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Is it necessary to be mugs? This is Lionel Messi. When we talk about his position in world football it is generally in 3 categories: The greatest shirtseller of all time? 1. He is the greatest of all time, an idea held by some fans 2. He is the greatest current player during his time at the top, again a view held by some fans 3. He is one of the greatest players ever, this time probably everyone would agree It is not, usually, except for the marketing experts at his clubs, about what he can generate in shirt sales and so on. But what he, and that other elite band of top players have, is an ability to create astounding sales for their clubs and their kit maker for their shirts and other merchandise. Messi has sold many, many millions of shirts for Barcelona, PSG and Argentina and will now do the same for Inter Miami. Generally the star players make more money for their clubs than the rest of the team combined. This is certainly true of both Messi and Ronaldo, the iconic duo that splits fans as to who is the GOAT. I am not getting into the argument here of which of them is the best footballer but I will talk mostly about Messi to make my argument. Or maybe Ronaldo is the greatest shirtseller of all time? It is difficult to get exact figures of how many shirts they have sold but it is certainly many millions each. My research reckons something like 10 million for Messi. Now, there is a counterpoint of fake shirts which could well also reach the same figures or more but they are not quite as relevant to my thesis as the money doesn’t go into the clubs. We need the fickle fans to buy, buy, buy What it means is that we, as fans, buy, and buy big, to hand over money to our chosen teams. It is strange to me that when Messi signed for PSG something like 1 million shirts were sold in his first season. It indicates that fans follow players rather than clubs, just as fans follow winners rather than teams. Take Man City and Chelsea, for example, both in the top ten brands of football clubs worldwide now, purely due to fans switching and young kids wanting to follow winners. As you go up the sporting ladder you can sell more merchandise. It seems to me that the instant fans are in the majority and they are buyers. Only a mug would buy a mug But let’s take the “real fans” for a moment. Someone who hasn’t switched clubs and takes the chance to see their team whenever they can and add to that the season ticket holders and regular attenders. For Arsenal there are 180,000 official fans in the club membership in the various categories. But Arsenal has an estimated 125 million fans worldwide as well. I basically pay to get into matches and normally buy a programme. I don’t buy merchandise unless asked to. Most of my Arsenal stuff are personal presents or freebies from ASCB or Arsenal Red membership. I have no real idea whether “real fans” also normally big buyers but I suspect maybe not too much, though for sure some of them are. Handing over ludicrous sums to attend matches is enough for me, I am not going to start handing them way over the odds for shirts, etc. Real Madrid: The kings of branding at the moment The winners take it all But that 125 million followers are a strong base to sell to. The other big clubs would have similar or even more. The thing is, it is those big teams which win nearly everything Man City, Man Utd, Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc., are also the biggest merchandise sellers. It is a crucial part of their branding. Vast numbers of people want to be associated with the brand of their team. Real Madrid were ranked first in brands at $1,636.56m in 2022, Arsenal tenth with $815.01m. That’s just the brand value if you were to make an offer for it to make money from selling official produce, not anything else. The Kroenke's paid $777m for all of Arsenal. It’s looking good for them, isn’t it? Ah, the branding is becoming essential to making money My point is, and apologies for taking so long to get to it, is, that as the other top teams make a fortune out of merchandise sales, Arsenal have to do so too. And so all the mug punters out there are helping to keep their team near the top by buying, at prices over the odds, as much merchandise as they can afford. Now, paying more than you should for something is regarded as a mugs game. Only stupid people do so. And yet your team needs you to do so. I am a bit of a mug by paying what, not too long ago, would have been seen as crazy money to see a