Stan speaks – but what does it tell us?

Stan Kroenke spoke to both the players and the press last week (31 October). I don’t know what he said to the players, but I’ve seen the full transcript of the press chat. As a week has gone by, the value of this ‘news’ has dissipated, so I will quote some of what Stan said and comment on it.

It should be noted that only a small number of journalists were invited to hear Stan’s words, leading to accusations from others that he was given an easy ride. Maybe he was.

I’m not quoting all Stan’s answers here and not always in full, just bits I want to comment on. My comments in square brackets.

How do you define success here and how long can you wait for a trophy?

“We have been around the club [Stan seems to use ‘we’ to mean Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, formerly Kroenke Sports Enterprises; he then also uses ‘we’ as the club itself. Slightly confusing] for four years at one stage or another and you always like to win trophies. We were very close last year but didn’t get there. You are not going to win trophies every year. I am smart enough to know that. I think it is fair to say we have a broader experience than anybody in sports, because we are involved in so many different teams. You don’t win trophies every year – you’d like to. I have friends who are owners in the leagues in the US who have never won a trophy and they have been in it for 30 or 40 years.” [Many football clubs are in the same position – so what? The point is, are Arsenal making the best of their situation and maximising the chances of winning trophies? Most would say that hasn’t been the case lately]

Which other clubs did you look at before Arsenal?

“I don’t really want to go into that. Suffice to say it was more than eight and less than 15. How’s that?” [A minimum of eight other clubs is actually quite a lot. I assume some of these were abroad, as there are nowhere near that number in anything like Arsenal’s class and available in the UK. A number this high shows his commitment to Arsenal is purely financial]

What drew you to Arsenal?

“First of all, I love London. We deal with this in the States. When you look long term, and that is us – if you look at our history we are long-term investors – we don’t get involved just to be here, be gone tomorrow, flip and make a profit, do whatever. That’s not us. We like to get involved in things that we like to get involved in and think we can help develop over time. London is a great place and a great market. So, comparably in the US, you would talk about Los Angeles and New York. There was a study done in the States and if you ask any 20- to 30-year-old person where they would most like to live if they didn’t live where they presently lived, they will tell you LA and New York. It’s interesting because players are a lot of times 20-30 years old, so where are they most likely to gravitate? If you ask players in the US, they’ll say being in LA or New York is a pretty good place to be for 20-30 year olds. So those markets to me have an inherent advantage as far as recruiting. Maybe that’s just me, but I think London is a great place to be. I think, long-term, if you want to attract players, it is a great place to me. If you are in London, Arsenal football club. ‘Wow. 125 years, great tradition, great manager, great model but lots of opportunity.'” [So basically, it’s London. The fact we have already gone through the pain of a recent stadium move is an advantage over all the other London Premier League clubs]

Arsenal have a business model. But how do you compete with a team at the top of the league, Manchester City, that’s fuelled by billions?

“We have done that in the States, too. We compete with people in our league in the States who have the same resources as anyone in the world. You can check it out. The NFL restricts spending, so it’s a bit different. [Yes – it’s VERY different] In the NBA, they sort of restrict spending but not really, so if you want to spend you can spend, you just have to pay a penalty for it. I think what you have to focus on… I understand it in the short-term…your business is to write articles… short-term… the long-term good of the club is not always in the short-term interest of the next thing you want to write about… I don’t think you can… and I am proud of the fact that Arsenal has had this sustainable business model. I think you can have people, and we have had them in the States, where they will spend a lot and they will do it for a little while and they might have some success. And then the person everyone is relying on maybe gets tired of it or has a financial reversal, but what you are doing is that you are putting the focus on one person, one resource. Is that really in the interests of a long-term situation for a great club that many people identify with and rely on? I would much rather, and I would be much more proud, if all our leagues were developed with the idea that you are competing on the basis of intellect and work and effort instead of just simply, ‘I am going to throw dollars against the wall.’ That’s one side of it. Another side of it is that, in the States, it doesn’t always work. It does work sometimes, so I understand what you are getting at. If you look at Arsène, as a good example. He has been here 15 years and you look at what the club had as assets and revenues, it’s fantastic the growth that has occurred within the club. It has been done very responsibility and they have the record for participating in the Champions League for the most consecutive years. For the long-term stability and an approach to excellence, I think that’s unsurpassed, really. That’s my view.” [A long and rather rambling answer that I have left in full in order to demonstrate that it didn’t really answer the question at all. Basically he’s saying money doesn’t always win. True, the richest club doesn’t win the league every year, but they are able to have a damn good try]

Is there anything you’ve seen from the US sports leagues you would like to see here?

[Long and not hugely relevant answer from Stan about how they do things in the NFL, followed by:] “I’m not going to start throwing out that there’s a direction that the Premier League should take. It’s a tremendously successful league. It’s a little presumptuous of me to start dictating rules.”

