So here we are people, the end of Arsenal football club as we know it. Silent Stan Kroenke, the evilest man to walk a sports arena, has finally won out. He’s part way to driving out the white knight, Alisher Usmanov, for a whopping £600m buyout of his stake.
This is a dark day for Arsenal.
I mean, kind of.
This dramatic notion that the world is caving in because Stan K is buying up the rest of Arsenal is a little far-fetched. The morbid picture that has been painted is based on a lot of worst case scenarios.
Sure, there could be less transparency around the club, but at the same time, you have to remember a lot of the fan interaction items that were put on were out of generosity, versus some sort of legal obligation. Our family has a share, I went to most of the AGMs before I moved to America, let’s not pretend for a second you extracted any sort of real insight from those days out. Sir Chips or Peter Hillwood would usually insult the intelligence of the peasant folk, Ivan would tell us not to believe our lying eyes, and Stan would rarely say anything. It wasn’t true governance because the fans had no real power. Not just that, Arsenal offered up additional seats for people at various fan groups because they were being nice. The club has always pushed to be as open as possible. Ivan G has sat through a lot of fan Q&As, the club has opened up its facilities for meet and greets with the staff, we have a lot of access.
I appreciate there’s a lot of love for fans owning a stake. The romantic scenes in Germany and at some clubs in Spain where the fans own the clubs in some way tugs at the heart strings. Representation at board level is a beautiful thing, and there’s no doubt that the good folk at the AST, Red Action, Black Scarf and AISA have done a lot of good in driving fan agenda items like flags at games, ticket price freezes, safe standing, and pushing Wenger to take the League Cup a little more seriously. All marvellous things.
I don’t think those things suddenly go away. If a new CEO comes in, hopefully from another football club, do you think their first move is going to be to cut fans out? I doubt it. We’re important. Why do you think Ivan has been so keen to make the transformation at Arsenal about him? He reads the internet, he hears your hot takes from you at Waitrose, he wants fans in the stadium to shout things like, ‘bloody good transition old boy’, not, ‘HOW DID YOU FUCK UP ALONSO YOU STUPID MUG HE WAS IN THE CAR.’
Usmanov stands to make a heck of a profit, there’s a lot of sadness David Dein (Arsenal’s David Cameron) jumped the gun with Kroenke, because everything would have looked a whole lot more Chelsea right now. Again though, let’s not pretend he was always the favoured oligarch to takeover. David Dein sold out in the hope of leading the club, he managed to get himself fired in the process, then flogged his shares to Usmanov in the hope that Red&White holdings would do something to elevate the club and give the manager the transfer fees he needed.
He was pilloried for that. The fans, the blogs, everyone was against a businessman that apparently did something to someone where a vat of acid was involved. Everyone hated the fact a nasty Uzbek was coming to the party. We liked the cute cowboy hat and understated humbleness of Stan K. We liked the one who ran a ‘proper’ business. Years later, we realised Stan knew how to run a business (a real estate business), but one that lacked any sort of a ambition to dominate.
The biggest disappointment about how folk like David Dein, Danny Fizsman and Nina B sold the club out, is that they moved it on to a company that looked at incremental growth over a 20 years period. Stan K makes his money with the looooooong bets. He’ll invest in property where he knows a big Walmart is going and sit on that property in the hope it blows up over the 20-year stretch. He’s not wolf on wall street. He’s not about the quick buck.
Arsenal for him has been a quite incredible investment. His original purchase of the club, when all the blocks are added sits at about £424m. The club has gone from tinpot entity at Highbury, to £1.8b monster if he buys out Alisher. He doesn’t get returns like that anywhere else. Arsenal is the equivalent of striking oil on one of his ranches 200 years ago. We are the absolute GEM for him.
So what are the main concerns?
Well, he’s taking a loan out to buy out the remaining 30%. How does he pay for that loan? It certainly won’t be out of his own pocket. He can’t do a leveraged buyout like the Glazers dropped on United (take out a loan on the club to buy the club, then use the fans to pay and club profit to pay it off), but he has a number of options to pay it off, and now he has an opaque setup he can hide the details in. His Delaware dealings, well covered by the excellent Matt Scott over the years, are murkier than a night out with Jermaine Pennant.
Putting that to one side, not a lot changes.
For you, as a fan, we’ll still be a club that’s run sensibly. We’re never going to behave aggressively in the transfer market. We’re never going to break FFP rules. The club has been built to operate under its own steam and I’d imagine that’s what it’ll do moving forward. Arsenal is boring, but remember, we’re a club that can offer up a lot of steam. We generate massive match day receipts, our commercials are moving in the right direction, and there’s huge potential at the club.
My hope is if Stan has learnt anything over the last few years, it’s that neglecting a Premier League football club by not investing in capable talent is a sure fire way to lose money on your bottom line. I know the top folk at Arsenal are embarrassed they’re not in th CL. That’s a big deal. I’m hoping that Stan is realizing first hand that running a football club is not like running a franchise. The fans are crazier, the cost of being shite is greater, the difficulty getting back to the top is harder, and not investing cash in players is elite players is an absolute fools game with a market so flush with money.
Look at the positives. We’re all happy with the backroom hires. We’re all happy with the reshaping of the squad. We’re all happy with the general direction of the club.
Stan owning another 30% makes no difference to that direction. It’s just a feelings thing. It’s just a ‘what could happen’ panic button everyone is pushing. For me, you can worry about the implications of the ‘what if’ when you’re watching the institutions of democracy being attacked. You never know who is coming in next and it’s a constant rotation of power. Stan K is going to be here for 30 more years. We’re going to be the most consistently run outfit in world sport, it’ll just be dull.
So let’s not be dramatic. Arsenal is the star in Stan’s portfolio. For him to grow that star, he has to have a competitive team. For all the major owners to move TV revenue to the next level, they have to continue to invest in the product. We’ve been doing that, our wages bill is £200m+ and we were the 3rd highest net spender in the league over the last 5 years and we’ve outspent Madrid from a net perspective since 2010. Stan needs a competitive Arsenal, so nothing is going to change on that front, the club will move on without Alisher, it’ll move on without Gazidis who has chosen to ply his trade with Milan, and it’ll move on without fans being literally invested in the club.
It’s a bland set of circumstances, but let’s not kid ourselves anyone has the best option. No ownership of a football club is romantic or ideal. Every club comes with its
visa issues. Our biggest worry is that Stan is a bit boring. But overall, bar the love-in for Wenger that went on far too long, the club is pretty well run and it’s moving in the right direction.
It’s a sad day for shareholders who have to sell up, but it’s also a massive payday for them.
Stan is a safe businessman, and he’ll always be that way. The only way Arsenal make it moving forward is having the best football staff in the game, working budgets harder, and working our players smarter than anyone else.
It’s always been a struggle being an Arsenal fan, and it always will be. Let’s just enjoy the ride. x