CR7 is a product of the age of celebrity, but we created him

CRISTIANO RONALDO has been a great footballer, one of the finest ever seen, but he is in danger of ruining his reputation at the wrong time of his career. His behaviour in recent months has resembled a petulant child with an inflated opinion of his – admittedly substantial – worth. Footballers have their time, but they have to know when they should accept a peripheral role when the grey fleks appear.

Portugal could win the World Cup, they are that good. But they are that good without Cristiano Ronaldo. The vibrancy of the Portuguese has arguably been liberated by the absence of their talisman and young players are performing with a joie de vivre that can be restricted when the team is being structured around a veteran maverick.

If CR7 was a golfer, a tennis player, a sprinter or a formula one driver, he could be excused for being so single-minded. Football is a team game, as we all know, so it should never be about one player. Unfortunately, the media have fuelled this unhealthy obsession with the star man, as seen with Neymar and Lionel Messi as much as Cristiano Ronaldo. The overwhelming focus on a single player feeds the ego and bolsters the image. CR7, allegedly, can have a restaurant to himself in Lisbon if he so wishes, the management happy to close the establishment so he can enjoy his meal. We create our own heroes.

Footballers are generally uncomplicated and excessive fawning can actually warp their sense of reality. Cristiano Ronaldo, like so many, is from a humble background and his career is a testament to his determination, sheer talent and his value to his team. It is so easy for anyone who is idolised to lose sight of who they really are. He is adored by so many, seen as an aspirational figure and an example of what can be achieved. He is part of the cult of celebrity that has plagued the 21st century. His admirers go way beyond the club he plays for, there are millions of people who are simply CR7 fans and many refuse to see any shortcomings within their hero.

CR7 is not the first footballer to become a celebrity; David Beckham will probably be remembered more for his brand-building and appetite for attention than his career as a player. CR7 resembles a carefully sculptured mannekin with good skin with an extraordinary ability to score goals. He could almost be computer-generated.

But in all walks of life, the march of time eventually catches up on everyone. In sport, there is always the dilemma facing the iconic footballer when he or she is no longer as effective as they once were. Cristiano Ronaldo may be a fine specimen in terms of his fitness, his vitality, his general appearance and dedication, but in a physical sport like football, a manager cannot tailor his approach to accommodate someone whose physiology might be 15 years older than his team-mates. For the good of the game, this should always be so and there is nothing more undignified than someone refusing to acknowledge the baton has to be handed on.

CR7, ideally, should be acting as a form of elder statesman encouraging his colleagues as they try and bring Portugal their first World Cup. He may have to concede that he may only have a cameo role to play, but such is the air of drama that surrounds him, you wouldn’t bet against him scoring a World Cup-winning goal.

In all probability, there is not a member of the squad that doesn’t worship him or cite him as the biggest influence on their careers. That should be seen as Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatest achievement, leaving an almost unrivalled legacy that will stand for ever – it is doubtful his statistics will ever be surpassed by a Portuguese player. Will that be enough for someone who enjoys the bling of medals, trophies and accolades? He’s got all of those, he’s got more money than any of us could ever hope to earn and he’s got legions of fans. He needs no more, but if he is to be seen as “CR7 great guy” he needs to stop harming his image, especially at this late stage of his glittering career.

Exile from Europe costs the Gunners in 2021-22

ARSENAL were once UEFA Champions League perrenials, 17 consecutive seasons in the competition helping to make them one of European football’s more respected business models. When the Arsène Wenger era started to stagnate, Champions League qualification almost became the club’s main [consolation] target, but things went haywire when Arsenal suddenly became a Europa League club. It got worse, for in 2021-22, for the first time since 1995-96, the Gunners failed to qualify for any UEFA competition.

The absence of broadcasting revenue from Europe was always going to hit the club’s finances in 2021-22. Although a pre-tax loss of £ 45.5 million was a marked improvement on the £ 127.2 million deficit of 2021-22, the figures suggest the club still has significant upside both on and off the pitch.  It was the fourth successive season in which Arsenal have made a loss, an unlikely scenario a decade ago.

