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Quotas, quality and The Emirates effect

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Mihir Bose | 18:55 UK time, Friday, 28 September 2007

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, believes that having a quota system for homegrown players would be a recipe for promoting mediocrity in the Premiership.

Wenger gave his opinion when speaking to about 500 people gathered at the Emirates stadium for a dinner organised by the French Chamber of Commerce in London on Thursday.

He went on to say that players like Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard of Liverpool were in their respective club teams on their ability alone.

And, he added, if you bring in players just because they are English qualified then you bring down the level.

Wenger spoke for 20 minutes, taking questions for another 20, and his answer came when, as it happens, he was asked by a Tottenham season-ticket holder whether there should be a quota system to try to deal with the number of foreign players in the Premiership.


Wenger's Arsenal are a prime example of having a foreign influence.

His speech, which was described to me by those who attended the dinner as quite brilliant, caps a week which has been outstanding for Arsenal, starting with record financial results. More details about the results have begun to emerge as the annual report and accounts are mailed to shareholders.

The accounts for the first time reveal a figure that has so far been a tightly-controlled Arsenal secret - how much did Emirates pay for the stadium naming rights?

Until now, Arsenal have only said that the airline’s £90m deal covered both shirt sponsorship and naming rights.

The accounts now reveal Emirates paid £42m for the naming rights, which given it was a 15-year deal works out at £2.8m a year. That is well below the £3.1m Arsenal make from each matchday at The Emirates.

This also means the eight-year shirt deal they negotiated works out at £6m a year.

In contrast, Manchester United's shirt deal - renegotiated by the Glazers - brings in £14m a year.

Arsenal have basked in the wonderful figures they have produced but this suggests that on naming rights and shirt sponsorship they could probably get more and might now use the Emirates Stadium effect to do so.

Clearly, this was a deal done at a time when Arsenal’s need for cash was very great.

It is also interesting to note how the good news of Wenger signing a new contract, combined with the financial figures, have made Arsenal more open than they have ever been.

Years ago, when Arsenal were struggling to find the money for the Emirates, getting any information out of the north London club was a bit like dealing with the Kremlin in the old days of the Soviet Union.


In the last few weeks, beginning with chairman Peter Hill-Wood's interview with me and then the blanket coverage of the results, they have been refreshingly transparent and charming.

It is tempting to say that now that they may be under threat from a Russian - the billionaire Alisher Usmanov - they have shed their old Kremlin ways.

The club have also admitted the mighty struggle they had in raising the money to build Emirates.

Keith Edelman, the managing director, has said how "it was a hell of a six or seven years working on the project…"

He goes on, "We had our moments, especially when we couldn't raise the money".

This period, when Arsenal could not raise the money, saw the contractors temporarily stood down from the project.

In 2004 Arsenal even turned to their supporters, raising £10m through C and D 25-year debentures with interest at 2.7%.

It has all worked out in the end but it was, as Edelman acknowledges, a huge gamble.

This is of particular interest to me. I wrote about the Arsenal struggles to find the money for The Emirates and also the fact that the Arsenal board was split with David Dein, the now-ousted vice-chairman, not wanting to go to Emirates.

He was keen on sharing Wembley. However, I did not, contrary to some comments on this blog, express an opinion as to whether or not the Emirates Stadium would be finished or that Arsenal’s new home would be a success.

It was not easy to get information but I was helped by diligent Arsenal supporters active in the City who watched the financial activities closely.

There are many such supporters of various clubs and they deserve credit for ferreting out information that clubs are often reluctant to disclose.

These supporters must now feel overwhelmed by the information the club is providing.

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