Financial Doping: A Far Bigger Problem Than Arsene Wenger Thought (and he’s at it too)

This appeared on SB Nation on 12/9/11. It appeared on some site called Droppin Dimes or something on that day too, credited to a flagrant plagiarist by the name of Ricky. Tit.

What, as George W. Bush doubtless wants to know, is the French term for double entendre?

Arsene Wenger almost certainly knows. He knows how to execute a pearler too; financial doping is a superb example.

There is, first off, the obvious meaning, Wenger coined the phrase financial doping to describe the inauthentic beefing up of the ‘value’ of players as a consequence of the completely disproportionate spending power of, first, Chelsea, and then, Manchester City.

These clubs, desperate to upgrade a mediocre squad, and with almost limitless resources, would pay whatever necessary to ensure the arrival of a decent-than-average player, or Shawn Wright-Phillips. He, in fact, is a classic example of this; if the famous (possibly apocryphal) story is to be believed, Wenger enquired about the availability of the son of former Arsenal legend (now national embarrassment) Ian Wright’s son during his first spell in Manchester. Apparently considering a bid in the range of £10 million, Wenger decided against formalizing his approach for the player when it transpired that Chelsea were preparing to more than double that.

This story is probably exaggerated, but it is certainly true that by splurging that much money on one player from an, at that time, provincial club, Abramovich is injecting money from outside football into football: financial doping.

That’s meaning one and, having been debated for a decade or so, it has now (it would seem) been outlawed by UEFA through the Financial Fair Play scheme.

To be clear, neither Chelsea nor City invented this form of performance enhancement; their methods are arguably more legitimate than those used by the Old Firm in Scotland, who use banks’ money, or Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain who use a mixture of taxpayers’ money and that which should belong to other clubs.

Meaning two, which is most likely unintentional (though, let’s be honest here, the best puns usually are), has only really become evident recently.

In sport (and possibly rock and roll), doping entails enhancement; in other professions (acting, medicine or teaching, for example) dope is a really bad idea, because it makes you stupid. Money does the same thing, and the knock-on effect of the transfer market being, like the neck veins of certain athletes, too big to believe is that it creates a species of doped up footballer, too moneyed up really to care about why he got into this gig in the first place.

Danny Taylor of the Guardian ran a piece this weekend describing Wayne Bridge as the example a new phenomenon he called the non-paying footballer. Bridge is a good example, because he basically doesn’t play at all and gets paid handsomely for it; but he’s not a very interesting one. No-one’s footballing landscape is particularly spoiled by his absence, is it?

There are other examples of players who become hooked on silly money to the detriment of their careers. Manchester City have a few examples of these on (or in some cases partially on) their books.

The two most interesting of which are Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz. Now on loan at Tottenham Hotspur and Betis, Adebayor and Santa Cruz were, in 2007-08 (when both enjoyed seasons’ uninterrupted by injury) pretty hot Premier League properties, scoring 30 goals for Arsenal and 23 for Blackburn Rovers respectively. It would be simplistic to cite money as the only reason for the declines of these players (who have scored 18 Manchester City goals between them), but it is clearly the case that big money moves, and huge salary increases, have coincided with marked declines.

Again City are far from unique in this, Arsenal themselves are guilty. Such is Wenger’s desire to retain the value of his young players that he will offer them huge salaries (and, if the Bendtner rumors are true, squad numbers to match) that other clubs are not prepared to match, effectively doping them into complacency at Arsenal (if they fancy getting games elsewhere, they can do so on loan – Arsenal will still pay their wages).

This type of financial doping is just as damaging for football as the type against which Wenger turned his phrase. It results in talented players being magnetized to a few clubs, where they’ll either become great (although there actually aren’t too many examples of that, maybe Samir Nasri will be one?) or become shadows and when that happens, the league, which would be much more competitive (and fun) if Bendtner cared about Sunderland (or Arsenal), suffers.

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21 Responses to Financial Doping: A Far Bigger Problem Than Arsene Wenger Thought (and he’s at it too)

  1. Bobbins says:

    Fuck off. Absolute crap.

  2. Adam says:

    Not a bad article.
    Anyone with a name like bobbins is obviously a massive cock smoker.

  3. David says:

    I’m sorry but this is absolute rubbish. Does the author understand the concept of “financial doping”? Does he have any understanding of economics? Arsenal’s pay structure allows them to remain self sustaining. In other words they pay players a salary the club can afford. Clubs like City and Chelsea lose money every year. They can’t afford the wages they are paying and rely on outside money to do so. By doing so they distort the market that everyone else operates in so that it no longer operates like a market should.