football match. But I don’t normally buy produce except programmes. Programmes are not too overpriced, anyway. You need to buy a Declan Rice shirt quickly, it's your Arsenal duty Can I feel superior to those that are addicted to buying all the strips, home, away, alternative, special ones, cups, glasses, flags, banners, boots, shoes, etc that you can buy online or in your Arsenal store? It seems not as without them my team would go backwards. And so, I am left with only one conclusion. Yes it is necessary to be a mug to support a top football team. Welcome to stupidville, Gus, and don’t forget to keep paying big bucks. We have come a long way since shirt sales appeared in the late 1970's to small sales, mostly as presents for kids and with little enthusiasm to adults.
Is Emiliano Martinez a clown or not? Should he still be wearing those colours? Emiliano Martinez has become a bit of a hate figure recently. His over-the-top antics at the World Cup have not endeared him to many fans worldwide. It was seen as disrespectful. I agree. However, he didn’t ruin a player’s career with a dangerous tackle or physically attack anyone. I suspect that Argentinians love him as he was probably the biggest reason that Lionel Messi crowned his career with the greatest prize of all. The penalty takers only have to take one, Martinez had to face all of them and he did so twice against Netherlands and France. He triumphed both times. Messi must want to have his babies. Yes, we know you love Martinez, Leo I believe he is a top keeper, though. He is the guardian of the world champions. He has done extremely well at Aston Villa and I will take a look at his record shortly. He also helped enormously in giving us our only real trophy in recent years, the FA Cup. But we let him go and in truth, successive managers have underrated him. I would choose him over Bernd Leno, Peter Cech (the version that we had, he was never the same after the bad head injury given to him by Stephen Hunt), Lucas Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina who were all first choice in his time. I think a lot of Gooners would agree with me. Life could have been so much different for Arsene Wenger if he had given him his chance. He could still be there, leading us now and celebrating our World Cup winner. Wenger still at Arsenal? How so? Well, if I am right and he is better than all the names I have mentioned then that would have translated into points for us. In Leno’s last season 2020/21 we needed 7 more points to leapfrog Chelsea for the Champions league. The year before that 2019/20, we needed 11 extra points to overtake Chelsea again. In 2018/19 we needed only 2 to jump above the Spuds. In 2017/18 we needed 13 points to climb above Liverpool. In 2016/17 we needed 2 points to throw the Spuds below us. In 2015/16 we needed 11 points to kill the Leicester dream but we were a comfortable second and in Champions league. In Martinez’s first year in the first team squad 2014/15 we would have needed 13 points to sicken Chelsea at the top but again comfortably in Champions league in 3rd. Leno - not as good as Martinez A few extra points would have got extra Champions league places and extra money which may have bought us better players and even more points. Wenger would probably still be there now as he would not have been deemed to have failed. It seems he had a blind spot about Martinez as did all the managers who came after him. History has proved them wrong as he has several trophies to his name including the biggest one. An expensive blind spot Johnny Giles famously said that manager Don Revie’s blind spot about picking goalkeeper Gary Sprake over David Harvey cost the superb Leeds team of the 60’s and 70’s many trophies. We all could see Giles was right as Sprake was very prone to errors but somehow Revie couldn’t see it. Gary Sprake - cost Leeds lots of trophies? The difference between a keeper and an outfield player is significant. If you have a top player out for Arsenal, say Partey or Saka, and you bring in Jorginho or Reiss Nelson, against most of the teams in the Premiership, they are at least as good. Elneny, Vieira, Smith Rowe etc., would walk into most Premiership teams. My point being that Arsenal should, and most likely would beat most teams even with their second choice. That is not so true about a keeper. A keeper who makes a mistake against a team who parks the bus, hoping for a breakaway and luck, could lose a match for Arsenal as I believe Leno did sometimes as he allowed himself to be bullied. A