Over the years, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been one of the staunchest proponents of Financial Fair Play. He has repeatedly demanded that teams flouting FFP regulation be penalised. It took many by surprise when in an interview with Amy Lawrence of The Athletic, Wenger proposed relaxing FFP guidelines to enable disruptive investment in football that could change the status quo. On reading what he had to say, however, it sounded like yet another shrewd idea from Le Professeur.
Wenger’s Arsenal went toe to toe with Ferguson’s United for many years and the rivalry between England’s top two clubs at the time was fierce. Every year, the league started with one question – ‘Is the title destined for Old Trafford or for Highbury?’. In the summer of 2003, Russian billionaire Roman Abrahamovic bought Chelsea and changed the landscape of English football.
On the back of the Invincible season in 2003/04 when Arsenal went through the entire campaign undefeated to lift the title, Chelsea appointed Jose Mourinho as their new manager. Mourinho had just won a treble which included the Champions League with Porto and anointed himself ‘The Special One’.
Chelsea spent astronomical sums on player recruitment and lifted the Premier League in Mourinho’s debut season in England. Chelsea’s spending habits continued over the next few seasons and brought them much success. Wenger spoke out against the project on the basis of the fact that the success of the West London club was down to ‘financial doping’.
Chelsea’s model for success led to Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Royal family of Abu Dhabi, purchasing Manchester City. City spent significant sums of money to build a strong project that has brought them much success.
The big spending of Chelsea and Manchester City coincided with Arsenal’s decline in terms of competing for the big trophies. The Gunners have not won another Premier League title since the season of the Invincibles. Wenger has long held the view that Arsenal’s struggles were due in part to the club making the ambitious move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium. The view was that the club would suffer in the short term but reap the rewards of this courageous move in the future. This required Arsenal to take out a large loan and repayment of this debt limited the club’s spending potential. The club’s struggles were compounded by the fact that around the same time, clubs like Chelsea and later City began redefining the capital required to compete for football’s top honours.
On being asked about football changing in a post-coronavirus world economically, Wenger stated that he believed the strong would be stronger and the weak would be weaker. In response to this, he was asked whether it would be dangerous for Financial Fair Play rules to be relaxed at this moment in time:
“It is a difficult subject because I did fight a lot for Financial Fair Play. What I regret is that when I did fight against it, the teams were allowed to do what they wanted. And these teams are in charge now in strong positions in the league. So they are now supportive of FFP because it suits them. They do not want anybody new to come in and be a threat. Maybe we should open the door by being very cautious ethically. To create more flexibility in the results, maybe we have to open the door. Or make sure everyone has the same resources because it is too predictable now.”