Tonight is the biggest match of the season for both clubs.
Arsenal play Manchester United in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.
But the game off the field is bigger because Stan Kroenke and his CEO Ivan Gazidis want to turn under-achieving Arsenal into the Manchester United of the south, starting next week.
The club is being reorganised.
Two Sundays ago Gazidis advertised for three senior executives. Americans love structure and hire specialists to work in one specific area and be accountable to the chief executive. They do not like one man wearing too many hats, as the workaholic Wenger does.The events of the past ten days suggest that Wenger’s power-base is shrinking rapidly.
Stan Kroenke has finally made his move.
He bought a third of Danny Fiszman’s shares, then he bought another 8% from the Carrs. He probably sees Usmanov as being stretched financially and frozen politically by Moscow. Fiszman and the Carrs had no alternative buyer for stakes that are too small to give a serious Arab investor enough to believe he could use it as a platform to gain full control.
Up till two days ago I thought the Carrs would not have sold without discussing their intentions with Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, their cousin. I figured they might know whether she intended to sell to Usmanov. She was very rattled when Danny kicked her off the board. We all thought : What will she do? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned !
However, Charlie Sale reported on May 4 that Lady Nina is completely out of the loop: Arsenal’s devastated shareholder Lady Bracewell-Smith has been further isolated from the club after family members sold their shareholding to Stan Kroenke without telling her.
So Stan has laid down the gauntlet.
Of course it is conceivable that Usmanov, backed by Russia Incorporated, could out-bid Stan in a competitive situation. But that would be very expensive and I cannot see that chain of events unfolding. Usmanov is very upset but I don’t think he’s saying : I want Arsenal. I reckon he’s saying: I want my money back, I’ve got better things to do than invest £160 million in a company that doesn’t pay dividends. Why would I want to own 25% of a business I don’t control?
Clearly, Stan’s sudden acquisition of the biggest shareholding was a carefully planned scenario.
As I’ve emphasised from day one, Stan is a strategic investor who always negotiates from a position of strength. His entire career shows that. His involvement with Arsenal makes that clear in 150-foot neon letters.
Danny Fiszman and Stan Kroenke hired Ivan Gazidis to start as CEO in January 2009 and the appointment of Ivan was a condition of Stan joining the board. Then, in March, Stan increased his stake by buying from Danny. Ivan is genuinely fan-friendly but will hire new executives and establish his power base through three senior employees who will report to him and are loyal to him.
Stan then increased his stake by buying the Carrs stake of 8% so that he has 28.3%, more than Usmanov’s 25% but below the 30% at which he has to make a full bid for the company. Stan can buy another 1.7 % from Danny any time he wants.
My overall view has not changed very much since 2007.
Financing and building the Emirates was a colossal task which took five years and Danny achieved that with plenty of help from Edelman, Friar and others. The new stadium is Danny’s legacy. Six trophies and a thrilling style of play between 1998 and 2004 is Wenger’s legacy.
Danny’s main mission after opening the Emirates, and re-building Highbury into flats, was to choose the next owner for Arsenal. The new man had to be a billionaire and the best long-term owner for Arsenal. The next owner would choose the next manager, since Danny had no desire to grasp that nettle. He always planned to let somebody else do that.
This is a gigantic poker game now. The investment bankers will have been working over the bank holiday.
Usmanov + Lady Nina = 40.9%
Kroenke + Fiszman = 44.4%
Usmanov’s investment bankers complained to the Takeover Panel that Kroenke was being given preferential treatment. But they can do nothing about the sale of shares from Danny to Stan. To prove that two directors, who are also owners, acted ” in concert” would need evidence, such as a transcript of conversations between Stan and Danny.
Stan could have a secret bank deal in place already. Yes, it’s very hard to borrow in a recession but he is a billionaire with a billionairess wife, Ann Walton, of the Walmart family, so he is a top customer with a AAA credit rating. He might have more billions than are commonly reported. All big banks want customers like Stan.
Why did Stan pay £8,500 for some of the Carr family’s shares and £10,500 for others? Why did he pay two different prices? Probably because he had to buy those shares now.
The Moscow-based metals magnate knows that the American’s priority is to avoid paying a premium price for Usmanov’s shares. If Kroenke valued Arsenal shares at £9,000 each, chairman Peter Hill -Wood and Danny Fiszman would tell shareholders that it is in the best interests of the club that the directors sell to Kroenke, and they would advise other shareholders to do the same. The AST has already aligned their 3% with Stan.
Geographically, it’s a bit weird, I admit.
Stan lives in St Louis and cares about basketball and business. His takeover could happen in four weeks or three or less. Stan will have a strategy document written by Ivan, who has had time to realise that 2010 will not bring a trophy unless Arsenal buy experienced players in June. That is why Stan is moving now. That is why he has suddenly gone from owning 12.4% to 20.5% to 28.3%
Most Arsenal fans no longer believe that signing more French and African teenagers will bring trophies .The only thing that can change their minds is beating Manchester United tonight.
And that will not happen. Nobody beats Man United with a 21-year old midfield. If United score one goal, Arsenal have to score three. Sir Alex has told his team they are one kick away from Rome.
After breakfast, I will think about how tonight’s game might pan out.Then I will write it and put it up here at 10.30a.m. Have a good Tuesday.