Stan Kroenke isn’t going to be selling Arsenal anytime soon. So as we’re stuck with him, is a good or bad owner to have for Arsenal FC? Or more specifically for its supporters, who are the reason the club exists in the first place. I stress that this is to do with ownership of Arsenal specifically, rather than any other sports clubs in the KSE stable.
I did a poll on this in June 2017 to see what the general view was and that came out like this:
That’s a hefty majority thinking he was worse than average, with almost half thinking he could barely be worse. Which, when you think about it rationally, is a bit over the top.
This is all a matter of perspective and whatever he or any other owner did there would be supporters who didn’t like it. This is especially true at a club where expectations are so high. But let’s try and take a look at this in a reasonable way.
In 2017 I listed Stan Kroenke’s good points as:
- Isn’t going to run the club into the ground by over-ambitious and unsustainable spending
- Doesn’t interfere in day to day running or in football matters
- Doesn’t have knee-jerk reactions to events or make changes on a whim
- Has provided both wage and transfer funds to the manager on request (as far as we know – certainly no evidence or even a hint from the manager that he hasn’t)
And his bad points as:
- Priority is making money rather than winning trophies, so:
- won’t put any of his own money in to the club
- will only react to a downturn on the pitch if it affects the finances
- Has taken money out when he thought he could get away with it, and would have taken more if he hadn’t been challenged
- Sees supporters merely as consumers so has no affinity or empathy with them as individuals
At the time Kroenke had two-thirds of the shares rather than all of them, so his bad traits on finance were slightly kept in check: no money in, but he couldn’t get away with taking much out either. This is how Arsenal has always been run; the club has always been self-financing and dividends (when they used to be paid) were minuscule, so a reasonable supporter can hardly complain about the principle. If there was the slightest evidence that he’s held money back and refused to spend what the manager, or head coach and football execs these days, wanted on either transfers or wages, that would be different. But there isn’t any evidence of that.
In 2017 Arsene Wenger was still manager, and Kroenke and Wenger suited each other: neither wanted wild speculative spending and for their own reasons both preferred to take a long view.
The problem is that Kroenke’s view is overwhelmingly about protecting his money. He might enjoy seeing his team win a trophy, but trying to win one always takes second place to money. This made him, in the opinion of many, far too slow to do anything about changing the manager or forcing change on the manager. His priorities are not football-related.
So whose fault was Arsenal’s drop down the league and poor performance in Europe in 2017 and 2018? Wenger’s, or Kroenke’s for not sacking Wenger? Opinion is clearly going to be divided on that one. What I never understood was people who wanted Wenger to stay and Kroenke to go – what did they think that would achieve? How would Wenger produce better results under a different owner when he already had full control of the football and went after the players he wanted at the prices and wages he wanted?
My view in 2017 was that Kroenke was a middling owner. He was neither helping nor hindering. He’s certainly no Oyston or Venkys, running the club into the ground and dropping down divisions, so I scored him a 4 or 5 out of 10.
However, he’s now got total control of the club and has changed the manager, so things are a little different. But is Kroenke doing anything different? What is the general view now? Here’s my updated poll result. Same question two years on:
He was viewed quite poorly in 2017 but he’s viewed as worse now! Is this fair? Is he even doing anything different? Not really. He did what most fans wanted and got rid of Wenger, but of course what people want to see is results on the pitch improving, and overall that didn’t happen much in 2018-19. One place higher in the League, thanks to others collapsing all around, but perhaps poor form at the business end of the season and losing a cup final so badly has coloured people’s views.
What is a more legitimate criticism is that there’s no sense of any vision or ambition from Kroenke. He sits in the background and leaves others to talk about ambitions. That approach was probably fine between 1998 and 2005, but things have changed: Arsenal are worse, the competition is fiercer and expectations have grown as fast as the money that’s poured into the game. Kroenke is never going to start throwing his own money at the team. That on its own doesn’t make him a supervillain, but many fans see massive owner investment as the only way to stay in the top four, never mind actually challenge for the title. But even if Kroenke is determined to follow the self-sufficient path Arsenal have always trodden he could still be a visible leader – which he clearly isn’t.
Personally I still wouldn’t score him as low as 1 or 2 on the scale, given how badly many other clubs have been run by comparison, but he is dropping nearer that level. Lack of ambition from the top means that there’s no drive in the rest of the club to get back to the top level. They accept Europa league football and the bottom rung of the big six ladder. After feasting on caviar for so long, Arsenal fans aren’t enjoying these sausages.