poor old Leyton Orient claim is their potential ruin. Orient, who drew with Arsenal in the FA Cup fifth round yesterday, deserve to be heard and – if necessary – protected. But solving this problem is not easy.
West Ham are not simply the bad guys. They want to fill their new 60,000-capacity home when they move in and they recognise it might take discounted tickets to do that as well as all sorts of initiatives that Barry Hearn, the chairman of Orient, fears will mean an apocalyptic future for his League One club situated due east of the Olympic site.
So what does Hearn want? He said he would have preferred Tottenham Hotspur at the Olympic Stadium because they would have been less of a threat than West Ham, but that argument does not quite add up. Spurs on Orient's doorstep, especially playing Champions League football, would potentially be just as much of a drain on Orient's fan base as West Ham offering discounts to watch their less glamorous fare.
What Hearn surely wants is compensation. He knows that he cannot fight the political imperative to have a major tenant in the Olympic Stadium and neither is he powerful enough to block a bigger club when it has the chance to move into a ready-built ground. He knows that if he complains enough, Orient might get a deal from West Ham.
What Hearn must be angling for is some kind of financial recompense calculated on God-knows-what basis. Perhaps some agreement based on a percentage of West Ham's earnings from the stadium over a certain level. But it is complicated. West Ham will point to proposals a couple of years ago that Orient might relocate to Harlow in Essex as evidence that their location is not as important to them as they now argue.
It is at this point that we search around for a respected, even-handed, independent governing body that all parties would have confidence in to come to a fair decision. The last thing English football wants is for this one to end up in the courts, especially when the Government has got its claws into the game's governance.
So the question is: has the Football Association got the courage to step in? It cannot be the Premier League which makes the decision because Orient have no stake in that body. The same goes for the Football League with West Ham (although that might change by the end of the season). As for the Government, it really should have more important things to do.
The case of Orient, West Ham and the Olympic Stadium would be an ideal opportunity for the new FA chairman, David Bernstein, to step forward and solve a complex problem. Will it be easy? No. But if the FA aspires to be a force on the tricky major issues of the modern game then negotiating a settlement on this issue would be a start.
It was noticeable that of all the bodies to which Hearn said he will write this week – the Premier League, the Government, the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London's office – as he went nuclear on his publicity about the possible effects of West Ham moving into Orient's zone of influence, he did not mention the FA. That should tell the governing body something.
It should tell it that on these difficult judgement calls which encompass interests right through professional football's hierarchy, when politics are involved too, it is not perceived as having the final say. The more the FA fails to step in to resolve these kinds of problem, the less relevant it will be to the professional side of the game.
It was an FA-appointed independent commission that gave permission in 2002 for Wimbledon to move to Milton Keynes. Since then the Premier League has introduced a rule of its own (Section I, Rule 6 in the handbook) to prevent clubs "adversely" affecting rivals, including those in the Football League, by moving grounds. But that rule, much quoted last week as if it was Hearn's trump card, is just one of six elements to that section and therefore only one part of any consideration.
Either way, West Ham are moving to the Olympic Stadium barring a monumental change of heart by the Government. The question now is: what can be done for Hearn and Orient?
In England's capital city, where professional clubs are thick on the ground, it is not inconceivable that another London club may wish to move soon. What price Chelsea moving closer to Queen's Park Rangers? Or Tottenham moving closer to Barnet, or even Stevenage? It is not reasonable to insist that clubs should always stay in the same place as they search for bigger, more profitable stadiums.
This requires governance, difficult choices made clearly and compensation awarded accordingly. Telling people what to do is not always easy – and it will not make you popular with everyone – but that is surely what the FA is there for.
Arnesen picks the perfect moment to bale out of Chelsea
Carlo Ancelotti will board the flight to Denmark this morning knowing that defeat in the Parken Stadium tomorrow to FC Copenhagen in the one competition which his club still have a realistic chance of winning could well mean the end for him at Chelsea. If not this week, then certainly at the end of the season.
In the meantime, Frank Arnesen's appointment as Hamburg's new sporting director – taking over in July – was announced on Saturday. Does anyone else detect a certain irony here? Just as another Chelsea manager cops it for having a squad that looks just a bit thin on the ground and a touch too old, the man in charge of player recruitment hits the ejector-seat button and parachutes to a safe landing elsewhere.
Potential saviours cannot spend too long in wilderness
A long time before Jack Wilshere was an Arsenal first-team player, and the potential saviour of the England midfield, there was some optimism that Michael Johnson, the Manchester City academy player who shone in his first season of regular first-team football in 2007-2008, could be just as important for English football.
Sadly, the last time Johnson played for City's first team was October 2009 and his long-awaited return from serious injury has been delayed again this week. In his photo on the squad list on City's website he is worryingly – how to put this? – full-faced. In every generation some good players fall by the wayside but England do not produce enough to lose the likes of Johnson.Reuse content