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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
How very retro. There was a time when any game between Arsenal and Manchester United was epoch-shaking. They were the two giants of the domestic game, battling out their own private war while the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and, this'll make you laugh, Newcastle could only look on from the sidelines. But then Roman Abramovich arrived and United slipped out of contention. By the time that they got their act together, Arsenal were reduced to fighting for fourth place with Tottenham. Amazingly, this is actually the first time since 2005 that the two sides have met in a genuinely crucial game of football.

But while one kind of dominance makes a surprise return, another could be on its way out for good. If you believe Arsene Wenger, and as he has a Masters' Degree in Economics it might be a good idea, the financial superiority of the English clubs is at an end. This summer will see the start of a seismic shift in the balance of power as the rest of the continent suddenly discovers that their money goes a lot further with the world's super-agents.

According to Wenger, there are two reasons for this. One is the fading power of Pound Sterling, the Hull City of the international currency market. Liverpool signed Fernando Torres in 2007 for Euro39m, which at that point was just over GBP26m. If they were to sign him for Euro39m now, it would cost them GBP35m. Would Liverpool be able to buy him now? Absolutely not. From here on in, there are very few clubs who could.

If only that was all. Wenger has pinpointed new tax rules as another reason for the world's best players to seek employment elsewhere. The UK Government have just announced a rise in the highest tax band. Anyone who earns more than GBP150,000 a year, i.e. every footballer in the top two divisions, will have to cough up 50% of it to the taxman. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when the Manchester United human resources team explained that one to Cristiano Ronaldo. Never mind the fact that it's going to stop anyone coming to play in England, it's probably going to make a lot of established stars want to leave. If you believe certain sources at the Emirates, Wenger has already fallen victim to this. Mathieu Flamini was rumoured to have been ensared, not so much by AC Milan's money, as Italian tax regulations. It's a different game these days, isn't it?

But while this is all bad news for the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, who struggle to bring players from the academy to the first team, it actually works out rather nicely for Arsenal and Manchester United. Wenger may get all the credit for his policies, but Sir Alex Ferguson is every bit as enthusiastic when it comes to young players, as this week's confirmation of Rafael's contract extension shows. Both clubs have respected scouting networks, excellent youth academies and, most importantly, a proven track record of actually giving their rookies a chance to play in the first team. That's going to pay dividends if the days of super-transfers are over.

Perhaps then, this is not so much of an old school one-off, as the first clash in a new period of dominance for the old guard of the Premier League. When new money is battered by the financial storms, old power reasserts itself. It may not matter too much who loses at Old Trafford. In a couple of seasons time, they could both be winners.