    The doping isn’t about individual players. It refers to clubs being financed with outside money. Wenger has a degree in economics, but it doesn’t take a degree to figure it out.

  4. Greg says:

    Nicley done, thanks. I don’t know who that bobbins fella is, but he forgot his meds this morning.

    I would like more info on the Old Firm / Banks thing.

    • Calum says:

      Thanks Greg, it was a bit of a throwaway line and not truly reflective of Rangers’ recent problems with Barclays. I meant to reference the traditional arrangements that Rangers and Celtic are able to make with banks at hugely preferential rates compared with those usually available to football clubs (especially Scottish football clubs). This article by Swiss Ramble: is very good on Celtic’s finances, it references a loan from the Co-Operative bank to Celtic that is on very friendly rates – almost equivalent to the rates at which banks systematically lend to each other.

  5. Tom says:

    Christ, I wonder which club ‘David’ supports. David, when you saw the word ‘meaning two, which is most likely unintentional…’, what did your brain turn those words into? By the way, I’ve got a degree in economics too, so stick that in your chippy pipe and smoke it.

    I agree that the non-playing footballer is a big problem in the league at the moment; I found an old Italia 90 sticker book at my Dad’s house the other day, and was amazed by the variety of clubs providing players to England, Italy, Spain, etc. (Steve Bull wasn’t even in Div 1!)

    Whereas now, with football being so dependent on big squads, and clubs able to pay players to just sit around in case they’re needed, all the talent in the game is just clustered around the big-spending sides. If Man U, Chelsea, Citeh, Spurs, Liverpool, Arsenal (maybe not Arsenal nowadays), just had 17 top players, then all the surplus quality would be beefing up teams like Everton, Newcastle, Sunderland, etc. and improving the league (and the England team possibly – six or seven good players playing regularly in each position would be a great bonus, rather than one or two playing and five or six sat on the bench long term.)

  6. Alex says:

    I don’t think you really understand what you were writing about.

    ‘Financial doping’ refers to clubs living outside their means, with no consequence. Historically, if a club wished to do that in the short term it meant loading themselves with a period of debt repayment in the future. All well and good, it’s how many clubs worldwide have operated for a long time. Where the ‘doping’ comes in is the removal of consequence through injection of outside funds which require no repayment.

    To equate this; as in the article; as in any way related to handsomely rewarding players within a self sustaining pay structure is missing the target by some distance.

    Again, it is clear you don’t really understand the subject.

  7. Johnnu says:

    Your whole argument is 100% wrong.

    This is because Wenger pays the young players with money earned from FOOTBALL and success on the PITCH. He has a right to do this, he EARNED it.

    Manchester City / Chelsea didn’t get their money from playing good football. It’s an outside source, which dilutes the game and decimates the transfer market at the expense of clubs who worked extremely hard to get where they are today.

  8. Calum says:

    It’s not an argument, but an observation.
    It’s semantic so I wouldn’t worry too much about it (especially if you don’t get it).

    If I spend money that I earn on dope, I am doping myself.

    • Alex says:

      This is ludicrous.

      Essentially ‘If a football club spends money earned through good business practice on improving itself, it is doping itself?’

      Just mull that over for a few seconds.

  9. Tom says:

    Yes – all the money paid to players by Arsenal is money the club have earned through ticket sales, player sales, pie/caviar sales, etc. etc. Nothing in the article disputes that.

    And yes, when Wenger coined the doping phrase he was indeed referring to loads of non-football money being pumped into football without any having to be pumped out again. Nothing in the article disputes that either.

    But there is a second meaning (not intentional, hence the ‘double entendre’ quip) which the article also refers to – and this is where clubs with lots of cash can ‘dope’ players into preferring to do nowt at Arsenal than go and earn a decent (lower) wage while actually playing football elsewhere. Possibly monopoly or protectionism might be more appropriate terms here – but this is something going on across all the Champions League big guns.

    And nobody’s saying it’s outside of the rules, and nobody’s saying Arsenal are the only club, or the worst club, for doing this (and nobody’s implying actual dope is being used – thought I’d better stick that in there.) And the money Arsenal use to keep a huge squad of talented players doing nothing has absolutely been earned from within the game, and they are quite welcome to do as they please. But it is an issue that wasn’t there before super money entered football and it is damaging the game.

