Arsenal fans caught in crossfire as owners Kroenke and Usmanov spar

Not many fans of the Premier League will know these names -– Jack Walker, Matthew Harding, Dick Knight -- but they are owners of a bygone era, when the men -- or their families -- who owned English League clubs served more as custodians than CEOs.

Memories of them and other owners devoted to their clubs as personal responsibilities rather than business investments have faded as more and more massively rich individuals and corporations -- most of them based outside of the United Kingdom -- have swallowed up majority shares in clubs with more than a century of tradition.

Of course, there were also those bumbling businessman who regarded a soccer team as just another investment they could run successfully just like their other enterprises. Fondness for their clubs didn’t stop them from floundering, so those who could back their clubs with acumen as well as resources endeared themselves to the fan base.

Fans can rightly question what it means for their team when the man, or men, at the top know a balance sheet but not a team sheet. Case in point is Arsenal, a wildly successful team on the financial ledger yet a constant also-ran in the Premier League, and now embroiled in a battle between majority owner Stan Kroenke and minority owner Alisher Usmanov.

The men are not partners, far from it, and in recent days have apparently been maneuvering to buy out each other. Kroenke owns 67 percent of ownership shares and Usmanov controls 30.4 percent. Usmanov does not have any influence on competitive or business decisions and has expressed unhappiness with the club’s stagnation; it has not won a major trophy since 2004 and last season finished fifth in the Premier League to fall short of Champions’ League qualification for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Last year, groups of fans upset over the reign of manager Arsene Wenger regularly came to matches at the Emirates Stadium carrying signs and belting out chants of “Wenger Out.” During several games, small planes bearing a banner with those words flew overhead and last May, with his contract about the expire and his future uncertain, an airborne banner expanded the message to “No Contract. Wenger Out.”

Kroenke rebuffed such pressure and Wenger signed a two-year contract, and reportedly Kroenke is so satisfied with the club that he turned down an offer of $41,180 per share from a consortium. He’s also tendered an offer of $36,600 per share to buy out Usmanov’s stake. Usmanov has turned down the offer and had reportedly placed a bid of about $1 billion to buy out Kroenke in May.

In bygone days, fans could gather at games and chant things like “Sack the board!” and shout their frustrations at their beleaguered owner directly, but Kroenke rarely attends games. At first the prospect of a rich owner who didn’t meddle excessively in team affairs seemed appealing, but as disappointing seasons have piled up Arsenal fans have realized that for Kroenke the bottom line is far more important than the finish line.

Just how valuable is a club like Arsenal is starkly clear. Since both men began accumulating shares in 2007, the price for such shares has skyrocketed from 7,500 pounds (approximately $15,000). It is not the only club to be pillaged by foreign interests, and the impasse between owners is somewhat reminiscent of that endured by Liverpool fans when George Gillett and Tom Hicks -- partners who quickly became adversaries -- dueled over the club’s direction for months until being bought out by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry.
2 comments about "Arsenal fans caught in crossfire as owners Kroenke and Usmanov spar".
  1. Keith Bantz, October 7, 2017 at 11:45 a.m.

    I have been led to believe for a long time that Kroenke is not one of those owners who is only interested in making money from soccer. I think he believes that Wenger is the best coach in the world and there is no one better available. It's a belief that I sh oneare. By the way, Arsenal has won three of the last four Cups in England and has qualified for the European Champions League for the past nineteen years. And this past year they did "manage" to defeat "champion" Chelsea twice to take both the Cup and the Charity Shield. And at the close of the season they missed finishing in fourth by one point. Not too shabby....

  2. ForTheLoveOfPele Gallagher, October 10, 2017 at 11:15 a.m.

    If you think Kroenke is interested in anything other than money, you haven't been paying attention to any of the other things he owns and how he operates them. He takes the path of least resistance. Keeping Wenger is the easy option. Not until fans stop showing up and it affects him $$ wise will he make a change. NHL, NFL, MLS, Cable subscription TV..... it's all about what impacts the bottom line. If fnas keep showing up, he doesn't see a need to make a change. Winning doesn't impact him as much $$ wise

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