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Hughes: Villa grounded by Gunners

Aston Villa about an hour ago
Read
Apr 24, 2007

Tradition to be traded for new Gunners order?

If any further evidence were needed of Arsenal's position as part of English football's aristocracy, it has been revealed that, like her mother before her, Queen Elizabeth II is a Gunners fan and has been following the club for over 50 years.

The Queen's choice shouldn't really come as a surprise, after all if the reigning monarch were to choose a team from her nation's capital it makes sense that she would gravitate towards the one which claims to represent the finest traditions, a certain way of doing things, and which has been run for generations by the alumni of that most regal of schools, Eton.

If we are to believe that Her Maj takes a close interest in the running of her favoured club one wonders what she has made of developments which look set to unsettle the club for the foreseeable future.

It seems likely that Arsenal could become subject to something akin to a hostile takeover featuring the twin force of former director and longstanding Arsenal shareholder, David Dein and Stan Kroenke, the US billionaire and most recent major Arsenal shareholder.

Peter Hill-Wood, the Arsenal chairman and the third generation of his family to head the club's board, has been vitriolic in his objection to Kroenke's manoeuvrings and the possibility of his taking over Arsenal, stating that he would be 'horrified if the club were to go across the Atlantic', and that 'Americans are buying chunks of Premiership clubs [but] know absolutely sweet FA about our football'.

With a battle for control of Arsenal looking unavoidable not only will it be the latest uncomfortable example of English football clubs being taken into foreign ownership, but it also seems set to expose entrenched prejudices between the old world and the new, old money versus new, particularly from the likes of Mr Hill-Wood.

The drama began last week when it was announced that Dein would be leaving his role as Arsenal vice-chairman as a result of 'irreconcilable differences' with fellow board members.

It is believed that those 'differences' stemmed directly from Dein's clandestine efforts to attract Kroenke and his considerable wealth to Arsenal, in order to ensure the club can challenge the Premiership's top sides in the transfer market, something Dein felt the club would be unable to do without outside investment.

The remaining board members, who are also significant shareholders themselves, not only disagreed with Dein's assessment but they were also angry with Dein's involvement in Kroenke's acquisition of ITV's 9.9% stake in Arsenal.

Despite an eloquent silence from both Dein and Kroenke it seems clear that a link between the two exists and as such they represent a problem for the current board.

At present if Dein and Kroenke were to pool their individual stakes in the club they would hold 27.5% (Dein 14.6%, Kroenke 12.19%), only just below the 30% threshold that under city rules would require them to launch a formal takeover - a threshold they could easily reach by acquiring the shares of smaller investors.

However, any Dein-Kroenke takeover bid would look doomed to failure given that the board have already stated their intention not to sell their combined 45.45% holding for at least a year.

This despite the fact that the board stand to make a considerable amount on their shareholdings; chairman Hill-Wood's 0.8% in the club would be worth almost £3.5million while the club's largest single shareholder, diamond dealer Danny Fiszman, would stand to make £102million for his 24.1% stake.

However, even if Dein and Kroenke do not trigger a takeover bid in the short-term their individual and combined holdings are large enough to be troublesome. For example, anyone with a holding in excess of 10% can call a shareholders meeting to put forward proposals to be voted on by all the club's investors.

The question for many Arsenal fans is why would Kroenke be interested in Arsenal and is he really so heinous a prospective owner that it is worth saying 'no' to £102million in order to block him, particularly if he has a figure like Dein alongside him?

While it is impossible to know exactly what Kroenke's motivation is, it is fair to assume that alongside an enthusiasm for sport there is, as with all investors, a desire to make a return on any expenditure.

Kroenke, through his Kroenke Sports Enterprises company, owns the MLS's Colorado Rapids, the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and a part stake in the NFL's St Louis Rams and he has enjoyed considerable success; with the Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup in 2001 and the Rams winning the Super Bowl in 2000.

A on any further investment will almost certainly come from television revenues and new ways to exploit the club commercially.

For starters; a new £1.7billion three-year television and media rights deal comes into effect this summer netting each of the 20 Premiership clubs more money from the league than ever before. However, there are those who feel the Premiership's centralised television deals are preventing big clubs, like Arsenal, from maximising their broadcasting income by brokering their own individual television contracts.

It is therefore possible that under Kroenke Arsenal could propose an end to the Premiership's collective bargaining agreement; a move which might find a favourable response in certain parts of Liverpool, Manchester and south-west London, but that would further polarise the 'haves' and 'have nots' in the league, as well as having a negative impact on competition within it.

Most fans would argue that if Kroenke's involvement would mean more money for players and a chance at renewed success then surely he can only be a good thing. Interestingly this appears to be the position of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, despite having previously objected to foreign ownership, stating it was 'not necessarily good for the game' and 'I don't know if it will ever happen to Arsenal - I hope not'.

Wenger has this week said 'I am not against [foreign ownership]. How could I? I am a foreign manager and there are many foreign players at Arsenal'.

Perhaps Wenger's change in perspective is linked to his close friendship with Dein, the man who hired him back in 1996 and with whom he had an excellent working relationship and rapport. Perhaps under a Dein-Kroenke regime Wenger could find himself with a seat on the board when his managerial career comes to an end.

Back in 1983, when Dein bought 16% of the club for £292,000, and took his seat on the Arsenal board Hill-Wood called him 'crazy', telling him he'd wasted his money. Dein thought differently, seeing football as ripe for expansion and commercial development along lines similar to those employed by American sports.

Now, 24 years on, his investment in Arsenal now worth in excess of £60million and his involvement in the club having enabled him to turn himself into a major figure in the world of football politics, Dein appeared to have seen even more scope for commercial development.

Frustratingly for Dein the Arsenal board disagreed not only with his assessment of the club's position, his plans to bring in a foreign investor and also his choice of sugar daddy.

Hill-Wood's words have not been minced, having said of Kroenke 'we don't need his money and we don't need his sort'. Objecting to Dein's proposal on business grounds is one thing, but objecting in terms that could be misread as xenophobia is more than a little unseemly and certainly not befitting a club so proud of its class and gentlemanly decorum.

One wonders whether the Queen would be amused.


  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.