News has broken that Alisher Usmanov’s company USM is to sponsor Everton’s new training ground in exchange for the naming rights. The Sun (I know, ever reliable…) are running this story, but have not given a figure for the deal.
Usmanov’s business partner Farhad Moshiri gave up his half of Red & White Holdings, their joint vehicle for purchasing and owning Arsenal shares, in February 2016, which I wrote about at the time. Moshiri then bought 49.9% of Everton to become their largest shareholder – Premier League rules forbid ownership of more than 10 per cent of more than one club. Until now there has been no public suggestion that Usmanov was interested in Everton at all, though he and Moshiri are still partners in other ventures and rumours have circulated that the Uzbek is the ‘power behind the throne’ at Everton.
This looks like good news for Everton, as they’re getting more cash to spend. Moshiri has also stated a desire to build a new ground and provide transfer funds. But what does it mean for Arsenal?
Will Usmanov have to sell his Arsenal shares?
At the moment, no. His companies can sponsor as many clubs as they like as long as he doesn’t own any part of those clubs.
Is Usmanov bored of Arsenal?
Maybe. He certainly hasn’t bothered buying any more shares lately, after several years of regular activity, even once Kroenke had taken over. In fact it’s coming up to 1,000 days since Usmanov last bought an Arsenal share. Kroenke ignores him; he has no involvement or influence at Arsenal despite owning almost a third of it, and he is reduced to protesting against Kroenke by occasional public statements saying how much better he’d run things and abstaining from voting at the AGM when Kroenke took £3m out of the club.
Does Usmanov want to sell his Arsenal shares?
That’s the big question. When asked he’s always denied he would sell, but people change their minds. Maybe he thought Stan Kroenke would get bored at Arsenal and sell to him, but getting on for six years since the Kroenke takeover there is no sign of that.
Would Kroenke buy Usmanov’s shares?
Another big question. Pros: Kroenke would then own 97 per cent of Arsenal and could take the club private by forcibly buying out the remaining shareholders. This would give him a couple of big benefits: no troublesome AGM to sit through, where people like me – all right, it was me – irritate him by getting up and questioning why he was taking £3m out for undefined ‘services’; and more importantly, the right to take as much cash out of Arsenal as he wanted – just like the Glazers do at Man Utd.
Cons: it would cost him at least £300m to buy out Usmanov. On balance he may well think it’s worth it.
Would Usmanov sell to Kroenke?
Possibly the biggest question. This really depends on Usmanov’s feelings towards Arsenal and Kroenke. If he hates Kroenke then he may not want to sell to him, and financially he doesn’t need to. If he’s happy to stay in the background at Everton then it makes no difference whether he still holds Arsenal shares. He can leave Moshiri as the public owner of half of Everton and pull the strings from a distance – if that’s what’s happening, which of course it probably isn’t (in case any lawyers are reading).
If on the other hand Usmanov doesn’t care about Kroenke or about what happens to Arsenal, then he’ll sell to whoever will give him money – which is only likely to be Kroenke, because who is going to want to spend £300m on 30 per cent of Arsenal and have zero influence? Not many people, I suspect.
As usual this sort of story throws up a lot of questions that require a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in the answers. I don’t know if Usmanov is really interested in getting involved at Everton, I don’t know if he wants to sell his Arsenal shares and I don’t know if he’d sell to Kroenke. All I know is that Kroenke owning 67 per cent of Arsenal isn’t great, but Kroenke owning 97 per cent would be a whole lot worse.