Twitter can be a deceptively dour place, but you’d be hard-pressed to find more disapproving fanbases than those that follow (against their better judgements) Arsenal and the New York Knicks. And when I say disapproving, I mean it in an apoplectic kind of way.
And, funnily enough, the reasons for their malaise stem from the same levels of incompetence in the same integral places. Weird, eh?
If you are even mildly acquainted with either of these teams, you will know that nestled, warm and cozy, within those problem areas are Messrs Stan Kroenke and James Dolan. You will also know that the warmth they’re revelling in is actually coming from the fire that’s raging all around them.
To them, though, it’s just a particularly impressive central heating system, offering a particularly persistent summer sweat. Like true climate change deniers, they sit there, oblivious. ‘This is fine’, they say, as they pour themselves another glass; pissy Bud light for Dolan, dark liquor-infused ice tea, or whatever Big Daddy (the Tennessee Williams one, not the Adam Sandler one)/Colonel Sanders lookalikes drink, for Kroenke.
You know, like the meme. Or this adjacent baseball video, which is a perfect visual representation of each side’s pre-season thus far.
And, though these fires have been raging for some time – for the Gunners, the first spark was probably lit when the Emirates was built, while the Knicks’ began in… 1975? – the schemes of these malignant owners have aided its cause to no end, with this summer’s conditions the most fertile yet.
For Arsenal, a second successive finish outside the top four, and a 4-1 demolition at the hands of local rivals Chelsea in the Europa League final, meant another year without Champions League football, which meant another summer of pitiful spending. Yes, the team were pretty dire, especially come the end of the season, but that shouldn’t absolve Kroenke of anything.
A collaborative statement between 14 of the club’s leading supporter groups recently explained this in eloquent fashion, citing: “As Arsenal fans, we have watched with frustration as the team’s football performances have declined over the past decade.
“When Stan Kroenke began buying Arsenal shares the club had just competed in a first Champions League final. Twelve years on Arsenal are about to play in the Europa League for the third year running.”
Because at the end of the day, it is he who has pocketed the cash from all those years of European qualification, and he who has penny-pinched when that success has come to an end, with said penny-pinching coming prematurely enough for the causality to be clear. Those failures in investment, be it in unwise acquisitions or an unwillingness to provide any at all, have been costing the club all decade, forcing players like Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie to look elsewhere for success – and it’s usually been nearby.
When it mattered, Silent Stan lived up to his nickname, and it’s only gotten worse since his stake in the club increased.
For the Knicks, it has been even more blatant. Thanks to a more forgiving league format, whereby poor performance is rewarded with pole position (or close to pole, thanks to a relatively new rule to dissuade teams from ‘tanking’ in order to get the first pick in the draft) in the stakes for the best young players around each year, they have been able to traverse every possible avenue for team building. And they have failed in EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. No, seriously.
And, every time, it has come about through a dizzying combination of dismal mismanagement, unforgivable arrogance, bad luck and outrageous ineptitude. A lot of words there. All of them applicable. All of them Knickensian. All of them Dolanian.
I mean, for context, this is a guy whose own shareholders at Madison Square Garden Company have brought a lawsuit to lower his wages, calling him ‘staggeringly overpaid’ for a job he only does part-time, because he spends far more hours working on his ‘band’ JD & the Straight Shot.
So, how did things get so incomprehensibly worse for both sides this summer?
Well, it begins and ends with players, as both sports seem to do these days. For the Knicks, this comes in the form of a five-pronged attack, starting with the loss of Kristaps Porzingis and ending, tragically, with a miss on Kevin Durant – arguably the greatest player in the world, injury/Kawhi Leonard notwithstanding – and Kyrie ‘Neymar’ Irving.
Knicks president Steve Mills:
“While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight’s news, we continue to be upbeat & confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through both the draft & targeted free agents.”
— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) July 1, 2019
[Quick interlude – I’d just like to give myself a shoutout for how well that comparison between Kyrie and Neymar has aged. The fact that the former has now left Boston and the latter is desperately angling for a return to Barcelona is, well, fairytale stuff.]
Essentially, they did away with their prodigious Latvian ‘Unicorn’ back in February to clear salary-cap space in a frenzied expectation of two or all of Durant, Irving and Anthony Davis joining in the summer. Dismal mismanagement of assets AND unforgivable arrogance – check.
Oh, I also forgot to mention their hopes of bringing in the generational talent that is Zion Williamson – another #shameless plug
All’s fair in love and sports. Bad luck – check.
Then proceeding to bomb out on KD and Kyrie because a) Dolan refused to offer the Golden State Warrior a max deal because of his recent Achilles injury, b) friend (and now teammate) DeAndre Jordan told both players that the organization was a shambles or c) the duo figured it out on their own? Yeah, whichever one you pick, it covers the outrageous ineptitude.
Ok, over to you, Arsene. Whoops, genuine Freudian slip. Anyway, for their Porzingis-shaped hole in the wall, the Gunners had Aaron Ramsey, who, in slightly different circumstances, they had allowed to leave in order to keep their other ‘big’ midfield ‘star’, Mesut Ozil. Their town wasn’t big enough for the both of them, wages wise, and the German had been handed his £350,000-a-week appeasement a year earlier.
Which was good, because Ramsey was one of the team’s best players last season, and Ozil had ‘back pain’ a lot – talk about bang for your back. In any case, Unai Emery’s most trusted midfielder was chucked out, with his nigh-on least trusted playmaker left to fester.
The problem is, while three other players were incorporated into that Porzingis deal to clear the decks, Arsenal
Which bogs the squad down with mediocrity and makes any chance to improve on that meagre budget very difficult. Which makes attracting quality talent difficult and, even if they actually, maybe want to come – a la Wilfried Zaha, maybe – makes actually signing them a near impossibility.
And so you see the vicious circle. Which is relevant to both because, while the Knicks can nominally regroup for another free agent push in 2021 – when 2019 MVP Giannis Antetekoumpo will be on the table – such thoughts are frankly fanciful while Dolan’s sweaty, guitar-plucking fingers remain slumped in the franchise’s many pies.
Which is where we come to the Brooklyn Nets/Tottenham Hotspur part of the conversation. Because this is where the parallels really cut deep. Sure, Spurs may have technically been founded four years before Arsenal in the 19th century, but for the majority of the late 20th and 21st, they’ve been the pesky locals having an inconsequential knockabout down the road, nothing more.
As for the Nets? Well, they were out in New Jersey until 2012, and had all the anonymity that came with it.
But in the blink of a billionaire’s eye, these roles have reversed. Through impeccable management across the board and youthful impetus, both these upstarts have risen above and beyond their rivals, and can now unquestionably boast to being the bigger, better team.
The Nets swooped in to sign both KD and Kyrie from under the Knicks’ stuck up nose, Spurs reached the Champions League final without signing anyone in two transfer windows, and have now broken their hiatus with the signing of this summer’s pre-eminent French midfield prospect, Tanguy Ndombele, in a club-record £55m move.
They’ve even hijacked the Gunners’ bid for young defender William Saliba, forcing them to match a bid of £27m (almost three-quarters of their whole budget) just for kicks.
And this is the real tragedy for these two once-great sides. They should be thriving, reaping the rewards of their historic status, prime real estate and abundant fans. But they’ve slept at the wheel, and their closest rivals have assumed control, leaving them in the dust, fighting for scraps – like, I don’t know, 14-year-old Brazilians, or Bobby Portis.
It’s Silent Stan and James ‘Eddie Vedder’ Dolan they have to thank. And, without imminent sale, it’s hard to see how things can change.