Arsenal, Usmanov and some perspective
For the next 15 minutes, let’s set aside club bias and look at this objectively.
Arsenal FC, in footballing and in financial terms, are a healthy football club. Arsene Wenger is committed to the club and the new stadium has helped increase revenues significantly. Arsenal have not shown a desire to compete for 20m+ signings, so in terms of financial investment and transfer fund requirements, Arsenal look safe.
In fact, it’s safe to say that despite the debt, Arsenal are doing fine. They don’t need to be bailed out by a rich billionaire, nor do they need the big bucks to bring in big-name players. We’ll know more when we see the financial statements (out on Monday, methinks), but there is NO crisis.
With all this in mind, how would you evaluate Alisher Usmanov’s move to raise Red and White Holding’s stake in Arsenal to 21%?
It’s an ugly move in itself, tantamount to an invasion. If you add to this the legal threats Usmanov’s lawyers have sent to bloggers for discussing Usmanov’s “history” (Arseblog and Craig Murray being two examples), it’s more menacing and aggressive than what we had when Manchester United were being taken over.
At the moment, there is opposition to Arsenal being taken over but nothing of the kind that the Glazers received when they revealed their plans to drown United in debt. This is very much the first move towards a hostile takeover and as thing as progressing, R & W are poisoning their own well.
Stan Kroenke was always going to be an important figure in this, and my guess is that David Dein is trying his best to secure Kroenke’s agreement to selling the shares to Usmanov. Stan is a businessman first and will look after his own interest (especially if Usmanov is paying extra), but with Arsenal doing well on and off the pitch it wouldn’t make sense to sell now, would it? Stan could hold on for as long as possible and eek as much money out of it as he can.
I don’t think Stan will ‘side’ with the board to help them avoid a takeover, but he could try to increase his shares in Arsenal in the future in an effort to cash out in the future. The board’s not going to sell till April next year and the way things are going, pushing them harder (which Usmanov will do) will cause them to resist even more and be more entrenched into not selling.
I don’t oppose takeovers on principle – some can be good for a club and in many cases they do end up revitalising the club. However, if people are getting into football for business first then no matter how much they sweet talk their way into the hearts of the fans (Liverpool takeover, for example), you’ve got to be wary. Liverpool and Chelsea have benefited massively – I’m not sure Manchester United have, and if Usmanov takes over, I don’t think Arsenal will.
It’s clear that Dein wants control of Arsenal, and he’s doing everything he can to make it happen. Pissing off the Arsenal fans is the one thing they don’t want to do, and pissing off prominent Arsenal fans online is even worse.
The irony is that it’s not as if Usmanov will tear down Emirates and sell off the spare parts, or sell all the players one by one and laugh all the way to the mental hospital – if someone else takes over, they will do their best to keep Wenger on board and do whatever they can to improve the club. I don’t see Usmanov aiming to put the club under any heavy debt (in fact he’ll help wipe their debt out – if I’m wrong about this please let me know), so financially it’s not negative in any direct way.
It’s more of a stigma attached to dealing with someone with Usmanov’s past, and a reaction against unnecessary change. And at the end of the day, for a takeover to be successful it has to be fans first, business later – and while David Dein may be a fan first, Usmanov is clearly in it for the money.