Sunday 21 September ~
"We obviously can't compete with the money Manchester City have so there's no point trying. We've got to succeed some other way." So said a Premier League chairman yesterday. But this wasn't a pragmatic view from someone in charge at a club that would be happy with a mid-table finish. It was Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood, whose team went top of the table last night after a 3-1 win at Bolton. The Arsenal board are bucking the current trend by actively discouraging interest from outside investors, in their case Alisher Usmanov from Uzbekistan who owns a 24 per cent stake in the club and would have to launch a bid for complete control if he acquired 30 per cent.
Not that they are exactly spendthrifts; while their wage bill is a long way behind Chelsea it is nonetheless close to matching that of Man Utd. And Hill-Wood can speak from a position of strength with the club on top of the table - if they fail to make it in the knockout stages of the Champions League or slip out of the top four in the New Year the board will come under renewed pressure to find alternative sources of finance, which would mean a bigger role for the US entrepreneur Stan Kroenke who was recently invited onto the board.
Arsenal still seem the club most at threat from the nouveau billionaires of Manchester City, who were reported this weekend to be considering a £30 million bid for Carlos Tevez, now in the second year of his two-season loan at Old Trafford. Having overspent on Dimitar Berbatov, United won't have the funds to sign Tevez permanently until next Summer. If they can't secure a deal by then, City's links to Tevez's wheeler-dealer friend, the mysterious Kia Joorabchian, who brokered the signing of Robinho, could provide them with an opportunity to nick Tevez. Alongside the enormous contracts they can offer, City's bargaining position when it comes to any of what their blustering chief executive Gary Cook would term "marquee signings" will of course be strengthened immeasurably if they can barge into a Champions League spot.
This week City have sought to distance themselves from the boasts made about their spending power by Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim, the frontman who first announced their takeover by ADUG, although all such expressions of modesty are relative: "We wouldn't even sign Ronaldo for £100m," said a club spokesman. But City are now a vehicle for the worldwide promotion of the Abu Dhabi royal family and their various businesses. The new owners' fulsome praise for Mark Hughes and the club's academy system will be of no relevance if they're stuck outside the top four by next May. Man Utd v Arsenal fixtures have been highly charged affairs for several years - Man City v Arsenal this season will be more than a match for them.