Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov have been at war in the Arsenal boardroom, and this in many ways has jeopardised the club’s future. Recently Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has come out and (once again) criticized the board of turning Arsenal into a feeder club. But is the Russian as good as he projects himself to be?
“The greatest achievement of Arsène Wenger is to have created two teams: the one that now plays for our rivals and the one that is trying to be among the best in the Premier League. That’s why I say it’s not enough to merely flatter the coach, but to give him the possibility to buy the best players, superstars. But not just stars, but those chosen by Wenger.
“For me, he’s one of the best coaches in the world, but it’s not easy for him. I think he deserves that players are brought in at Arsenal when they’re needed. The best players, and not being satisfied with selling our best players to our rivals.
“If that happens, we can ask everything of him. But, today, he’s sacrificed. Because of the policy and we’re all to blame. Everything’s in Mr Kroenke’s hands and I hope he succeeds, even if he doesn’t go along with my ideas.
“It’s unthinkable that the shareholders get well paid while, for small clauses in contracts, we lose key players like Robin van Persie, Mathieu Flamini or Patrick Vieira. We should have increased their salaries when they started to be courted, started to look elsewhere. I don’t know why we didn’t propose that to them.” – Usmanov protested.
The Russian also insisted that Arsenal legend Thierry Henry is “pushing” him to take over the London club. Usmanov added :
“I like many footballers and I’m in contact with some of them. Perhaps my favourite of the last 10, 15 years is Thierry Henry. He’s pushing me to buy all of Arsenal’s shares, but I cannot predict the future.
“When I had the chance to buy some shares and become one of the main shareholders in the club, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I was even ready to take total control. That wasn’t possible because certain people preferred to make a profit and create, using me, an outside enemy. I remain portrayed as a pirate, an enemy. They have won that game.”
While most of the questions raised by Usmanov against the Arsenal board and Stan Kroenke are valid, it would be infantile to assume that the Russian would do any better. Many Arsenal fans want to see Usmanov takeover at the club while the rest are mostly concerned about Kroenke stepping down from the board.
Usmanov has promised a lot; already. While clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City, backed by their cash rich owners, have enjoyed success, Arsenal are currently finding it hard to break into the top four in the league – leave alone challenging for trophies. It is a fact that Usmanov is richer than Kroenke and can provide Arsenal the cash required to compete with the likes of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea in the transfer market. But there are things which suggest Usmanov might not be the answer to Arsenal’s current woes.
In recent times one would invariably hear a disgruntled Arsenal fan say “We lack a player like Viera/Adams/Henry” or more commonly “Arsene Wenger has lost it”, but what Arsenal mostly need right now is someone like David Dein.
While Arsene Wenger has faced lot of criticism in recent times and most of those questions raised against the Frenchman are true. Wenger hasn’t evolved like Sir Alex Ferguson who has done so successfully in his career. But most of the time critics miss out on pointing to the fact that currently Wenger doesn’t have someone like David Dein or Keith Edelman by his side. Instead he has to make do with someone like Ivan Gazidis.
Keith Edelman was an unsung hero at the club. He was the main man behind developing the new Stadium and bringing one of the biggest sponsorship deal back then as the Gunners tied up with Emirates Airlines. It was he and David Dein who envisaged the current financial structure at the club, but unfortunately they couldn’t foresee how it will end.
The last Arsenal squad which threatened and potentially could have won the title was that of 2007-08. It was perhaps the last time Gunners really threatened the domination of Manchester United and Chelsea. Although Arsenal haven’t won a silverware for over seven years now, the visible decline in the Arsenal squad started after the 2007-2008 season and it is not a co-incidence that David Dein and Keith Edelman left the club during that period.
Dein wanted to bring in investment into the club in order to compete but it was apparent that the board didn’t agree with him. Dein knew that the building of the new stadium would put the club under a lot of debt and wanted to welcome external investments into the club to get over this period, but the board thought otherwise. While the board did manage to persuade Arsene Wenger (who was devastated with Dein’s departure from the club) to extend his stay, things were never the same at the club.
Interestingly after Dein resigned, the board came out and ‘reassured’ the fans saying :
“We sincerely regret that irreconcilable differences between Mr. Dein and the rest of the board have necessitated a parting of the ways.
In light of recent speculation with regards to the ownership of the Club, the remaining Board members, who together own 45.45% of the issued share capital of the Company, would like to reassure the supporters, shareholders and employees of Arsenal Football Club that they remain long-term holders of their interests in the Club. To this effect, they have entered into an agreement not to dispose of their shares for at least one year and have confirmed that they intend to retain their interests on the expiration of this period.”- Chairman Peter Hill-Wood said.
Despite this assurance and initial defection towards Stan Kroenke, the American billionaire joined the board of directors at the club in September 2008. This move was a far cry from what the board assured the fans initially; and sadly it was only the beginning.
While many saw the above move to ward off Usmanov, who was slowly raising his stake at the club, it was a case of choosing one devil over another.
Usmanov had the backing of David Dein; initially. The former Arsenal vice-chairman sold his shares to Usmanov’s Red and White Holding – which had the largest stakes in the club back then – in 2007 and was appointed as the chairman of Red and White Holdings.
But lot of questions were raised when Dein resigned from his role at Red and Holdings in 2008. Did Dein lose his trust in Usmanov? Did the former Arsenal Vice-Chairman realise that Usmanov wasn’t an option for the club? After stepping down from Red and White Holding Dein has never publicly spoken in support of Usmanov, although he has maintained that the club needs to bring in investment in order to compete, he has never assured that Usmanov should be the ‘go to man’ for the Gunners.
What is even more astounding is the fact that the board members, who were against foreign investment in the club (the reason behind Dein’s departure) eventually, sold their shares to ‘Silent Stan’. Usmanov claimed that the board members did this for money, but the fact remains that the board members would have earned more money had they sold their shares to Usmanov.
The board certainly felt threatened by Usmanov’s advances in the club, and as Alfred Pennyworth said to Bruce Wayne “And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand” – Stan Kroenke. But now Arsenal mustn’t repeat the same mistake and turn towards Usmanov – he is no dark knight.
What Arsenal need in the boardroom currently is someone who is a fan of the club first and foremost – something that made David Dein so popular. Kroenke mighty be the problem, but Usmanov is certainly not the answer. A board, which the fans accuse of being greedy, refused to sell their shares to this man even though it would have meant higher financial rewards – something must be wrong with this man.