  10. Tye says:

    So Arsene Wenger coins the phrase financial doping, clearly explaining his meaning behind it, then you decide a few years later to take that phrase and create your own new additional meaning to suit. Then you write a blog on it? How can paying money that the club earns to its players (whatever the wage ceiling is) be classed as financial doping (as described by Wenger)?

    Also, I’m sorry Tom, but clubs have always used money to keep sqauds of players. The thing about Arsenal is that they tried to groom a squad of players to grow up together, then paid them within a self sustaining wage structure in the hope of winning trophies and sharing in the glory and obviously the monetary rewards. These players are the ones that Arsenal believe will ‘make it’
    When they don’t (Hoyte brothers, Pennant, Bentley etc.) they get sold.

    Obviously this strategy has failed and the core group of players are now moving on elsewhere to seek trophies and financial rewards elsewhere. Arsenal’s ‘financial doping’ not working here then is it?

    Another thing Calum, which players at Arsenal are sitting there after the club had as you say “‘dope’ players into preferring to do nowt at Arsenal than go and earn a decent (lower) wage while actually playing football elsewhere? As far as I can see nearly all the squad is utilised and if not they are injured or have been loaned out. In fact Arsenal are consistently being criticised for having a small squad.

    I’m afraid this argument really does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny…

  11. Tom says:

    I disagree it’s always been going on – until about 10 years ago, the norm was for a club to have a first XI and then maybe 6-7 regular reserves, plus a few kids they were trying to bring through. Nowadays the objective is two ‘proper’ players for every position plus a few extras, then send any overspill out on loan.

    There’s only so much game time available to a club, and before TV money went through the roof, clubs would only pay their highest wages for the players they needed to play regularly. So if you weren’t playing, chances are you weren’t earning – and so the opportunity to go elsewhere and play regularly usually meant a wage increase too. If you were Nigel Spackman, would you have left Liverpool for QPR in 1989 if it meant a wage cut too?

    Nowadays, each of the top three in the league could easily put at least two full-strength prem-standard teams together from the squads they’ve got at the moment, that’s never been the case before. As for people using money to keep players happy on the bench, I don’t remember people thinking Winston Bogarde’s case was the norm when it came up 10 years ago; this would suggest a new thing, no? I can’t think of any 80s equivalents of Wayne Bridge. Not all players are like this but there are plenty around, and the financial landscape of 21st C football has made it possible.

    It’s a shame Wenger got mentioned in the article, as lots of people commenting have just seized on that rather than considering the argument being made. Is it the case that Arsenal fans are seeking solace on the moral high ground, while all these nouveau riche clubs swallow up the trophies? If you go back and read the article again, ignoring any mention of Arsenal and Arsene, is it any more palatable?

    • Tye says:

      Ok Tom, to validate yours and Calum’s argument, can you provide us with examples of Arsenal financially doping players to happily sit on the bench instead leaving for pastures new and not so lucrative?

      Once more, Arsenal have a wage structure which is structured to keep the young players there on contracts while the team is built, grows up together and tries to win trophies. This is good business as if some of these players don’t make it they are sold to bring more income into the club. How is this in any way ‘financial doping?’ Who is Arsenal’s Winston Bogarde or Wayne Bridges?

      It appears this article was written mentioning Arsene Wenger and Arsenal just to draw people in. The financial doping tag has no relevance to them at all, so to berate Arsenal fans for defending their club is slightly disingenuous.

      Without the provocative title who would read the article?

      Oh and the Nigel Spackman example? Of course he wouldn’t have left but Bosman and the TV money changed the rules of the game. You can’t compare the different eras. Players are put on fixed term contracts to protect clubs investments now with wages at a level to entice them to sign,but then again all clubs do this.

      I could go on but I’d end up writing my own article…

  12. Tom says:

    Okay – the reason Arsenal are in the article is because Wenger coined the financial doping phrase, and that’s it. If you prefer to see it as being an attempt to wind up gooners, then fill your boots; but next time you read a piece about Liverpool somewhere, and see thousands of scousers going bonkers in the comments bit underneath, about ‘lazy journalism’ etc and you think, what’s got their goat…

    If you want me to point out who in the Arsenal squad is the exact replica of Bridge or Bogarde, then I can’t, because there isn’t one; for one thing, having built The Emirates on an old Indian burial ground or whathaveyou means that most people within walking distance of the pitch have a good chance of getting a game at Arsenal at the moment. But I’d say Lansbury, Benayoun, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bendtner would likely have gone elsewhere full-time if Arsenal weren’t prepared to pay them more to not play for Arsenal than other clubs would pay them to play 90 minutes a week.

