Salary cuts not enough to save rank-and-file ‘family’ members
Pursuit of success on pitch means spending on fees, wages and agents – but comes at a cost for staff as Covid takes toll
There are many clubs who like to think that they do things with more style and grace than others, although at Arsenal there was a hard-won reputation for creating a successful football institution while staying loyal to the right way of achieving success.
The biggest banner on the empty Arsenal end at Wembley for Saturday’s FA Cup final was not in honour of a player or a manager, but the club’s 85-year-old director Ken Friar, who first joined the club parttime as a 12-year-old. “A lifetime of dedication” was how the banner celebrated his 70 years of service at the club, although a job for life nowadays feels an ever-more fanciful notion. The Covid era has cut through even the most durable reputations and the 55 redundancies announced by the club yesterday demonstrate that not even Arsenal are immune.
While there will be many others in the game and beyond forced to do the same thing, the issue for Arsenal is that, like other teams jostling for Champions League places, they will be obliged to spend money on fees, wages and agents this summer.
Willian, 32 this week, is expected to arrive soon, as a well-remunerated free agent. David Luiz, 33, already has the promise of a new contract and both the Brazilians’ salaries would be dwarfed by any new deal for FA Cup-winning captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal know they cannot afford to stand still on the pitch. To save the club, they must first save the team. Easy to say, but harder to do when rank-and-file employees pay with their jobs – a brutal choice at a club where senior management have taken pay cuts and Mikel Arteta and the players initially gave up 12.5 per cent of their annual salaries – though after Europa League qualification that is now 7.5 per cent.
That all suggests that Champions League qualification next season is crucial, although none of that will be any consolation for those who no longer find themselves Arsenal employees by the end of the month.
As director Josh Kroenke infamously remarked, the club have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget, and either performance caught up with overheads or something else had to give. Implied in the statement was the notion that Arsenal must now accept a certain amount of shrinkage – those “additional staff ” appointed in recent years “to take the club forward” – in keeping with their performances on the pitch. In short, they need more for less.
Those inside Arsenal say that they have been kept well-informed by management of the problems that the club have faced. At the very least you could say that Arsenal have not tried to hide the terrible choices they have had to make. If Arsenal and any other club making job cuts wish to do the right thing then they could be transparent about the fees and wages they are paying, including those to the agents who now seem to wield such influence at the Emirates.
When the players agreed wage cuts on April 20, the club said it had been borne of a “strong desire … to show their backing for the Arsenal family”. Less than four months on it would appear that those cuts were not enough to save all of the family in question and you wonder how the players themselves, whose wage cuts were supposed to mitigate against job losses, view that outcome.