Financial fair play can help Wenger emulate Shanks
Sunday 17 April 2011
The most famous photograph of Bill Shankly has him arms aloft, greeting the throng outside St George's Hall in Liverpool. It was taken 40 years ago after an FA Cup final and the theme appears familiar; Shankly triumphant, Shankly vindicated, Shankly making the people happy.
It is deceptive. Liverpool had just lost the 1971 FA Cup final to Arsenal. Shankly had not brought a trophy to Anfield in five years and he would have to wait another two before he tasted silverware again. With his belief that football was politics by other means, he would have revelled in Sky Sports' rolling news service but he might have tired of the constant questioning of when he planned to win a trophy. After a week of Champions' League and FA Cup football in which Arsenal were not involved, these same questions were asked of Arsène Wenger, a man who transformed his club as completely as Shankly did his.
The Arsenal manager accepted that should his team fail to overcome Liverpool at the Emirates this afternoon, or win the derby with Tottenham on Wednesday, "the season will not be over but the championship will be".
The chief reason Shankly felt so bullish when taking the applause outside St George's Hall was that Liverpool were changing. He had good young players in Steve Heighway, Ray Clemence and John Toshack. "We have a pool of players that will last 10 years," he said. However, in defeat, Shankly recognised he needed something more and found it at the Old Showground, Scunthorpe, in the shape of Kevin Keegan.
It might seem strange in a week in which the American billionaire Stan Kroenke took over Arsenal but Wenger is seeking it in Uefa's financial fair play regulations that should tip the balance away from the oligarchs of Chelsea and Manchester City. "We go to the financial fair play next year," said Wenger. "I want to sit here in September and see who respects the financial fair play. We will respect the financial fair play."
Kroenke has promised that Arsenal will be run along existing lines, a policy that Wenger is happy to endorse. "I read that at Rayo Vallecano, who are top of the Second Division in Spain, some players have not been paid for a year," he said. "We want to run our business properly."
However, Wenger added that he would not rule out spending £35m on a footballer – as Kenny Dalglish did in bringing Andy Carroll to Anfield – although he pointed out that had Liverpool not received £50m for Fernando Torres, Carroll's price would have been nearer £20m.
And Arsenal will be subtly different in the summer. Wenger has always carried out his pre-season training in the Alps rather than prepare for an English autumn by flogging his players around the Far East and the United States in search of the dollars and yen that grease the wheels of Chelsea and Manchester United.
This summer, Arsenal are likely to join Chelsea and Liverpool – another club that has shied away from long tours, although Shankly, ever a pioneer, took his players to the USA – in Malaysia. The humidity may not prepare Arsenal for Bolton in November but the money might.
Arsenal v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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