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Arnesen lands a move upstairs

Football is a results business and for those players and managers who fail to deliver the door marked "exit" beckons. Nowhere is that more true than at the very top of the game where the stakes are highest and patience a rare commodity.

Therefore there was considerable surprise last week when it was revealed that Frank Arnesen, Chelsea's chief scout and director of youth development, was to be given a seat on the board and a rolling 12-month contract, effectively installing him as a permanent member of staff.

It is a remarkable reversal of fortunes for Arnesen who just six months ago was thought to be on the verge of being dismissed after failing to bring a single player from Chelsea's youth system through to the first team, three-and-a-half years after being tasked with overhauling the club's youth structure and worldwide scouting network.

With club owner Roman Abramovich less than impressed with the negligible return for his multi-million pound talent-spotting investment, Arnesen's future and that of his expensive project did not look good.

The 52-year-old Dane, who earns around £2m-a-year, joined the club on a four-year contract from Tottenham Hotspur in 2005 amid considerable acrimony which resulted in Spurs receiving a mighty £5m in compensation.

A former Danish international, Arnesen enjoyed great success as a player in the 1970s and 80s with both Ajax and PSV, winning the Dutch title six times and the European Cup. He still is held in high regard in the Netherlands, where many credit him with unearthing Dutch players including Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Arjen Robben.

It was that reputation which led to a job offer at Stamford Bridge, but despite the vast financial resources available to him Arnesen's youth set-up is regarded as an unqualified failure.

In November, as a credit crunch-wary Abramovich re-evaluated his spending at Chelsea, many expected Arnesen to be relieved of his duties six months before his contract was due to expire. But even after swingeing cutbacks which saw the club sack 15 of their 25 scouts, Arnesen remained.

Despite the undeniable and ongoing disappointment over his primary scouting and youth policy objectives, Arnesen has managed to reinvent himself and in the two seasons since Jose Mourinho's departure has established himself in position of considerable power influence.

The culmination of his increased involvement in first-team matters and transfer policy is his promotion to the "football club board", a body which was formed just prior to Mourinho's departure in 2007 in an attempt to streamline a decision-making process which had grown unwieldy thanks to the myriad of often contradictory advice Abramovich was being offered.

And so, three years after taking his position and with no standout success stories in youth development, scouting or indeed transfer business, Arnesen now sits within the club's inner sanctum, alongside chairman Bruce Buck and chief executive Peter Kenyon, with a direct influence over the club's strategy.

The moral of the story appears to be, if you aren't enjoying much success at the job you're doing start doing a different one and perhaps no-one will notice.

In a statement which seems remarkably out of step with the general consensus over sensible business practise in the current economic climate, the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) has defended clubs with massive and ever-increasing levels of debt.

Professor Jose Maria Gay from the University of Barcelona has produced a report which shows that the combined debt of the 20 clubs in Spain's top league rose by more than €650m in the 12 months to June 2008, at which point it stood at €3.5bn.

Gay has warned that the Spanish game is at risk of financial collapse unless spending and borrowing are brought in line with what they can afford and argues that such is the negligence of the LFP and its counterparts at the Spanish FA (RFEF) that intervention from either the Spanish government or UEFA was need to prevent disaster.

In response to the professor's reasoned concern and sage counsel an LFP source told Reuters: "Debt is an instrument of financial and economic management that all companies in all corporate sectors make use of. It's rather shocking that the concept of debt, when applied to soccer clubs, has such extremely negative connotations, something that is not the case in any other sector."

It is perfectly true, of course, that borrowing is a legitimate means of funding expansion, but over-reliance on it is potentially hazardous if not carefully monitored and correctly managed, something which is especially true with regards to the Spanish game were debt levels are so high.

The report showed that Real Madrid had the largest debt with €563m euros, followed by city rivals Atletico with €511m and Valencia with €502m, while Barcelona owed €438m.

Such are the levels of debt at Valencia that a fire sale of star players like David Villa and David Silva is likely this summer, despite the club agree a new €65m loan last month. Before that latest line of credit was agreed the club had been forced to suspend building work on a new stadium and delay wage payments.

The LFP did say that it would be "prudent and advisable" to limit borrowing, the comments appeared more an apologetic explanation for dangerous levels of debt than an acceptance of a genuine problem.

While it would be unrealistic to expect the league to speak out against its own clubs, or risk spreading a panic, instead choosing to downplay a serious problem will only fuel concerns amongst worried supporters that those charged with ensuring the continued health of the game are gambling with their future.


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