‘So, Patrick Vieira is finally staying - a satisfying moment for Arsenal, who maintained all along they wanted to keep him. As the months pass, though, the club's directors may think wistfully about £25m and wonder, after all, if they could have done with selling.
‘While Chelsea are bankrolled by Siberia's oil fields and United are cash rich, Arsenal last year declared debts of £60m, then borrowed another £260m from a flotilla of banks to finance Ashburton Grove.
‘The club has committed over £102m cash towards the stadium project, and a further £45m to it from their sponsorship deal with Nike. Their trading arm is borrowing £42m from the Royal Bank of Scotland and the club has taken out another £37m loan from Barclays. However, Arsenal maintain the figures stack up, and say even now that money for Arsene Wenger's expensive football team is being kept separate from the stadium headaches.
‘Arsenal's conservative estimates are that they will make around £1.5m more per match at Ashburton Grove than they do at Highbury, the 21,500 more paying customers including 7,000 "club" seats with pre-match trimmings. There will be 150 executive boxes, compared to 48 now, which are sold for £50,000 a season - a £5m increase at today's prices if they sell out.
‘Those who said Arsenal would not secure funding for the project were proved wrong in February, when an odd-looking group including the German HSH Nordbank and Luxembourg-based Espirito Santo Investment, led by the Royal Bank of Scotland, agreed to lend Arsenal £260m over 14 years. Interest is understood to have been fixed mostly at seven per cent, which adds up to £18.2m a year, a hefty £255m altogether.
‘It is not entirely clear where the club's further £102m cash investment is coming from. ITV are due to pay Arsenal £30m for five per cent of the shares, a deal agreed by Granada back in September 2000 when media companies still believed football clubs promised pay-per-view and internet windfalls. The cost is six times the current market valuation of Arsenal shares, but unlike their ITV Digital contract with the Football League, ITV is tied into this deal and expected to pay up early next year.
‘Last August Arsenal secured a £55m sponsorship deal with Nike over seven years; all but £10m of it is being shoved straight into Ashburton Grove.
‘The banking arrangements mean that Arsenal do not start repaying the loans until they occupy the new stadium, planned for the 2006-07 season. Until then, the interest "rolls up" at £18.2m every year, then it will have to be repaid, along with the whole £260m capital - £515m altogether - in 12 years. So, Arsenal will be repaying on average £43m a year to the banks, while expecting to make only £37m-£45m extra from the stadium, depending on the number of games. They will be paying out for a long time before they benefit from Ashburton Grove on anything like a scale to put them close to United.
‘So, Arsenal will be sweating to repay their vast loans on Ashburton Grove, while needing to keep Wenger and Vieira happy, and pay for a team good enough to fill the stadium, but still find themselves 15,000 seats short of United.
‘How long before even the new stadium feels too small? Or to put it another way, in modern English football, where money determines success and two clubs have so much more at their disposal than the rest, where is it all going to end?’