better keeper, a Ramsdale or a Martinez, would, I am convinced, have given us extra points. Martinez’s record is outstanding So, what is Martinez’s record? It is good. In the 23 matches he played for Arsenal in 2019/20, his only sustained run, he kept 9 clean sheets. For Aston Villa it is 2020/21 38 games and 15 clean sheets, very impressive for a team in the bottom half of the table. He got player of the year at Villa. In 2021/22 he played 37 times and had 11 clean sheets , extremely good for a team who were close to being relegation candidates and finished 14th. For Argentina he has 7 clean sheets out of 26 matches. The boy was far better than his managers at Arsenal believed. It is as simple as that. Ramsdale - 12 clean sheets so far this season And Leno? In a much better Arsenal side than Villa in 2020/21 he had 16 clean sheets out of 50 games. The previous year 8 clean sheets out of 33. His first year 2018/19 he had 10 clean sheets out of 38. Martinez should have been given the number one spot he deserved. Now I reckon most of us are happy with Ramsdale. He has already got 12 clean sheets this season out of 28 matches. But we have to accept that, in world rankings, Martinez has to be rated above him. His record for Argentina, with his Aston Villa player of the season thrown in: FIFA World Cup: 2022 Copa América: 2021 CONMEBOL–UEFA Cup of Champions: 2022 Individual The Best FIFA Goalkeeper: 2022 FIFA World Cup Golden Glove: 2022 Aston Villa Player of the Season: 2020–21 Copa América Golden Glove: 2021 Copa América Team of the Tournament: 2021 We made a mistake It has to be acknowledged that we let a top player go for £20m and possibly bought a lesser player for £30m. However, he still may turn out to be the best choice. I certainly hope so. I would like to see Gnabry now in our colours Blind spots in not recognising your best players can cost points. Arteta got that wrong as Leno was not as good as Martinez. Wenger, Emery and Ljungberg also made this mistake about Martinez. Wenger also failed to recognise Gnabry’s abilities but I think that was partly due to Gnabry’s attitude. Once he buckled down to serious work at Bayern Munich he proved himself. Wenger didn’t let too many go that he regretted, in fairness. I hope Arteta is the same. We seem to have a lot of talented youngsters coming through, we need to keep the best of them and to do that, we have to play them or risk them going. Arteta will be extremely tested as a manager in the coming seasons, but one thing he cannot afford to do is not realise who our best players are. I have faith that the Martinez situation has been a learning one that Arteta has quietly understood. The keeper position is the most crucial one in the team, in my opinion. I feel and hope we have got it right in Ramsdale. But let's get back to Martinez: I hear his ambition is to be the world's best goalkeeper and he is a long way towards that in winning the World Cup and FIFA Best goalkeeper. I suspect in the summer the big boys will come calling, the giants of European football. He could still have many more years to go and his penchant for saving penalties will have them salivating. He could do it, you know? Many Arsenal players such as Martinelli (who is Brazilian and they have big rivalry with Argentina) say Martinez was always a gentleman and very helpful to everyone. And hey, after ten bleak years at Arsenal, he finally scored for us. Thank you very much, Emi!
We didn't want to see this Barca Batterers and a tale of 2 red cards Sometimes in life you don’t want to write a column. This is one such. I have kept on avoiding this one as I have little good to say. The team from the Nou Camp destroyed us like we destroyed Tottenham. I know in advance that I will be lucky to find any metrics that will favour Arsenal. The good thing about this is that most of you reading will be familiar with these clashes. Our first game was in 1999 in the Champions league group stage. We had a great team, the famous back five was still strong, Overmars, Llungberg, Henry, Kanu, Bergkamp, Vieira and others graced our team. We were bloody good, in theory a match for anyone but at that point Europe was hard for us. They were good, Enrique, Figo, De Boer, Rivaldo, Kluivert and a guy called Guardiola who got clattered by Gilles Grimandi fairly late on to leave us down to 10 men. The first red card Enrique scored a scrappy one early on but they couldn’t score another. We were picking up yellow cards at an unbelievable rate, it was easier to say who didn’t get a