Revenues went up by 13% from the previous season to £ 369.1 million, notably match day income, which rose by 2010% on the empty stadium year of 2020-21. The club’s commercial income was slightly higher at £ 143.7 million, but broadcasting was down by 21% to £ 146 million, some £ 50 million lower than the record of £ 199 million, received in 2017. The other big six clubs, between them, earned a total of almost € 400 million from European broadcasting.

The return of fans played a big part in the recovery and Arsenal’s average gates – just shy of 60,000 – were the second highest in the Premier League. The big crowds and the pricing structure means Arsenal’s matchday stream accounts for almost a quarter of total earnings, compared to around 15% for Chelsea and 18% for Tottenham.

Commercial income, which was buoyed by the Amazon production, All or Nothing, went up to £ 142 million, but this is an area that Arsenal trail quite dramatically behind their peer group in the Premier League. Manchester City’s commercial activity totalled £ 300 million-plus in 2021-22, for example, and Manchester United earned more than £ 100 million more than the Gunners.

With something of a clear-out going on at the Emirates, it was no surprise that the wage bill dropped by 11% to £ 212.3 million. With revenues up, this meant the wage-to-income ratio fell by 15 percentage points to a more sustainable level. Arsenal continue to allow some player contracts to run off, thereby missing out on possible transfer income, but this can also have a positive affect on total wages. In the past year, David Luiz, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all departed, all of whom would have been paid top wages.

Arsenal’s key figures, last five seasons

£m2021-222020-212019-202018-192017-18
Revenues369327343395388
P&L pre-tax(45.5)(127.2)(54)(32)70
Wages212237225232223
Ratio58%73%66%59%58%
Net debt20419910842(15)

There does seem to be a change of mood at Arsenal and this bodes well for the club’s finances in 2022-23. There is less noise around “Kroenke Out” these days, which does show success on the field can deflect the wrath of dissatisfied customers, albeit temporarily. However, it should be noted that Kroenke’s KSE Inc. has lent the club more than £ 30 million at favourable terms in order to fund Arsenal’s transfer activities and provide working capital. Moreover, Arsenal also have a £ 70 million facility from Barclays to call upon.

Arsenal need to reverse the relative lack lustre growth at the club since 2017. Their revenues have declined in that time while their chief rivals have all seen healthy growth, ranging from Manchester City’s 35% increase to Tottenham’s 18% hike. Understandably, the club’s decline on the field is aligned to this fall, each a factor of the other, most notably the loss of Champions League football and some poor decisions in the transfer market. And with the pandemic coming along in 2020, the malaise that surrounded the club was very poorly timed.

The club has made some progress in the transfer market, with a stronger emphasis on younger players. In 2021-22, their profit from player sales was £ 22.2 million, better than 2020-21’s £ 12 million, but way off the £ 120 million profit made in 2018.

As for purchases, in 2021-22, Ben White (£ 50m Brighton), Martin Ødegaard (£30m Real Madrid), Aaron Ramsdale (£24m Sheffield United) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (£ 16m Bologna) were all signed. Each player was in his early 20s and most have already made an impact at the Emirates. Arsenal spent another £ 115 million in the summer of 2022, signing Fábio Vieira (£ 30m Porto), Gabriel Jesus (£45m Manchester City) and Oleksandr Zinchenko (£ 30m Manchester City). Arsenal, over two seasons, have been one of the biggest spenders in the Premier League. They have the youngest squad in the division with an average age of 24.5 years, 70% of which are foreign players. They also have sought-after talent in the form of England’s Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli of Brazil. Coach Mikel Arteta has survived a sticky period to become one of the most popular in the Premier League, although as everyone knows, football is a fickle game.

The signs are that Arsenal’s finances will recover further in 2022-23. A return to Europe will be lucrative, especially if they do maintain their top four position and qualify for the Champions League and this, in turn will create more commercial and matchday income. It is not unreasonable to anticipate a rise in revenues to more than £ 400 million in 2022-23 and while they may not return to profit (success also brings wage demands), the loss will again be eroded. By that time, Arsenal could be celebrating the return of serious silverware to their side of North London. If nothing else, the Gunners are one of Europe’s most exciting and stimulating teams at the moment – should that bring success, the club’s financial position will surely be more robust. We may even hear a chorus of “for he’s a jolly good fellow”.