Back to back guest posts from Le Grove this week. Today, we have the pleasure of a @timpayton piece. I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it as much as I did.
Most of the focus on Arsenal this summer has understandably been about how the Club performs in the transfer market and whether a transfer pot of almost £100m is well spent.
But it’s not just on the pitch where the club desperately needs to recruit some top talent. There is a pressing need for fresh blood in the Boardroom.
Over the past five years Arsenal’s Board has lost talent and drive the equivalent in governance terms to the loss on the field of Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie.
Danny Fiszman, David Dein and Richard Carr are the three most missed. These former Arsenal Board members had enormous drive and passion for the club. They were Arsenal supporters who went home and away with the team and they applied their various skill-sets to driving Arsenal forward.
David Dein focused on the football side of the club acting as a mentor to, and supporting, the manager strengthen the team as well as networking at the top table of World football.
Danny Fiszman masterminded the Emirates stadium project, kept the finances in good shape and had a much closer relationship to Arsene Wenger than most people realise.
Richard Carr was the Director with responsibility for the club’s football infrastructure including building the new training ground at Colney and he took a special interest in the Academy and development of players from the youth team.
Re-writing history is of course easy to do but I do not believe these three men would have allowed Arsenal to settle as comfortably as they have into accepting life as the country’s fourth best in recent years.
With Arsenal now owned by an overseas investor who chooses not to attend matches and has a hands-off approach it is even more important that some senior appointments are made to the Board to help drive the Club forward and keep effective oversight and control on the performance of the executive team and manager.
The departure of Peter Hill-Wood as Chairman this summer should be the stimulus to further change. Peter and his family were wonderful custodians of Arsenal. But it is time to build a new Boardroom that reflects modern football and also modern society.
Besides owner Stan Kroenke and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis, the three other Board members at Arsenal are; Sir Chips Keswick (Chairman), Ken Friar, and Lord Harris. Their average age is 74.
Sir Chips attended Eton College and had a career in banking being a Director at Hambros Bank and a Director of the Bank of England. Ken Friar has served Arsenal in different capacities for over 60 years. He was Company Secretary from 1973 and became Managing Director from 1983 to 2000. Lord Harris of Peckham is Chairman of Carpetright giving him retailing experience. He is a well known philanthropist and is co-owner of a gold medal winning GB show jumper at London 2012.
They are all of course distinguished people with track records in business and football that can, and have, assisted Arsenal. But it is time to review the skill-sets needed on the Board of a modern football club.
It is also time for more diversity. An all-white, all-male, elderly Boardroom does not represent our club on the pitch or in the stands.
So what change is needed in the Boardroom?
Arsenal need Directors who once again take responsibility for setting the ambition and direction of the Club and who can give greater support to the manager, but then also hold him to greater account.
In recent years too much authority and responsibility has been delegated to Arsene Wenger. This is wrong. It is both too much of a burden to expect him to carry and it allows unfettered power to lie in just one person’s hands. No-one individual should be expected to take all the training sessions, manage and pick the team, decide on all the senior footballing appointments and act as chief negotiator in the transfer market. It is time to broaden the personnel contributing to the Club’s footballing expertise within the Club.
It’s not hard to think of some of the areas where Arsenal’s football performance deserves scrutiny.
There have been no significant external appointments to the football coaching set-up since 1996 when Arsene Wenger was appointed.
The Club has had considerable finance resources for each of the last four transfer windows that have not been spent.
Expenditure that has been made on both players and player salaries has far from always delivered anything like value for money.
Weakened teams have been played in the FA and Football League Cups with
A ‘socialist’ wage structure has been consistently pursued by the manager.
These are just an initial list of the types of issue a strong Board would at least challenge on, and demand improvement. Yet careful study of the Club’s annual reports and reporting shows a lack of standard practice for scrutiny and the setting out of strategy one would expect for a PLC the size of Arsenal.
This would normally be done through a statement of Delegated Authorities to the manager and executives and a formal schedule of Matters Reserved for the Board, respectively. While it is not common for companies to disclose the latter, is it a Code Requirement for the Annual Report to contain at least a high level description of which types of decisions are to be taken by the board and which are to be delegated to management.
Perhaps the lack of clarity and control is because no member of the Arsenal Board has experience as a professional football coach, player or manager, despite this being the Club’s main business and none feel comfortable challenging a man who in the past has achieved as much as Arsene Wenger.
The time has come to consider appointing to the Board a distinguished former player who can provide independent challenge on issues relating to the playing side of the Club. It is, for example, a role that is played with distinction by Sir Bobby Charlton at Manchester United and is widespread in Europe, particularly in Germany where for example Bayern Munich has several distinguished former players on its Board and the most distinguished Franz Beckenbauer as its President.
Should Arsenal not feel this is the right way to go, then how about creating some form of football advisory sub-committee to the Board to make sure its decisions on footballing matters have input from those with experience from the coal-face.
With people of the calibre of Bob Wilson, Frank Mclintock, Pat Rice, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira and Alan Smith to name just a few of the prominent candidates out there it should not be too difficult to fill the roles.
Other areas where the Boardroom needs strengthening are in the business expertise and communication skills represented around the table
The Boardroom, and the Club, would be stronger if there was a Director with the specific responsibility of engaging with supporters and wider stakeholders ensuring that fans felt more of a sense of involvement with the Club and that their views were being considered.
Football is changing quickly. It’s modern day business model is driven by three main revenue streams; broadcasting, ticketing and sponsorship, especially in the leisurewear and FMCG sectors. Stan Kroenke should be looking to people with business skills in these subject areas, and the professional sports sector, to add strength to the Board.
How about Arsenal executive box-holder Paul Deighton, formerly of Goldman Sachs and more recently responsible as Chief Executive for delivering £2bn of sponsorship and ticketing revenue for the London 2012 Olympics and then staging them admirably?
Or big Arsenal fan Tidjane Thiam, the chief executive of Prudential who in 2009 became the first black person to lead a FTSE 100 company?
So let’s hope that in the weeks ahead as well as some top signings to strengthen the squad that we also see some appointments that will help move Arsenal back to the top of the English game.
A strong and effective Board does make a difference: Arsenal’s Board once signed an unknown Frenchmen to manage Arsenal which was bold and risky but took the Club forward. Arsenal’s Board moved to the Emirates stadium which was bold and risky but took the club forward. Arsenal’s new owner Stan Kroenke now needs to put some new blood in the Boardroom who will return the Arsenal Board to the days when it was bold and had people who woke up every day determined to take decisions to move Arsenal forward.
Tim Payton @timpayton is a Board member of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust. The AST recently commissioned two independent reviews into the Boardroom Governance at Arsenal (http://www.arsenaltrust.org/news/latest-news/proposals-to-strenghten-arsenals-boardroom-and-corporate-governance)
P.P.S – This article deliberately didn’t covering the issue of Red and White holdings involvement (Usmanov) on the Board as that is a different, albeit important debate, that deserves an article of its own on the subject of ownership and accountability.