Why Gooners should embrace foreign ownership: becoming the first Club of the 21st century.

The EPL, Serie A and La Liga are all happy to poach star players from around the world.  And fans of the big clubs demand that managers and clubs spend money on the world’s leading players to carry the club to glory.  Regardless of where the player might come from.  But while many English fans are quick to embrace Fab and Cantona because of the success they bring, too many are also quick to lament foreign ownership -the same ownership that has taken the EPL to the top of the League charts.  Arsenal fans must reject this latent xenophobia and become leaders of the 21st century new world soccer order.

Today, the EPL is the best league in the world with at least 8 teams vying for a top four finish.  Perhaps even better, the league attracts the most talented players overall and the most welcoming environment.  The Balotelli issues in Italy would be unheard of in the EPL today.  Yet still, the cat-calls of Xenophobia persist, although today they are directed at the owner’s box.

With Arsenal now facing a takeover by an American (hopefully), my hope is that as the team of London we can avoid the same xenophobia that has plagued any conversation about ownership in the EPL.  The English media and sadly the regular fan has become accustomed to proclaiming against the “American ownership” of Manchester and Liverpool, but for some reason develops temporary amnesia when discussing American owned Aston Villa and Sunderland.

No Club should be painted with an overly broad brush.  And while I appreciate that the issues in Liverpool and Manchester make them particular fodder for disaster discussions, care should be taken as to how the clubs are referred to.  The EPL struggled to shed its image of hooligans, not just to become an equal transgressor in labeling others.  If every English club owned by an American is to be referred to as such, Aston Villa must be called an American success story and Sunderland referred to as the power of American business skills.

More to the point, Liverpool is just an example of horrid ownership/management, not bad American management.  Those owners didn’t know how to run the Texas Rangers baseball team either.

But returning to our beloved Arsenal, for generations now, London has been one of the world’s capital cities.  Arguably the second Rome (surpassing Paris and falling only recently to New York).  Nevertheless the City has maintained its global status and the Arsenal should continue this trend.

Since Arsene took over, the Club has become the harbinger of importing top quality foreign talent that adopted to the English game.  On the continent, Spain and France happily brought in foreign talent to compete alongside local talent.  Sure, English fans sometimes lament the lack of quality English born players getting time on the pitch, and Arsenal unfairly gets hit the most with that critic.  But lets be honest, the infrastructure to develop English talent just wasn’t properly structured.  Academies and the sort existed, but they weren’t good enough.  Only recently has the English training system begun to bear fruit.  But it took Arsenal, and really Arsene, to introduce the continental training regimes (the teachings, not so much the physical structures) to England.  And now, about a decade later, the fruits of a real training program are starting to show up in the English national team.

What’s surprising is that it has taken so long for the Arsenal to become foreign owned.  At least since Kroenke’s subtle take over initiative, the Club has been unquestionably foreign owned this season (Kroenke and Usmanov together own more than 50% combined).  Put it all together though, (the manager, the players, the culture and now the ownership) and the Arsenal is the EPL’s first club of the 21st century.  A label we can lose if it not careful.  Ownership by a (qualified) foreigner only helps to further broaden the Club’s qualities and embrace of the global marketplace.  Because as of yet, no one team has totally asserted global leadership because none can claim America or Asia yet.

But perhaps most importantly, the home country fans should realize that many of us outside of London love the Arsenal for its global appeal.  Yes, I concede that means a slight loss of Englishness, but that’s true of London as well.   One does not get to be a global city by adhering to provincial national interests.  And one does not get to be a global Club by fostering a xenophobic culture.  Real Madrid demands the best players.  Period.

As an American, I love Arsenal’s history and tradition.  But I also love its ability to grow and adapt (Woolwich anyone?).  I love seeing Arsenal fans that reflect London’s diversity.  Living across the Atlantic I meet Arsenal fans from all over the world and guess what?  We’re a diverse bunch and we seem to like it that way.  It’s always a pleasure to run into another Gooner that you wouldn’t expect.  Just as important, our money counts as good as any other.  And practically speaking, in the coming years we’re going to be the bigger wallet.

America alone can provide more Arsenal fans than all of England.  Using the numbers from the Granada Report of 2005, Arsenal fans made up about 4% of the English population (approx. 2m people), a huge number. Put those numbers in the US and you get a small country, 4% of the US population is approx. 15m people.  And still, adding those two numbers together get you just over half of the estimated global fan based of 27m people, which means there are hordes of Arsenal fans throughout the continent, the entire western hemisphere, Africa, the Middle East and of course that little place called Asia.  Its clear.  There’s a new world order.

So in the coming days, when all fans should be vigilant against the foolish leveraging of the Club’s finances, Arsenal fans of the home country should reject the xenophobia that works so well for the media.  Embrace the new world order, welcome the global fans to the cult of Arsenal and become a beacon to the rest of the world.  Let the other Clubs resist and fall behind while we lead the way.

-the student

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