Can Alisher Usmanov join the board?

“I think the view – it’s a board matter – has been outlined and I don’t think I should get into it.”

Gazidis: “It’s a board issue. As Stan has said, it’s not about one individual, not Stan, not Usmanov. The board is running well, aligned on direction and very happy with the way it’s running.” [Bullshit alert! This is just toeing the party line. “The Board is running well”? In the eyes of most observers the Board is complacent and out of touch]

Kroenke: “I think the board should be given a lot of credit. I’ve been around this thing for three or four years now and it goes back to what I said earlier – If you go back to where this club was, revenue-wise, in the early to mid-1990s, in terms of assets and things, then it’s dramatically different. That didn’t just happen by itself, it’s not easy to do the things that they have accomplished. The board should be given credit for that. A lot of people are happy that the board is still around.” [Credit where it’s due, the Board have turned a club worth a couple of million in the 1980s to one worth over £700million. But did they do that, or did Sky and the fact they’re in London? I suppose they did appoint Arsène]

Does it taste sweeter when you win things because you don’t spend so much?

“I think there are a good few people who would argue that – a few people from other clubs who would argue that. Would I rather be successful spending less or spending more? What a question! If you run responsibly and do it well… if you look at our manager, he’s a great example. I said recently that there’s a film out in the US called Moneyball. Moneyball is all about being smart in sports, specifically baseball. There’s a wave in the US now of statistical evaluation – this whole science of sport goes a long way. There’s some very smart people – we employ some of them – who are analysing every stat and who are connecting every bit of data and trying to make sense of it. But that really started with Billy Beane, who is the guy in Moneyball. And Billy Beane’s hero truly is Arsene Wenger. He loves Arsène. There’s a reason and maybe the reason goes directly to what you are talking about. He’s proud and is a fan of Arsenal because he realises what it takes to succeed and be responsible and that is different.” [I left Stan’s full answer in here to show its essential meaninglessness. But if Billy Beane has any sense he’ll have noticed the dearth of trophies at Arsenal for the last seven years and be re-evaluating.]

Can you compete on player contracts?

“That is a loaded question.” [It’s a stupid question, as Stan and I both know. If you have finite resources, you cannot compete with Man City, who to all intents and purposes have infinite resources. There is no reason that Arsenal cannot compete with almost all other clubs on wages, given our turnover is among the highest in the world. It’s a question of managing the resources in the best way, rather than lashing out improved contracts to sub-standard players time after time]

Can Arsenal compete on the money?

“Here’s the thing. Could you? Yeah. You could. Do you want to? Maybe you don’t. See what I mean? [Er, no. Not really. Who is Stan addressing here? The world’s richest journalist?] What I told you earlier – sometimes you can overspend for the wrong assets and you end up shorter in the long run. Or you could say, and you might, ‘Well, just buy him anyway. The whole has unlimited resources, go out there and spend anything, stockpile everyone and maybe you’ll win. You buy to win.’ But you might not. There’s examples where you haven’t. Now I think that you want to be sure that you want to spend the money and I think that’s what our manager does. He makes that evaluation. That’s his job. It wasn’t because the money wasn’t there. We have money. And it wasn’t because, Ivan can tell you, anybody sitting here ever said, ‘ Don’t spend it.’ Now, if you spend it all and there is no more money, you guys come and say, ‘Well, Stan, we’re short now, you need to spend some more money.’ [Stan has a point here, but again who is he addressing? Surely journalists can’t be as stupid as some of the fans who just want to spend, spend, spend without any thought for the consequences or real chances of success?] Well then you could blame me, maybe, but I don’t think you can blame me now, because I think it’s a philosophy. I think this club is run a certain way and I think people are proud of the way it’s run. And I think our fans are proud of the way it’s run. Now, does that mean there are people who wouldn’t like to see you spend more? I think there is a natural tension there. I think maybe they would want you just to make the biggest offer out there. A club could go into a bunch of debt again, spending debt – there was various proposals, we should do different things, I didn’t think we should do them and it’s turned out fairly well. The club has no debt now, because the cash resources exceed the amount of debt that’s on the team.” [Overall this is a long and rambling answer to say ‘Because I’m not putting my hand in my pocket we can’t spend as much as some, everyone knows that, so we try and manage the finances.’ If Stan doesn’t want to put his hand in his pocket, so be it. The two questions are: is the money generated by the business being used in the best way, and is the most money possible being generated? Opinions differ on these!]

How confident are you that Fabregas and Nasri transfer situations won’t happen again?

