Bring back David Dein! Dein is a traitor! Sack Ivan Gazidis! Bring in Usmanov! Keep Usmanov out! Kroenke out!
Sack Peter Hill-Wood!
. . . Okay, I’ll go with that one.
This article looks a bit like a riposte to this one published yesterday on GoonerTalk, though in fact I wrote 90 per cent of it before that came out. There were a lot of good facts in there, but I don’t agree with all the conclusions. This is my take on it, and I won’t be surprised if many people don’t agree with me either. (Try and make your comments constructive though!)
Since it’s going to be at least eight years without a major trophy for Arsenal, everyone’s got an opinion on the performance and make-up of the Board. The biggest subject is money: Dein made lots, Hill-Wood has made some, Kroenke intends to make some, and Usmanov has more than he can count but no one wants it. No one on the Board, that is. Of course, when people say ‘the Board’ these days, as in ‘the Board are only interested in money’, you may as well just say ‘Stan Kroenke’. There’s no one else on the Board who matters any more, the rest don’t own any shares and they disposed of the idea of custodianship and plurality when they paid £3m of the club’s (ie the supporters’) money for advice telling them it would be a great idea to sell all their shares to Kroenke. From a business point of view, leaving aside any fan sentiment (as the Takeover Panel do), that advice looked rather biased and one-sided at the time, and it doesn’t look any better now. The Takeover Panel presumably couldn’t see anything worth a serious investigation, in the same way that they saw nothing to investigate in the previous Board situation of Fiszman/Kroenke colluding to keep out Usmanov, and other arrangements before that. There are big grey areas in corporate governance, which is why the Takeover Code is so vague and the panel looks at each case on merit.
So what of the Board members? I’ll concentrate only on those who matter most, I have little interest in the ones whose presence is largely irrelevant.
Ivan is just a paid employee who is in charge of all the other employees (apart from one), and reports directly to the owner. So although he is the corporate face of the club and in charge of all day to day running, he is just Stan’s servant. I have nothing against Ivan, who I think has been put in a very difficult position by an absent owner. I don’t believe sacking him would do any good. Usually those who want to get rid of him cite the poor commercial performance compared to Man Utd and/or the club’s alleged record of not making certain signings when some fans think they should. The signings argument is rubbish: Wenger has the biggest hand there. The commercials are tied down by agreements from well before Gazidis arrived, though I have to say looking from where I am I think he could have done more. I’m just not convinced it’s worth sacking him for it.
Ivan’s colleagues on the Board, Peter Hill-Wood and the remnants of the old guard still standing, are part of a culture that goes back a long way at Arsenal, where the club was expected to pay its way without a benefactor. That’s pretty much how it has always been, and the likes of Hill-Wood and Ken Friar have been personally involved since the time that football clubs were valued in total in six figures, there was no such thing as a television contract and players were paid a maximum of £20 a week. Let’s not forget it was only three decades ago that Hill-Wood welcomed David Dein’s £300,000 investment with the words “It’s dead money”. He never expected the club to be worth £1 billion in his lifetime, that’s for sure. He wasn’t in it for a profit himself, that’s not why he became a director of Arsenal, he just took over from his father and grandfather. So much as I think it’s time Mr Hill-Wood stood aside, I don’t really agree with people attacking him for being only interested in money. At the risk of repetition, that is not his culture, though equally his culture is not to invest his own cash.
Stan Kroenke thoroughly approves of that culture, of course, as he has demonstrated over many years with his sports teams in the US. Buy a club, run it to be competitive but not overly so, make money from it where you can: that is his modus operandi. This is slightly more difficult in European football than in most American sports, because poor performance can mean relegation, so you have to maintain a slightly higher competitive level to improve the chances of profit. Stan looked at Arsenal and saw it maintained a good level of competitiveness without the need to pump money in, so it looked like the perfect vehicle for him. So is Stan only interested in money? Damn right. He wants a club good enough to be competing, but he doesn’t really need one good enough to win everything so he sure as hell isn’t going to pay for that to happen.
David Dein saw the future when he bought into Arsenal; he knew changes were coming in football, and the days of local businessmen owning clubs were coming to an end. Football was expanding globally and he believed – rightly as it turned out – that changing the product to suit the market would mean English football could lead the world. The anticipated benefits for the national team have not materialised, but ho hum, can’t have everything.
Then it all went a bit pear-shaped for Dein. At the time he introduced Kroenke to Arsenal, getting the American involved looked like a forward-thinking move. Now it just looks like we’re stuck in a rut, with Stan as much of a taker as a giver. Perhaps Dein saw this earlier than the rest of us too, and turned to Usmanov as a remedy. I can only assume he could see that the number of shares he then had would not influence Danny Fiszman or Kroenke anymore, so he thought that by giving Usmanov a leg up to begin with, the Uzbek might be able to use his fortune to oust the Fiszman/Kroenke axis before it was too late. Dein didn’t manage to sell that vision to the rest of us, though, at least partly because we had enjoyed some very good years without needing a sugar daddy and silverware was still fresh in the memory. Dein may honestly have thought that it was in Arsenal’s best interests to get Usmanov in as soon as possible and ditch the self-sustaining model, but the majority of fans wanted Usmanov kept well away. As the silverware drought has continued, that view has changed for many Arsenal supporters. Personally I have said many times that we should not take everything Usmanov says at face value; it is too easy to sound like you’re a great alternative when you’re in opposition and have nothing to live up to. If you don’t really mean it, it’s too late for the people relying on you (ie us, the people who genuinely care) to do anything about it once you get your hands on all the shares.
As for bringing Dein back, well I’m in two minds. Some things were clearly better with him around, but was that all down to him? I don’t know. Only those on the inside at the time really know. Either way, the current regime have no interest in rehiring him, so unless Stan decides to sell up it’s a moot point.
Whether you would prefer to go for short term gain with Usmanov or stick with Kroenke is up to you. Just remember this: no one is history has held a bigger slice of Arsenal than Kroenke does right now with his 66.7 per cent. If Usmanov buys out Kroenke, he will have almost 97 per cent. That will herald the biggest change the club has ever seen. There will almost certainly be short term benefit, but at the risk of completely selling the soul of Arsenal for it. The long term will be far less certain. Giving Usmanov control is a one-way ticket. We’d probably have to do a Leeds or Rangers to change things, and that would be very, very painful.
The middle ground is of course for Stan to retain control, while inviting Usmanov to join him on the Board. But that would mean – gasp! – all shareholders working together for the benefit of the club! (And next week on Fantasy Island, John Terry and Joey Barton issue a joint 486 page apology, having realised just what pathetic human beings they are.) Stan is going to make some money one way or another. Does he believe he’ll make more in the long run by sticking with his Arsenal shares? Or does he think he should get out now, as he could pretty much double his investment in a deal with Usmanov?
The bottom line is I think we’re stuck struggling to make a proper challenge for the two big trophies against the bigger spending clubs unless Stan decides to sell up. In the meantime only extremely bad management should see us drop out of the top six. And we could still have a good or even great season and win a major trophy – as Chelsea have just proven, you don’t need to be the best team to win the Champions League. But if Stan does decide to sell to Usmanov, I fear for the long term future of the club my family has supported for nearly 80 years.
Follow me on Twitter: @AngryOfN5
PS: If you post nothing but mindless abuse in the comments, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t appear or gets deleted.