Arsenal's billionaire owners, Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov, will not talk to each other. This is no way to run a business
When Stan Kroenke made one of his rare trips to London to drop in on his soccer franchise last season, the closest he got to witnessing discontent about the way the club is being run was a few pointed heckles at the AGM. This being Arsenal, the tone was more courteously indignant than outright insulting. But when he travelled back to the USA, he would have at least been aware that there was a section of the fanbase that was no longer buying into the "self-sustaining" concept.
There is a marked difference between some of the small shareholders applauding awkward questions and a rival major investor lobbing over a hand grenade. The open letter sent this week from Alisher Usmanov, who owns a shade under 30 per cent of the club, has taken Arsenal into very destructive territory. The twain have not been minded to meet before. Now a wholly uncivil war has broken out.
What a peculiar situation. Arsenal are owned by two billionaires, neither of whom bankroll the club at all. Kroenke and Usmanov share a business interest and yet they will not talk. Both need Arsenal to flourish to make the best out of their investment but they are at loggerheads about how to do so. You don't need to be Baron Sugar to realise that this is no way to run a successful business.
It is hard to see how Arsenal can ever make serious progress while they are so dysfunctional from an ownership point of view. The statement by Usmanov's Red and White was blatantly designed to stir up public feeling and garner support for change.
These days, as far as the Arsenal fans are concerned, you either back Kroenke and the status quo, or feel if you can't beat the oligarchs you had better join them. Regardless of any sides, what is undeniable is that one of the key parties will not even entertain sitting down with the other. Reading between the lines, that seems to irk Red and White more than any of the criticism about how to help Arsenal to challenge for trophies. The ownership struggle would certainly be a less divisive issue if Kroenke at least sat round a table with Usmanov before dismissing his ideas out of hand. In most hostile situations there is some form of an exchange of views to work towards the greater good. But not here.
There are currently two clearly defined, opposing camps – something reflected in arguments among supporters. Few teams win without people pulling in roughly the same direction. This unhealthy situation only increases the pressure on Arsène Wenger and the players to perform well. The minute they don't, the daggers will be drawn.
While Wenger has always resisted the temptation to discuss the effects of the ownership schism, and players rarely get too involved in club business unless they are seeking to engineer a transfer, there is no question that Arsenal are struggling to compete within their current strictures.
The board has a very different atmosphere to the old days, when the monthly meetings at Highbury saw a group of directors who were all lifelong fanatics discuss everything with the aim of trying to pass any motion unanimously. The current board feels less democratic in that most of the old school directors no longer wield any real power, having sold out to Kroenke. In the office buildings around the Emirates Stadium, the place is increasingly run like a big American corporation.
Arsenal's intention is to sit tight and hope the debate fuelled by Red and White blows over. Airing dirty laundry in public has never been their style. Besides, the board are steadfast about their commitment to self-sustainability. A club spokesman happily points out that they are in their 15th season in the Champions League and are not afraid to spend on transfers, having laid out £75m over the last financial year, and £20m so far this summer, with the promise of more to come. That is all well and good, until the words "Manchester" and "City" come into the equation.
It has never been harder to convince supporters paying for expensive tickets that self-sustainability can be competitive in a market dominated by benefactors. It has never been harder to convince players, either.
But the one person who needs no convincing about its merits is Kroenke. His approach to his sports franchises is to slowly sweat out his investments. Red and White may not be alone in thinking it is time for Stan to put up or sell up. Unfortunately for anyone who agitates for change, he appears to want nothing more than to do nothing. Read More
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