Arsène Wenger has vowed to stick to his principles of refusing to pay inflated transfer fees for big-name players despite Arsenal announcing yesterday their latest pre-tax profits of £56m and a surplus cash reserve of £127m.
In a robust defence of his regime, Wenger, who made a £13.6m profit in player sales in the last financial year, even said that his critics would rather that he wasted money than saved it. He cited the example of Marouane Chamakh, who Arsenal signed on a free transfer after his contract at Bordeaux expired in the summer, claiming that he would have got more credit if he had spent £20m on the striker.
Wenger's words came before the latest annual results from Arsenal that demonstrated that they continue to be a model of good financial management. In addition to the record profits, the club have paid off their £130m debt six months early on their Highbury Square development – the luxury flats that were built using the stands at their former Highbury ground.
The only debt in the business now is the £239m owed on the construction of the Emirates Stadium which the club expect will be paid off in the next 20 years, with annual capital and interest repayments of around £20m. On purely football business, Arsenal's turnover is £222.9m, second only to Manchester United in the Premier League.
With their property business now generating pure profit – there are 52 more apartments to be sold and more properties to go onto the market – Arsenal do not have to fear the debt that has accompanied leveraged buy-outs of United and Liverpool. Judging by their manager's words, they are not about to change their attitude towards careful financial management. Ahead of today's home match against West Bromwich Albion, Wenger said that he was unfairly criticised for not spending in a climate where managers are praised for spending extravagantly on players. "What is unbelievable is I am in a position where people reproach me for making a profit," he said. "The people who lose money – nobody says a word.
"Reproach the people who lose money. I do business by managing in a safe way in a healthy way and on top of that you reproach me for making money. It looks like we are in a business where the quality is to lose money.
"You criticise me for not buying players but [then] Jack Wilshere [developed at Arsenal's academy] doesn't count [as a signing] so, you know, you cannot have everything. I've been long enough in the job. I believe in having a development policy, to educate the players and, the most difficult, to play them and to stand up for it.
"I will give you one day the list [of players] who have made careers with me, and you will be absolutely astonished. [Johan] Djourou, [Philippe] Senderos, [Gaël] Clichy, [Kieran] Gibbs, [Cesc] Fabregas, [Alex] Song. [Abou] Diaby, basically, had never played before, at the top level, before he came here. Jack Wilshere, Ashley Cole. It is unbelievable the number of people who started at this club.
"Do you know, I have the wrong reputation? I am not scared to spend money. But I think the job of a manager is not to spend as much money. To get Chamakh for free, instead of getting credit for that you get accused of getting him for free. Basically the attitude is 'Why did you not spend £20m on him?'
"When I go back to Monaco [Lilian] Thuram and [Emannuel] Petit, they started with me. Of course people always say to buy. But you cannot make careers and lives for people and on top of that buy every time you have an injured player."
Arsenal made a profit of £44m from their football-related business alone which compares very favourably to Chelsea's recent £44m loss. Arsenal's annual wage bill grew to £110.7m, still a respectable 49 per cent of turnover, with chief executive Ivan Gazidis warning that it is likely to go up again next season as they secure players to long-term contracts.
Gazidis said that Arsenal would not compete with "the Manchester Citys of this world" in the transfer market because that level of spending was "not sustainable for any football business".
He added: "But it still means, I believe, that we can compete with them on the pitch. We do have a policy of building and not buying, and that's a difficult path to tread sometimes, but as a result of that policy we're seeing a tremendous number of good young players progressing and developing into the finished article and I think our performance against Spurs [in the Carling Cup] on Tuesday night illustrated this."
The Balance Sheet
*Pre-tax profit and loss accounts (figures from 2008/09 Premier League unless stated)
Arsenal: £56m (09-10)
Manchester United: £48.2m (09-10)
Tottenham Hotspur: £33m
Blackburn Rovers: £3.6m
Hull City: £2m
Stoke City: £0.5m
Wigan Athletic: -£6m
Bolton Wanderers: -£13m
West Ham United: -£16m
Chelsea: -£44.4m (09-10)
Aston Villa: -£46m
Manchester City: -£93m