Almost every day on twitter and on blogs there are voices ranging from the humble and benign to the good and great criticizing the ownership of Stan Kroenke, not only for his refusal to spend the entire £200 million cash reserves on buying players in the fashion of United and City, but for failing to bring on board a manager who would be so inclined. One leading Arsenal blogger lamented:
“Where is the knowledge of, and passion for, Arsenal Football Club? Who is there that knows the modern game, the way it’s developing, the talent that exists throughout the world that might make this club better and more competitive? Not just on the pitch, but in every aspect. Sir Chips is simply a figurehead. The gruesome twosome of Stan and Josh Kroenke? Yeah, right.”
Make no mistake, Stan and Josh are just a convenient foil for this fairly typical type of ridicule by the blogger, but this entire screed had Arsene Wenger as the prime target. It was already argued in the piece that AW’s dominance of the club football-wise is the greatest obstacle to Arsenal adapting to the modern game, i.e. pursuing the not so new idea that football clubs should spend beyond their organically generated resources to achieve success.
To lay bare the poverty of the wisdom of the sage of Dublin, I decided to do some scenario planning and imagine what the club would be like if there had been an alternate takeover. Given the widespread nature of “cognitive fluency” (hat tip to d_c for spotting this piece on the BBC’s website Why are people so incredibly gullible), I doubt any of this will cause the majority of readers of this blog to stop believing the myths they are being fed daily. But at least they may be willing to consider for one moment, if the boot was on the other foot, would Usmanov be really different from Kroenke?
So Danny Fiszman is on his deathbed, agonizingly aware that his days on earth are numbered, but fully cognizant that he must decide on the disposition of his shareholdings in Arsenal Football Club to not only prevent a fratricidal war between existing and potential owners but even more importantly to guarantee the strategic direction of the club which he had helped to define at great cost, not the least being at the expense of former friends and allies.
A life-long Arsenal fan, Fiszman bought his first tranche of shares in the club from its then vice-chairman David Dein in 1991, to acquire a seat on the board. By 1999 he owned as much as 33 per cent of the club. In his first years he took a back seat and tended to be seen only in the directors’ box at games.
But in the late 1990s he emerged to head up Arsenal’s search for a new stadium to replace Highbury, the club’s home for 86 years. Though it was Dein who brought Fiszman on to the board, the two men clashed repeatedly over the stadium project. Dein favoured a move to King’s Cross or to the restored Wembley. But in 1999 Fiszman identified a suitable plot on an Islington council rubbish dump at Ashburton Grove, about half a mile from Highbury, and it was his view that prevailed. The new stadium opened in 2006.
Fiszman subsequently became involved in the battle for control of the club between the Uzbek metal billionaire, Alisher Usmanov, and the American sports investor, Stan Kroenke. In April 2007 Fiszman was instrumental in ousting Dein from the board after differences arose over funding for the new stadium. Dein argued that external investment would be needed to control debt and remain competitive, and proposed to bring in Stan Kroenke. When he encouraged the American to buy ITV’s 9.9 per cent stake in Arsenal for £65 million, Dein was summarily drummed out as a director. By the way, the sacking of Dein by the Board is an inconvenient truth for the perpetuators of the Dein-myth, i.e. the man who would do any and everything for the best of the club. In fact the Telegraph reports it was Fiszman, who was the board member who took away Dein’s mobile phone and marched him off the premises.
When he was cast aside, Dein decided he was free to sell to the highest bidder and in August he sold his remaining 14.5 per cent stake for £75 million to Red & White Holdings, an investment vehicle of Usmanov and his business partner Farhad Moshiri.
So let us stop the clock of history. Let us assume that with this move Dein gained the upper hand. Fiszman on his deathbed has long known that the game is up. His leadership in getting a one-year lockdown of directors selling their shares, his engineering of the removal from the board of Lady Bracewell-Smith, Keith Edelman and Richard Carr, was valiant but ultimately an act of futility. So in March 2009 he would have sold 5,000 ordinary shares at a total cost of £42.5 million to an “anonymous buyer”, later revealed as Usmanov, in a deal which increased the Uzbek’s stake in Arsenal to 20.5 per cent. Despite subsequent assurances that he had no intention of selling any more shares in the club, three days before his death, on 10 April 2011, Fiszman would have sold his remaining shares to the business magnate, helping Usmanov to take control of the club with a 62.89 per cent holding.
As the sage of Dublin and others now advocate, wouldn’t such a turn of events have led to Arsenal falling into the hands of modern football men, those with the ambition “to speculate to accumulate.” Surely a man of such enormous wealth, reputedly in excess of his countryman and fellow Premier League owner, Roman Abramovich (Net Worth: £11 billion vs £5 billion).
I would suggest we can only judge the Uzbek on the public statements he has made about his policies for the club. On 5 July 2012 Usmanov and his investment vehicle, Red & White Holding’s PLC., issued the following as their vision for the Club?
“ A debt free Club, with a big enough war chest to buy top talent players who can hit the ground running and who can complement the Club’s long tradition of developing young players and homegrown talent.”
Is this any different from Stan Kroenke’s current policies? War chest? £200 million?
In fact R & W concluded their 2012 letter by stating:
“…in order to formalize our long-term involvement with the Club and put an end to any speculation over our position, we, as the co-owners of Red&White, will proudly retain our holding in the Club as a long-term investment for ourselves and our family members to benefit for generations to come.”
So Usmanov is just another long term investor like Stan Kroenke. Hmmm.
Is it any surprise, after seeing the steady regular growth of the value of his investment, only this week Usmanov was reported by leading Russian publication, Rossiya24 as saying:
“Arsenal’s results are stable,
“They are always among the leaders of the English Premier League. This is a good and large sports business project, and I am pleased with it.
“The only thing is that today such situation occurred, like in any sport, there are ups and downs. The club must retain its major symbol and main asset – manager Arsene Wenger.
“I believe that Arsene Wenger is a great coach, and Arsenal have to give him the opportunity to plan the succession process and leave his legacy when he deems it necessary.
“It is very important for the football club to maintain the principles that were established by those people who created its victories. Arsenal need Arsene Wenger.”
My heavens. Not even Kroenke has given Arsene such an overwhelming endorsement.
So despite the naive, infantile caterwauling by bloggers and podcasters, Usmanov, who is currently the only real alternative to Kroenke as owner of our club, far from throwing Arsene under the bus, not only wants him to stay but is urging that he be able to choose his own successor. Maybe those of us with nothing at stake, except our season tickets and bragging rights (including traffic to our blog-sites), should take stock and simmer down.