I hold no brief for Stan Kroenke. I’ve never met the man and doubt I ever will. He is a billionaire; I struggle from paycheck to paycheck. He owns sports franchises, I can’t afford a sports car. He owns massive ranches; I can barely keep my mortgage current. He directs several corporations, I barely direct my household.
But there is one thread that binds us together; he happens to be the majority owner of the football club I support. There are millions of other plebs, like meself, in England and worldwide who depend on him for his proper stewardship of the club to whom we devote our recreational time and disposable income. This is a symbiotic relationship from which he benefits financially. There is an implied contract; as long as Stan takes care of AFC we are loyal, undying supporters of the club. That is why supporters have a vested interest in an objective analysis of whether Stan’s ownership is beneficial to the football club.
But apparently the name Stan Kroenke is a dog whistle that automatically triggers anything but a reasoned, measured response among several Arsenal fans. To the contrary, yell his name and there is an immediate rabid, noisy, fevered reaction that exceeds any pack of canines. Apparently rounding on Stan Kroenke is guaranteed to get emotions worked-up and generate attention for any blogger, twitter, ex-player, or malcontent seeking to tap into the need for a scapegoat on whom all blame can be pointed for the ills of the club particularly its recent falling out of the top-four for the first time in 20 years.
This was exactly what happened this past week when news emerged that Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov had made a bid of $1.3 billion to buy out Kroenke’s majority stake. In reaction to this attempted takeover, one of the top Arsenal bloggers, who has been knocking Kroenke for ages, to the approval of his acolytes, made the following declaration:
“Arsenal will continue to stagnate under Kroenke’s stewardship, he’s had majority control of the club for years now, and we understand his model of ownership is not really about achieving sporting success.”
As usual, I decided to test this grand declaration by measuring how it stacks up against the unbiased data.
Spending under Kroenke
One important measure of Stan’s commitment to Arsenal’s “sporting success” is the history of transfer spending since he became majority owner. Unlike the wild, baseless, emotive, incendiary assertions of various bloggers, tweeters and podcasters I prefer the unbiased data. From transfermarkt.co.uk I obtained the following information on transfer spending since the 2011-12 season when Kroenke became majority owner. (Figures below are in £-million.)
In six full seasons net transfer spend has totaled nearly £200 million rising from negative £11 million in 2011-12 to nearly £90 million last season, a more than 1000% increase. In contrast, over the previous 6 years, net transfer spend totaled negative £11 million. Yup, prior to Kroenke, the club was generating more from selling players than spending on transfers. Since he took over there has been a revolutionary reversal. This is an inconvenient truth which neither the mainstream media nor supposedly pro-Arsenal bloggers choose to emphasize, preferring to indulge in spreading fake news casting Kroenke as literally a “deadbeat” Dad who neglects his Arsenal children
Maybe deadbeat Kroenke is worse than his other top-six rivals in transfer spending?
Once again the data belies the nonsense that is spouted in social media. In the past six seasons Arsenal net-spend was third amongst its peers. Only Manchester City, with full access to the petro-dollars of the sheiks of Abu Dhabi, and Manchester United, with its enormous commercial revenue, was able to outspend Arsenal on a net basis. Chelsea, it must be said, has engaged in some serious transfer voodoo over the period, outlaying nearly £0.5 billion on buying players but showing a remarkable ability, in excess of all its peers, to make recoveries via sales to other clubs. Hmm.
Not only has Arsenal under Kroenke been competitive in the transfer market but it has been effective spending based on average league position. Only City has enjoyed better league position in the long run. AFC is in a close bunch with United and Spurs. Unlike those two other clubs the Gunners can point to two FA cups over the same period and a chance for a third this weekend. Not bad for a club who until recently was selling its best players and replacing them with callow inexperienced youth.
If AFC is “stagnating” then it is among some glorious company. They too should take the advice of Arsenal’s foremost blogger and start agitating for a change of ownership.
Despite calumnies and mendacious reporting, Stan has not taken money out of the club except for a one time-payment to Kroenke Sports Enterprises for services rendered. Resources have been allocated to Arsene Wenger and the club’s management to improve the club. Since 2013 world class players such as Ozil and Alexis were brought into the team at great cost and under the nose of bigger, more resourced clubs. The Emirates has been Arsenalized, London Colney and Hale End have been expanded and modernized, a new health and fitness complex constructed and StatDNA acquired. These are all significant capital investments which empty, vacuous fans take for granted.
Standards under Kroenke
The record shows that Kroenke became majority owner of the club in April 2011 when he increased his shareholding in Arsenal to 62.89% by purchasing the stakes of Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith. The blogger, like many, conveniently glosses over the historical fact that Danny Fiszman, who was at one point the biggest single shareholder and the driving force behind the new stadium over the objections of David Dein, whom he helped removed from the board, engineered Kroenke’s takeover by selling him his final holdings on his deathbed in clear preference over Usmanov. Yup, the real “Mr. Arsenal” preferred Kroenke’s plans for Arsenal over that of his rival.
It was former chairman Peter Hill-Wood who revealed that Kroenke was viewed favorably by Fiszman and the rest of the Board because had agreed to maintain the standards of the club:
“We have never been in better shape financially and do not want anybody to buy the club, but if Kroenke wanted to buy it he would understand it and how to maintain the standards.”
It is well known throughout the 131 year history of Arsenal that, while it has been a pioneer of great innovations on and off the field, the club has never engaged in financial excesses and has never put winning a title above financial prudence. As any adult with two neurons and a working synapse is aware these are the sort of practices that have destroyed many football clubs (and businesses) whether in England, Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas. To the contrary Arsenal has been a model of a self-sufficient, self-sustaining club. Apparently this is the “stagnation” that is so objectionable to the blogger and others.
Kroenke’s crime it appears is to steadfastly refuse using his own money to finance the club’s operations especially transfer spending. There is this infantile mentality that it is scandalous for a billionaire to treat Arsenal as a “serious long-term investment” rather than the play thing of a rich sugar daddy.
Apparently it is preferable to some that Kroenke does what the sugar-daddy owners at Manchester City and Chelsea do routinely. To wit, achieve the glory of winning titles by pouring external money in the club to support massive transfer without a care for the long term viability of the club. None of these advocates of short-term glory, those seeking the favors and pampering of that rich old geezer, have learnt anything from real life; what the sugar-daddy giveth he also taketh away.
As recent as last month I shared with readers the ultimate fate of one of the biggest sugar-daddy projects in world football, Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan. After 30 years of winning eight league titles, one Italian Cup, seven Super Cups as well as five Champions League trophies and five UEFA Super Cups. But due to Milan’s growing debt and Berlusconi’s falling financial fortunes, the club was forced to sell some of its best players year after year without significant reinvestment, leaving them floundering. In a span of just two years, Milan lost world class players like Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Pippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark Van Bommel and Gianluca Zambrotta, who were then followed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. Berlusconi finally had to sell up to the Chinese for €700 million earlier this year. Milan finished 6th in the recently finished Scudetto, a far cry from their glory years.
I greatly doubt the data and recent history I have provided will do much to arrest the anti-Kroenke mania that several bloggers have done their best to cultivate over several years. Perhaps the clear statement by Kroenke on Monday that his stake in the club is not even remotely up for sale will convince some of the futility of their efforts to separate him for the club. The best one can hope for is they will move on to some easier target for their vapid bile and vituperations.
Even Stan’s severest critics will eventually realize he is no soft touch, he is nobody’s sugar daddy.