    As for comparing eras, yeah this is a very rough way of looking at things really – but you did say that players being happy to just bench-warm and collect cash has always been going on, so I was trying to show that it hasn’t.

    I’m not suggesting this is because players didn’t like money 20 years ago, but it’s just that clubs had a lot less to spend on wages; as they only needed a dozen or so good players in those days, plus a bit of filler, then the first XI was where the money was spent. Clubs couldn’t afford to spend big money on players who weren’t playing, so they didn’t. Another Liverpool example was selling Rush then buying Aldridge; then when they bought Rush back again, Aldridge was out of the side, so they got rid. That wouldn’t happen now – if Utd could get Ronaldo back, they wouldn’t start thinking about where to dump Ashley Young, for instance.

    This alternative financial doping isn’t necessary an intended thing – clubs are just signing non-playing players as backup really, eg if Ashley Cole was injured/suspended/rubbish a bit more frequently then I doubt Wayne Bridge would have the reputation he does. (although it would surprise me if Citeh weren’t of the effect on their rivals of signing Nasri, Milner, Lescott, Barry.)

    But because player wages aren’t linked to what they actually do, then this does see the top six stockpiling good players who aren’t doing anything.

    eg – imagine if Cudicini, Bosingwa, Bridge, Alex, Rafael, Woodgate, Adam Johnson, Milner, Valencia, Berbatov, Anelka, Drogba, Owen, Bellamy, etc. were playing at clubs where they were playing every week – eg Everton, Newcastle, Stoke, Fulham, West Brom, etc. – those clubs would be much better offer, with little effect on the clubs they left behind. With the result of a much more competitive premier league.

    I guess one way to look at it might be that it’s not the doping that’s the problem so much, it’s more that not everyone can afford the dope!

  13. Tye says:

    Or another way to look at is is that it’s not doping?

    Just a few things, you need to stop with the what looks like anti Arsenal as you the forced examples you are using are exactly that.

    You said….
    “if Arsenal weren’t prepared to pay them more to not play for Arsenal than other clubs would pay them to play 90 minutes a week”

    What a ridiculously ill informed and wrong on so many levels statement! Do you hate Arsenal so much that you now have to invent things just to back up your inaccurate musings?

    Henri Lansbury has just signed an extension to his contract and is on a season loan to West Ham.Yossi Benayoun is on loan TO Arsenal from Chelsea. Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Arsenal in the summer and has already played in the Premiership,Carling Cup and Champions League. He has scored in both the Champions League and Carling Cup. Bendtner has joined Sunderland on a years loan where he is playing and scoring goals. None of them are sitting on the Arsenal bench doing nothing week in week out so what is your point?

    I did not say players were happy to just bench warm, I said “clubs have always used money to keep squads of players”. I.e club buys and pays a player to become part of a squad. The difference now is that more money equates to bigger squads. Its like opening a market stall. You get successful move to a bigger pitch and employ more people. Then you get more successful move to a warehouse and employ more people.. See where I’m going? This is how a business grows.

    Rush and Aldridge? As an example, really? When Rush came back to Liverpool they played together many a time and Aldridge even outscored Rush and played at times while Rush was benched…yes benched. If Liverpool couldn’t afford both of them then they sure took a long time to work it out.

    Reading the rest of your post I now see why the term ‘lazy journalism’ would spring to your mind. You’re saying the top six stockpile players who aren’t doing anything then throw in a whole host of (random) players names. Most of those you name are playing regularly for their club or would be if they weren’t injured or returning from injury. By regularly I mean they are part of the squad and over the course of a season they will play in teams attempting to win the trophies that their club is involved. Also their teams may be trying to qualify for Europe.The only player I would class as a player happy picking up the cash without playing is the one and only Michael Owen, and even he plays in the Carling Cup.

    Now if you’d used him as your benchmark (see what i did there?) then maybe I could see where you were coming from but you didn’t so I don’t.

    One last thing for you to ponder on. When teams in the lower reaches of the Premiership, Championship and League1 and 2, put out second string sides for the Carling and FA Cups, are the players they put out being “financially doped” to sit on the bench (or not even that in some cases) or is it only the top six to whom this accusation be made?

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