It’s Uzbekistan against America in Arsenal boardroom battle

What happens on the pitch is only half of it in football these days (but it always has been a game of two halves) with footballers clogging up the courts with injunctions and boardroom battles.

London Premiership team Arsenal, for decades supposedly run by gentlemen in contrast to the vulgar types in charge at other clubs, is now in the midst of a bitter boardroom battle between 63 per cent majority owner Stan Kroenke from the US and Uzbek steel tycoon Alisher Usmanov with 27 per cent and plans to pay a whopping £14,000 per share to buy more.

Kroenke, who married into the Walmart dynasty and owns various US sporting franchises, increased his stake from just under 30 per cent to 63 per cent when Arsenal shareholder and director Danny Fiszman sold his stake shortly before his recent death from a long illness.

He then bought former board member Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith’s 15.9 per cent stake (Lady Nina had been turfed off the board some time previously).

Usmanov too has never enjoyed friendly relations with the Arsenal board since buying his initial stake in the club, some wondering where his billions actually came from in the Wild East.

But he teamed with yet another unhappy board member in vice chairman David Dein, buying his stake and folding it into Usmanov’s Red and White company (Arsenal’s colours).

Dein, who has a reputation in the game as one of its prime fixers, was (and remains) a close friend and ally of embattled Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who many fans accuse of denying the club trophies by refusing to buy the one or two experienced bruisers they feel the club needs to take on the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Qatar-funded moneybags Manchester City in the Premiership.

By conventional standards Arsenal should be the biggest club in England’s top league, it is based in the richest city by far (at the 60,000-seater Emirates stadium in North London) with the richest supporters.

But there is pressure, from the fans anyway, to supplement its home-grown riches with those of a foreign fat cat as Chelsea has done with Roman Abramovitch from Russia and Manchester City with the Qatar royal family (or a bit of it).

Kroenke, rich though he is, does not fit that description and he seems to be the favoured party of the Arsenal board, headed by Old Etonian Peter Hill-Wood, as much for his ability to keep others out as bring money in.

One such is clearly Usmanov but he is rich enough to lavish a fortune buying Arsenal shares (the club is currently valued at just under £800m) to build up a bigger minority share.

Ultimately he and Dein will still be planning on control or at least a seat or two on the board.

Kroenke, who doesn’t give interviews, may be thinking that if he sold out to Usmanov he would be as rich as his Walmart in-laws.

Many fans would sooner have neither of them. But that’s not the way things are in the rich man’s casino that’s the English Premier League these days.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.