“Well, here’s the thing. I think you know that one of the players who departed had nothing to do with money. I think our manager would tell you that. There was a specific personal circumstance that happened. Maybe I am saying too much. That has nothing to do with money. So we say, ‘Well, we’ve seen players depart.’ [Fine – Fabregas went for love, not money, but he still screwed the club all summer and made the Board and Manager look like fools] Well, then you could say, ‘Well, the other player departed for money.’ [Yes, and trophies]  Well then, you get into an evaluation. That’s where being smart and not being smart comes in. You’ve got one year left on a player’s contract. You’ve got a large sum of money being offered. Can you employ those resources better than you could had you not taken the money, taken a chance on losing the guy for nothing in a year or perhaps overpaying for him now and having less resources later? I don’t know. That’s how I would see the evaluation.” [We’ll come back to this in a minute . . .]

There have been some tough times for your fellow American owners, Hicks/Gillett and the Glazers, recently…

“What was so tough about the Glazers’ situation?”

A lot of fan protests.

“Okay, guys, let’s talk about it. But they won. And they have increased revenues by a huge amount. If I was a fan of that club, I would still go there and go, ‘Wow’, because how could you do it any better? That’s what I would say.” [No doubt MUFC fans welcome the trophies, but the Glazers didn’t appoint the most successful manager ever in British football, he was already there. And revenues have increased partly by increasing ticket prices by huge percentages in recent years, with more to come. So how much better could they have done without the debt and without the ‘management fees’ the Glazers reward themselves with?]

Manchester United fans would say the Glazers are taking money out of the club…

“But they still won. We don’t need to get into an exchange here but I don’t know, as a fan, how could you do it much better? [Less debt, lower ticket prices?] They have increased massively. Some of their players have taken money out, and maybe they haven’t performed. [True.] We have a whole different philosophy I think in the States, maybe, but I think it’s time maybe for everybody to think a little bit. Maybe I am saying too much, but I think they ought to think a little bit about who invests in these clubs. What do you want for the long-term? Because, in the States, you would never get this dialogue that you and I are having. The Glazers took money out of the club. So what? Jerry Buss (LA Lakers owner) takes money out of the club. A lot of owners in the US do. No-one ever says anything about it. What’s it about, in fairness – did the Lakers win anything? Well, yeah. They did. How big’s their revenue? Pretty darn good.”

How do you propose making money for yourself?

“I don’t know the specific situations [about Liverpool] and I don’t think it’s fair for me to comment because I’m not that close to them. George Gillett and Tom Hicks, they had that situation and I really don’t know too much about it.”

But how do you propose to make money?

“Well, we’ll see. That’s the risk. There’s no guarantee I’ll make any money. As a matter of fact, believe it or not, you can actually lose money in sports! I know you’ll find that shocking.”

There was a lot criticism after the 8-2 loss at Manchester United in August. But it seems to have got better since then. How much faith does that give you in Wenger?

“I think I’ve said all I want to. I’ve never departed from that. Arsène Wenger is an unbelievable manager. I think he’s a tremendous person, I just think he is as good as there is. Now, do you lose some games? Do you have tough losses? It happens. You can’t judge a manager on one game or on one stretch of games. You judge him over time. That’s how the really good ones are judged.” [Yes, BUT HOW DO YOU PROPOSE TO MAKE MONEY?]

It was said recently that there are overseas owners who want to scrap relegation from the Premier League. What do you think?

“It would be presumptuous of me to comment. The history of the league is a great history. I think that is for people who have studied that and understand it. We [KSE?] don’t have a point of view on that. Ivan and Arsène might have – and, by the way, none of the American owners that I know have a point of view on that.”

What about Robin van Persie and his current contract situation? Do you have a message to the fans?

“I think Robin van Persie is a great player. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s captain of the club . . . But I think asking me to talk about Robin van Persie at this stage is not fair to Robin van Persie and is not fair to Arsène and Ivan. They are the guys who know the particulars of that situation. [So in answer to the question: no, you don’t have a message to the fans]

But Nasri had 12 months left, as Van Persie will have next summer, and you made a business decision.

Arsène made a business decision. [Really? Did he? Because he said exactly the opposite, which surely the gentlemen of the press should have picked up on] I understand why you guys want to do this, but I don’t think it is fair on any of the parties for me to start talking about this.”

Ok, so in summary I’m reading this as saying there’s as much chance of Stan subsidising Arsenal as there is of me bailing out Greece on my own. He intends to make money but he won’t tell us how, though worldwide digital broadcast rights are the obvious answer. He likes the English model for organising the league, and doesn’t intend sticking his nose in. That much I believe.

He loves Arsène, because Arsène is a one-man money-making machine. He won’t interfere in what Arsène does, even if it is plainly stupid and would cost the club millions. That I don’t believe.

Stan Kroenke is a smart businessman. Whether he’s the best person to be in charge of Arsenal is another matter, but I don’t believe he will turn us into Leeds: Champions League semi-finalists to multiple relegations in a few short years. Whether he ‘gets’ Arsenal and English football fully yet, I’m not sure.

Is he better for Arsenal than Usmanov? Short term: maybe, maybe not. Long term: perhaps. But we might not win the League for quite a few more seasons.

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