THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
These are not the best teams
The Champions League gets all the glory and most of the money, but it’s the Europa League where the real magic happens. Europe’s second (but secretly first) competition returned yesterday, and Wolfsburg got into the spirit of things with a quite tremendous collapse.
The German side travelled to Shakhtar Donetsk needing a couple of goals to overturn a 2-1 first-leg defeat. They rode their luck early on — Shakhtar hit the post and missed a few decent chances — and then were handed a lifeline: a red card for the home team. That advantage lasted approximately three minutes, and then John Brooks, for reasons best known to himself, rolled out a flying karate kick to the ribs.
For this he received his second yellow, the daft chap. But Wolfsburg gamely pushed on anyway, and sure enough, right at the death, they got absolutely taken to pieces. Shakhtar scored in the 89th minute. And the 91st. And the 93rd. From a man up to a hammering. That’s the good stuff.
Elsewhere Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen sent Inter through against Getafe. Copenhagen strolled past İstanbul Başakşehir. And Philipp Wiesinger scored this peach as LASK briefly threatened to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Oh, Europa. We’ve missed.
Job losses at Arsenal
Well, the good mood around Arsenal lasted less than a week. That post-FA Cup buzz has been well and truly ruined by the news that the club will be making 55 members of staff redundant.
It is now clear that we will be facing more significant and longer-lasting reductions in our revenue than we all hoped. […] This will impact the disposable income of our fans, the money corporate clients have to spend on hospitality and sponsorship, and the ability for broadcasters to invest in TV rights. Our aim has been to protect the jobs and base salaries of our people for as long as we possibly can. Unfortunately, we have now come to the point where we are proposing 55 redundancies.
We can be fairly sure that the coronavirus has played merry hell with the revenue stream of every club on the planet, and that Arsenal won’t be the last club to cut their staff. They are one of the few clubs, however, that are owned by a multi-billionaire. More than that, a billionaire who has been making money during the pandemic. While moving staff on with one hand, they are using the other to dangle a juicy contract in front of Willian.
Arsenal’s statement is explicit on this connection: these “proposed changes” are about ensuring Arsenal “have the resources to return to competing effectively at the top of the game here and in Europe”. If that’s true, then a decision has been made here, a weighing of values. It has been determined that it is worth sending 55 people out into the job market in the middle of a pandemic in order to pick up an extra attacking midfielder. This might make the team slightly better. It doesn’t do wonders for the club.
But while you ponder if a billionaire might be able to keep people on and buy players, some further information. According to the Guardian, the redundancies will fall in part on Arsenal’s scouting and recruitment departments, as part of a move towards “a more agent-led approach to earmarking players”. Francis Cagigao out; Kia Joorabchian in. This looks like a tightening of the belt, but actually it’s a changing of the trousers.
So the very best of luck to those losing their jobs, and also to Mikel Arteta. Agent-led recruitment is always a good idea.
City on the move
Speaking of giant piles of cash, Manchester City have been busy. On Tuesday they announced Ferran Torres was joining from Valencia, and then later in the evening they unveiled Nathan Ake, last seen getting relegated with Bournemouth. Two transfers in two days. They’ll never keep that pace up.
Torres, a quick winger type, seems to be a direct replacement for the departing Leroy Sane, while Ake comes in to provide cover, competition, and company for Aymeric Laporte. The rumour mill seems to think there’s another central defender coming as well. It’s John Stones we feel sorry for.
City are doing their big business early, and while that may just be the way the market has shaken out, it’s tempting to read this as something of a statement. Pep Guardiola: getting things done. Pep Guardiola: making things right. Pep Guardiola: really quite annoyed at finishing 18 points behind Liverpool, and making sure everybody in the recruitment department knows it.
IN OTHER NEWS
What do you get when you cross football with cricket, a rain delay, and It’s A Knockout? You get England pace bowler Mark Wood fading a lovely cushioned header into a bin. Obviously.
IN THE RETRO CHANNELS
Alexis Sanchez's permanent move to Inter will be announced at some point today. So let’s take a moment to remember the high point of his career at Old Trafford: that announcement video. We’re saying that it was pretty good, all things considered. Plinky plinkity plonk.
If you’re jonesing for more detail on Ake’s move to city, then The Athletic (£) — and what must be a record-breaking five-person byline of Sam Lee, Peter Rutzler, David Ornstein, Simon Johnson and Laurie Whitwell — have got you covered. Particular thanks to them for this insight into the mechanics of top-level business:
The £40 million fee could be topped up with £1 million in add-ons depending on his achievements at the Etihad Stadium. It is a curiously small amount to include in a deal but it is believed any buying club had to exceed the £40 million clause that Chelsea inserted into his Bournemouth contract in 2017 and City did not want to risk a repeat of the infamous Arsenal bid of £40,000,001 offer for Luis Suarez.
Dropping an extra £999,999 so as not to look like Arsenal. What a sport.
More delightful Europa League action coming up tonight, including Wolves vs. Olympiacos, 1-1 after the first leg, and Sevilla vs. Roma, which thanks to the coronabreak will be a one-off, winner takes all affair. Rangers will attempt to overturn a 3-1 deficit at home to Bayer Leverkusen, and Eintracht Frankfurt a 3-0 deficit against Basel.
Tom Adams will be here on Friday to tell you how that all went.