Monday, 11 April 2011

Kroenke takeover: an historic day (which appears to change nothing)

Words: 806. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes 55 seconds.
Any change in ownership of Arsenal is a landmark in the club’s history but our - albeit limited - familiarity with Stan Kroenke means his takeover today does not feel that momentous. Not least because it seems to promise more of the same ways the club is run (whether we want it or not).

Looking at the deal from an overall perspective, it should not go without remark that it is a bizarre, and a little sad, situation that England’s four biggest football clubs (including the three - Arsenal, Man Utd and Liverpool - that have dominated the league for almost 50 years) are now majority owned by individual foreign billionaires who had absolutely no prior connection to the clubs. If you had said even 10 years ago that a guy from Missouri worth an estimated £1.8bn was going to buy Arsenal FC - and that people would not really bat an eyelid when it happened - you would have been laughed at.

But that is the context in which Kroenke’s takeover needs to be viewed. So while I would much rather clubs were owned by people with at least some natural affinity to them, the reality is that that is not going to happen in the real world. And in that light, the Kroenke takeover has to be viewed as a positive. For some time I have said the club, like every organisation if it is to be well-run, needs more authority from the top. While the ownership remained undecided, it was inevitable things would drift. Even though Kroenke himself was a board member owning a substantial proportion of shares, without complete control he could not force through solutions to problems he believed were priorities.

My hope is that there will be a firmer steer on the direction of the club now that the future ownership is no longer in doubt and everyone knows who holds ultimate responsibility.

Whether that becomes a reality is open to debate. There is nothing to suggest from his other ‘franchises’ that Silent Stan will interfere with sporting matters and become hands-on. The current set of directors have been wooed by Kroenke because, in essence, he agrees with them and has undoubtedly promised to run the club like them. Compared to the unknown quantity that is Alisher Usmanov (and, crikey, is that some quantity), Kroenke has always looked the preferred option to the board and the majority of supporters.

Which makes the recent mooted prospect of David Dein’s return seem fanciful in the extreme. By all accounts Danny Fiszman has made it his mission to prevent Dein’s return to the club and Peter Hill Wood has previously vowed that he would not sit on the same board as him so his continuing role as chairman is telling.

The clamour for Dein’s comeback reflects the hope that someone can persuade Wenger to admit, at least privately, that his football strategy needs rethinking. Kroenke’s statement today made it very clear he supports Wenger and there is not one hint that he would want to change the way the boss works. It is funny that this takeover should be announced after Wenger’s press conference on Friday indicated that any hopes he was ready to alter course and invest more heavily in proven talent were proved well wide of the mark. The defending in yesterday’s 3-1 win at Blackpool did nothing to allay fears that his plans will again fail to end with silverware.

The thought that I will go away and toss around my mind over the coming days is: why? As I wrote earlier, we’ve become vaguely familiar with Kroenke since he first started buying shares but know nothing about his motivation for investing. He’s got a sporting pedigree but Arsenal is a far wealthier club, and has a much higher profile internationally, than his other big assets the St Louis Rams (valued by Forbes at £476m), the Denver Nuggets (£193m) and the Colorado Avalanche (£121m). So did he choose Arsenal because he wanted to add an even larger sporting interest to his portfolio? Was it just to diversify? The fact that he appears to have avoided loading the club with debt to finance the takeover is not only very welcome but also suggests he isn’t in it for a quick buck. Everyone must hope that the real reason is he is a genuine sports addict who is at least intrigued enough by English football to invest £234m, rising to a possible £500m, to buy Arsenal.

Once we do work out the answer to the ‘why’ question, we should be in a better position to ponder what happens next, both in the short and long term on the pitch and when Kroenke eventually decides to sell. Let’s hope that by the time he does, he’s helped secure some significant additions to the trophy cabinet.

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