card. They only got 2. But the red card seemed to wake us up, the ball was in their box immediately afterwards pinging around until Kanu got an awkward toe to it and it went in. 1-1 at the Nou Camp in our first match! Barcelona, we will send you home crying in London. A Wembley Hammering But no, we were the ones crying, 4-2 to Barca. It was an incredibly exciting match if you were not a Gooner. They were one nil up from a penalty when Tony Adams was clearly outside the box. Rivaldo slotted home and then Enrique scored straightaway to make it 2-0 after 15 minutes. There were lots of chances and a cert penalty not given to us. Towards the second half, Bergkamp scored to make it 2-1. We still had an opportunity. Wenger need to get them going for the second half. But they scored on 56 – 3-1. Then Cocu on 69 and we were beaten. A late goal from Overmars didn’t make a difference. They had shown us who the bosses were. And of course the next match was the most famous Arsenal one for most of you out there reading. The Champions League final 2006. The time I was most disappointed. Of course for me our greatest match was Liverpool 1989, and we won that and it was magic, incredible. Why Lehmann, why? But here was regret and frustration. I watched it in Murphys in Sofia and when Lehmann was sent off on 18 minutes I feared the worst. I have still not truly forgiven Lehmann for that. Sol Campbell scored on 37 and somehow we had a chance. We were playing like demons and even creating some chances. Barcelona didn’t really sparkle but on 76 Samuel Eto’o scored a well worked goal and truly I was worried. Then Belloti scored a bit of a scrappy one and I was sick. It is so hard being an Arsenal fan. We deserved to win, in my opinion, and would have if Lehmann had chosen not to foul. Barca deprived me of my greatest dream, the big cup, the biggest cup, the one I wanted. The second red card We got a chance of revenge in 2010 in the quarterfinals but they were ruthless 6-3 over 2 matches. The mighty Zlatan scoring 2 in the first at the Emirates for 2-2 and then some player called Lionel Messi scored 4 for 4-1 at the Nou Camp. Has anyone heard of him? Thierry Henry hid on the bench for them in the 2 matches. We win, or do we? We had them the next year in the round of 16. And we won the first match. We sent them home crying. David Villa scored early but 2 goals in the second half By Van Persie and Arshavin finished them off. Until the next match when Messi scored 2 and Xavi 1 to make it 3-1 after Busquets scored for us with an own goal. We couldn’t even have a real win against them. I don't know this guy Our last chance was in 2016. But Messi was on hand to annihilate everything for us again. Who is this guy? 2 goals and 2-0 at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger was starting to struggle by this stage and his time was nearly up. At the Nou Camp we scored through El Neny but Neymar, Suarez and, you guessed it, Messi demolished any dreams we may have had. Why oh why did I write about this team? Rivals? They are laughing at us. I am sure they call us Arsenal 3 free points. Trophies, you must be joking. I know what you are saying now, Gus, what about trophies? Surely we can match them for that? Readers, what can I say? They have so many more trophies than we have that I have got dizzy trying to count them. The FA Cup – our trophy? They have 31 Copa Del Reys! 5 Champions League! 26 La Liga! Forget about it, every trophy I try they obliterate us. Don’t look, you will get depressed. This boy was a bit useful Star players? They had Maradona, for Christ’s sake. Cruyff, Stoichkov, Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Ibrahimovic, Lineker, they even had Thierry Henry, Overmars, Petitt and now even Aubameyang. I have missed out so many I could stay here all day. I am writing this part without consulting any sources and I can think of so many players it is unbelievable. And that is without mentioning that guy who scored all the goals against us. They have at least 3 players in that list who are contenders for greatest player of all time. I truly don’t think we have one. Yes, hide your face, Thierry There’s always next year So, all I can do is apologise, dear readers. I know you don’t want to read about Arsenal the losers. Barcelona the big bullies who send us home crying to our mammies saying the big boys hurt us. I just have to dream that Arteta can do it. Next year we take on Barca and Bayern and we dump the 2 of them in the bin. Please, Mikel, is that too much to ask?