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Financial Doping: A Far Bigger Problem Than Arsene Wenger Thought (And He's Guilty Too)

There's more to Financial Doping than a beefed up transfer market; there's lot's of spoiled players (and a slightly spoiled league) too.

Arsene Wenger Manager of Arsenal looks on ahead of the Carling Cup Semi Final First Leg match between Ipswich Town and Arsenal at Portman Road
Arsene Wenger Manager of Arsenal looks on ahead of the Carling Cup Semi Final First Leg match between Ipswich Town and Arsenal at Portman Road

What, as George W. Bush doubtless wants to know, is the French term for double entendre?

Arsene Wenger almost certainly knows. He knows how to execute a pearler too. Financial doping, for example, is a superb example.

There is, first off, the obvious meaning, Wenger coined the phrase financial doping to describe the inauthentic beefing up of the ‘value' of players as a consequence of the completely disproportionate spending power of, first, Chelsea, and then, Manchester City.

These clubs, desperate to upgrade a mediocre squad, and with almost limitless resources, would pay whatever necessary to ensure the arrival of a decent-than-average player, or Shawn Wright-Phillips. He, in fact, is a classic example of this; if the famous (possibly apocryphal) story is to be believed, Wenger enquired about the availability of the son of former Arsenal legend (now national embarrassment) Ian Wright's son during his first spell in Manchester. Apparently considering a bid in the range of £10 million, Wenger decided against formalizing his approach for the player when it transpired that Chelsea were preparing to more than double that.

This story is probably exaggerated, but it is certainly true that by splurging that much money on one player from an, at that time, provincial club, Abramovich is injecting money from outside football into football: financial doping.

That's meaning one and, having been debated for a decade or so, it has now (it would seem) been outlawed by UEFA through the Financial Fair Play scheme.

To be clear, neither Chelsea nor City invented this form of performance enhancement; their methods are arguably more legitimate than those used by the Old Firm in Scotland, who use banks' money, or Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain who use a mixture of taxpayers' money and that which should belong to other clubs.

Meaning two, which is most likely unintentional (though, let's be honest here, the best puns usually are), has only really become evident recently.

In sport (and possibly rock and roll), doping entails enhancement; in other professions (acting, medicine or teaching, for example) dope is a really bad idea, because it makes you stupid. Money does the same thing, and the knock-on effect of the transfer market being, like the neck veins of certain athletes, too big to believe is that it creates a species of doped up footballer, too moneyed up really to care about why he got into this gig in the first place.

Danny Taylor of the Guardian ran a piece this weekend describing Wayne Bridge as the example a new phenomenon he called the non-paying footballer. Bridge is a good example, because he basically doesn't play at all and gets paid handsomely for it; but he's not a very interesting one. No-one's footballing landscape is particularly spoiled by his absence, is it?

There are other examples of players who become hooked on silly money to the detriment of their careers. Manchester City have a few examples of these on (or in some cases partially on) their books.

The two most interesting of which are Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz. Now on loan at Tottenham Hotspur and Betis, Adebayor and Santa Cruz were, in 2007-08 (when both enjoyed seasons' uninterrupted by injury) pretty hot Premier League properties, scoring 30 goals for Arsenal and 23 for Blackburn Rovers respectively. It would be simplistic to cite money as the only reason for the declines of these players (who have scored 18 Manchester City goals between them), but it is clearly the case that big money moves, and huge salary increases, have coincided with marked declines.

Again City are far from unique in this, Arsenal themselves are guilty. Such is Wenger's desire to retain the value of his young players that he will offer them huge salaries (and, if the Bendtner rumors are true, squad numbers to match) that other clubs are not prepared to match, effectively doping them into complacency at Arsenal (if they fancy getting games elsewhere, they can do so on loan - Arsenal will still pay their wages).

This type of financial doping is just as damaging for football as the type against which Wenger coined the phrase. It results in talented players being magnetized to a few clubs, where they'll either become great (although there actually aren't too many examples of that, maybe Samir Nasri will be one?) or become shadows and when that happens, the league, which would be much more competitive (and fun) if Bendtner cared about Sunderland (or Arsenal), suffers.