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Jan 28, 2013

Usmanov: Henry wants me in full control

Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov has told L'Equipe that former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry is pushing for him to buy the Gunners outright.

Usmanov, 59, holds a 29.9% share in the Premier League side after buying up former vice-chairman David Dein's stake five years ago.

American businessman Stan Kroenke is the club's majority shareholder, but Usmanov, the world's 28th-richest man, admitted in an interview published on Monday that Henry is encouraging him to use his fortune to take total control - something he says he would have already done had his image not been undermined.

"I like many footballers, and I'm in contact with some of them. Perhaps my favourite of the last ten, 15 years is Thierry Henry. He's pushing me to buy all of Arsenal's shares, but I cannot predict the future," the Uzbek-born billionaire told the French sports daily.

"When I had the chance to buy some shares and become one of the main shareholders in the club, I didn't hesitate for a second. I was even ready to take total control. That wasn't possible because certain people preferred to make a profit and create, using me, an outside enemy. I remain portrayed as a pirate, an enemy. They have won that game."

The financial fair play regulations currently being enacted by UEFA may mean that even if Usmanov were to wrestle total control of the club away from Kroenke, his estimated wealth of some $18.1 billion could not be used to radically revamp Arsene Wenger's squad.

However, with Wenger regularly forced to remodel his team as his best players are sold off, Usmanov believes the Frenchman is being short-changed by the powers-that-be at the Emirates Stadium.

"For me, he's one of the best coaches in the world, but it's not easy for him," Usmanov said. "I think he deserves that players are brought in at Arsenal when they're needed.

"The best players, and not being satisfied with selling our best players to our rivals. If that happens, we can ask everything of him. But, today, he's sacrificed. Because of the policy, and we're all to blame. Everything's in Mr Kroenke's hands, and I hope he succeeds, even if he doesn't go along with my ideas."

He added: "The greatest achievement of Arsene Wenger is to have created two teams: the one that now plays for our rivals, and the one that is trying to be among the best in the Premier League.

"That's why I say it's not enough to merely flatter the coach, but to give him the possibility to buy the best players, superstars. But not just stars, but those chosen by Wenger.

"It's unthinkable that the shareholders get well-paid while, for small clauses in contracts, we lose key players, symbols like Robin van Persie, Mathieu Flamini or Patrick Vieira. We should have increased their salaries when they started to be courted, started to look elsewhere. I don't know why we didn't propose that to them."

With Usmanov on the outside looking in, as he has "no relationship" with Kroenke, he insisted his passion for the club was born at the end of the 1990s and remains intact.

"In my opinion, that team was as good as the current Barcelona side," Usmanov said. "It wasn't a question of money or prestige. It's a choice [to invest in the club] dictated by my emotions, those provoked in me by the club. And Arsenal's current situation remains an interesting investment.

"I would like to be useful for the club, and I can be. I understand football well, and can prove it, but I'll never force myself on anyone. For the moment, Arsenal don't seem to need me. But I remain convinced that Arsenal should have only one aim in every competition: first place and winning.

"All other theories are hypocrisy aimed at covering up weakness. I'm a strong man. If someone needs my help, my money, my know-how, anything I possess, I'm always ready."

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