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The ghost slowly, gravely, silently approached Spurs. He was wrapped in a deep black garment, which hid his head, his face, his form, and left nothing visible except an outstretched hand. It was pointing southwest and at that point Spurs got it. Spurs watched Arsenal and saw not a rival but their own future. Could it be that Arsenal is a vision for Tottenham to come?

It’s a story of Daniel Levy, of course, and Mauricio Pochettino and Harry Kane and dozens of others, but it’s also a larger story. Football as we know it today may have originated in London with the establishment of the Football Association at the Freemasons Arms near Covent Garden in 1863 and the codification of the laws that still form the basis of modern play, but after professionalization, he quickly left.

It was not until 1931 that a London club won the league for the first time. Football has become a game dominated by the large industrial towns of the North and Midlands, a model followed in most of the large democracies. It was there that the largest crowds were found and that a sense of provincial pride encouraged local industrialists to invest.

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There have been moments of excellence for Arsenal and Tottenham, even Chelsea, but it was not until the 1980s with the decline of industrial centers and an increasing concentration of capital on the capital that London came to match Liverpool. and Manchester as the great center of English. Soccer. It is the only UK city to have provided three different Champions League finalists.

But while London offers some advantages – a large fan base, an attractive cosmopolitan environment for foreign players and managers, vast sales and marketing opportunities – it is also costly. Arsenal decided in 1997 that they had to leave Highbury, a beautiful and historic ground which had become cramped and impractical for the modern world of media and corporate hospitality. When they finally moved to the Emirates in 2006, the cost was £ 390million. They never recovered.

Arsenal struggles give Spurs a grim warning about their own poor future |  Tottenham Hotspur
Spurs fans at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium. Despite the rise in box office receipts, Daniel Lévy’s club can never hope to compete with the wealth of an oligarch or an emirate. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

That doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision to move; on the contrary, it was the only decision the club could have taken if they wanted to compete with Manchester United. But by the time Arsenal moved a number of small things had changed, as had a big one.

Arsène Wenger had arrived as a visionary. But by 2006, other clubs had caught up with his progress in nutrition and his understanding of overseas transfer markets. By the end of the decade, it was clear that he was no longer in the tactical vanguard. But the worst was the financial reality. Between Arsenal’s purchase of the Ashburton Grove pitch and the stadium’s completion, Roman Abramovich had taken over Chelsea and the economics of football had completely changed. Two years after Arsenal moved to the Emirates, Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City.

This seemingly inexorable transfer of power from football to the capital was suddenly disrupted by much larger outside forces. It doesn’t matter whether Arsenal triples or quadruple its revenue, they can never hope to compete with the wealth of an oligarch or an emirate. And so, as Chelsea and City moved up, Arsenal, operating under budget cuts as they paid off the loan for the stadium, slipped.

Wenger probably stayed too long. Bad decisions were made. The transfers have sometimes been mystifying. But many of the errors were at least partially caused by the circumstances. Would they have made the same expensive signings, awarded the same vast contracts to aging stars, if they hadn’t been deeply anxious about their declining status?

Arsenal struggles give Spurs a grim warning about their own poor future |  Tottenham Hotspur
Arsenal and Aston Villa players entered the pitch in August 2006 for the first competitive match at Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

Of course the club was mismanaged, but it is no coincidence that Ivan Gazidis, Sven Mislintat and Unai Emery, seen as failures in the Emirates, all succeeded after their departure. In order for Arsenal not to decline at least to some extent, it would have needed something akin to genius.

Like Arsenal, Tottenham moved to a sparkling new stadium in the same year they reached their only Champions League final. Like Arsenal, they found their budgets constrained as a result, their difficulties magnified by the pandemic (it may be the height of ‘Spursiness’ to build a new stadium at great expense to increase revenue and almost immediately be forced to lock down fans. ).

They too had their crisis with an extremely popular manager who had transformed the perception of the club. Supporting Pochettino, which allegedly involved selling players he said were outdated as well as releasing funds for signings, was the difficult option. Levy’s big mistake at that point was to abandon the careful breeding that previously characterized his approach and instead cosplay being a big club by sacking him and appointing a celebrity manager in José. Mourinho.

If Kane starts scoring again in the league, Levy’s intransigence on his sale to City may seem justified, but there is also a danger that keeping him will be the equivalent of Arsenal offering Mesut Özil or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a contract. Expensive Extended: A club uncomfortable about how others see them hanging on to the star who offers status rather than having the confidence to find ever-improving replacements.

Maybe Arsenal, with their new focus on youth, will build again. They finished the last two seasons strong under Mikel Arteta and that may offer some relief amid the gloom. But what does that mean? How far can they go? Champions League qualification? Europa League? A Premier League challenge seems a long way off.

For Tottenham, it’s a warning. Their Champions League final may have only been two years in the past, but they have to look at Arsenal and get an ominous glimpse of a potential future: a club with Super League aspirations in a magnificent stadium in a well appointed part of the country, playing in the middle of table football and unable to climb any higher due to the vast gap between them and the next level of the sport’s financial hierarchy.