Arsenal put on their annual Ask Ivan Q&A session. Firstly, we have to give credit where credit is due. The whole commercial team was out dressed in suits ready to answer questions from the public. No other club engages with fans like that. Secondly, Ivan took on some pretty hardcore questions. He might have diluted those questions with his long and flowing answers, but he took on the questions in the first place. He also took questions from the floor at the end of the session that went on for over an hour.
As for the actual talk, well, I wouldn't say there was anything that blew the crowd away. How could there be? We're probably the most informed fans in the world when it comes to what's going on behind the scenes. He did speak with candid honesty about the situation at the club at the moment. I don't want to give you a blow by blow account of what went off, you can check the @LeGrove twitter feed for that.
Below are some of the key points I took away from the evening:
Ivan strongly believes that FFP is going to take hold shortly. His belief in this is so strong because the driving force behind the changes isn't Michel Platini, it's broke clubs from all around Europe. They're calling for adjustments in the way clubs do business because they can't survive if they're not implemented. He thinks that the way Arsenal operate is the way all clubs want to operate moving forward.
Commercial revenues are poor. He understands that far too much dependence on the clubs revenue is placed on the fans and the money the stadium generates. He said that winning trophies isn't the only way you generate great commercial income. He said United spent the ninties quietly laying the foundations to become a great commercial partner. Arsenal haven't had a superb global infrastructure to service our partners. We're getting there now. By the time we renew our deals, we'll be able to service our partners and hopefully have a great team that will excite them.
Ivan said that £10million transfer fees ten years ago were huge, now people talk about them like they're nothing. I'd question that Ivan. 10 years ago, £10million transfer fees were not huge. In fact, ten years ago, clubs were spunking huge amounts on transfers breaking records left right and centre.
The club are not triumphant about finishing 3rd. They're not happy to just finish in the Champions League positions year after year. They want to be the best club in the world.
We had the whole 'how amazing was the stadium move' talk again. It was amazing Ivan, but we can't keep dining off that forever. There comes a point when we have to move on. We've been through two transition periods. Now is the time to kick off. We all love the new ground and the security it's given us long term. We love the fact the old board are Gooner's, but again, times are changing and we need to keep ahead of the curve. Stagnating as a squad and a European force on the pitch is not doing us any favours.
Ivan said he wouldn't discuss the Robin situation as both parties had agreed not to. He sounded reasnobly upbeat about the whole topic. I have no idea what Robin is doing yet. It'll be a shame if he goes, but I'm half expecting it. If he stays, it'll be a huge bonus.
Ivan said the two things they learned about last summer was 1) Do your business early 2) Achieve value. He also went on to complain about the hysterical press around what happened. To my mind, it was totally deserved. Last summer was a shambles. He also went on to praise the signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Again, at the time I said he'd be a good player, but really, should our focus have been on another kid? His contribution to the future will no doubt be immense, last year, it was tepid. We spend each summer addressing the future and that all came to a head after United spanked us.
Ivan, it shouldn't take humiliation to force the club into signing players who can offer value now.
Probably Ivan's best line of the evening was...
'People can call us incompetent, but don't ever say we don't care'
I have to say, I've met a number of the people behind the scenes at Arsenal. They all care about their jobs. They do all care about the club. Regardless of what we think about our transfer policy, I'd take ours over one that endangers the future of the club. I'd take our commercial team over the Cardiff team that changed the colour of their home kit and rebranded their logo without their club emblem to suit Asian markets taste. The easiest thing in the world to do is open the overdraft and go wild. It would be nice if we opened up our savings and went wild. It would be nice if we unshackled our fear of taking a calculated risk... but again, things could be far worse.
The home kit is in a two year cycle, apparenlty we're the only club in the Prem doing that. It's actually not that horrible up close. I was speaking to the Retail Director. He reckons presales have been very strong, but many are waiting on the future of Robin. He said that when they put the brief out to Nike, they tell them how disruptive they can be with the design. For the home kit, it's 3 out 10. For the away kit this year, they've allowed them 8-10. Apparently it'll be quite unique.
The reason it often ends up navy blue is that globally, fans love navy blue. The two biggest names at the club are Jack and Robin Van Persie. They account for 75% of the name / shirt sales. If ever there were a case for a superstar player it's that statistic.
Ivan was asked about our idealistic wage structure. It sounded like it was the idea of the manager. He said it's being changed but it'll take a while for the amendments to take place. I told you last summer the club were changing the salaries of young players to make them more aspirational. He did temper this conversation by saying all clubs play kids on potential. We take more risks than most as a strategy that he believes has served us well. He indicated that would stay the same... which wasn't great to hear.
He was also pulled on Diaby and his deal. He said that it down to the manager to work out the players value then it was down to the club to work out if it made sense. God knows who sanctioned the Diaby sign up... He said you win some you lose some and that all clubs have wastage. He doesn't think ours is that bad. I think we'd disagree Ivan.
Finally, Ivan said the club take a hands off approach to Wenger. They don't get involved in his work. You know what? How can we disagree with this? Do we want the board signing players? Imagine what Peter Hill-wood would end up with if you sent him out with a £17mill cheque... strippers, cigars and expensive sherry. Total lad behaviour, but not practical by any means.
The Le Grove Conclusion
Now, my opinion here is based on factors outside of the event yesterday but meshed in with what Ivan said. I know that he knows the constraints of Arsene Wenger. He and his team are totally aware of what a nightmare Arsene is to work with. He's an institution. He's an institution a large percentage of the fans still believe in. He's an institution that still delivers us 3rd place in the league with a crap squad. He's a man who would up and leave if he thought he was being told what to do.
Do you want to be the man who oversees that?
He's working in a bad situation. He has an owner who is besotted by Wenger. A manager who isn't susceptible to change. So his hands are largely tied. It's a slow process trying to move Wenger and his team into the 21st century. But things are starting to change. Bould has come in. We had the GPS team 18months ago. We're shifting on the deadwood. We're amending our wage structure. We signed a bunch of experienced players last August and we're looking at some big names this window.
For me, the playing side of things is still owned by Arsene Wenger. It will be until he goes. Rest assured though, the next man who comes in will not be granted the same power structure Arsene has built for himself. He'll have limited power. He'll be Ivan's man. Until that happens, we'll just have to hope Arsene pulls something out the bag... because that guidance on what to do won't come from Ivan.
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Anyway, an interesting evening. Plenty for you to chew over today in the comments section!