By Paul Nicholson
October 27 – Arsenal’s annual general meeting – an almost pointless gathering of shareholders as the two largest (Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov) control 97% of the shares – was a stormy reflection of the relationship between the club and its London-based support.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis was heckled from the floor, chairman Sir Chips Keswick floundered like a fish, and manager Arsene Wenger said he was just trying to make everyone happy and was warmly applauded by the fan shareholders, many of whom have campaigned to have him removed. It was by all accounts something of a surreal event mixed with something of a Groundhog Day movie-feel about it.
Beneath the theatre of event and the posturing of the protagonists, the real news surrounding the club is that Kroenke, the US businessman who holds 67% of the shares, has no plans to sell despite fan protests over his control of the club and his historical refusal to spend big in the transfer windows.
That news was not delivered at the meeting but via a newspaper interview with the Daily Telegraph the day before.
At the meeting Gazidis defended Arsenal’s transfer policy saying that the club had spent £200 million on transfer fees in the last three years and judged on “objective metrics” – points against expenditure – Arsenal are top of the league. The problem is that in the real world of giving out trophies, there aren’t any for that objective metric.
In other business Sir Chips, up for re-election as chairman (along with Kroenke’s son Josh who was standing to retain his seat on the board) stormed his way to victory with 97% of the vote – not much of a vote really when the two votes that count have already decided the outcome. Nevertheless Arsenal showed impeccable football governance by spending 30 minutes counting all the other votes.
Sir Chips then struggled to control the rest of the meeting, calling for a little more respect from a room that was descending into chaos and suggesting to one questioner that if they want to hear the views of the majority shareholder then they should read the Daily Telegraph.
So we have to turn to the press (who Gazidis had earlier blamed for misleading the fans on transfers…confused?) to find out what is really going on.
In the Telegraph article Kroenke said: “We get into these things to try to grow them. You don’t see us selling things. We are committed long-term.
“That [selling] is just not our model. I’m at a stage in life where … what good does that do?
“I love Arsenal, love being involved with Arsenal. There’s no finer feeling than going out and winning like we did with the FA Cup … the feeling is contagious and it makes you want to keep doing it.
“There are so many easier ways to make money, I can assure you. Much, much easier.”
Yes, but even so the money is pretty good these days in the Premier League.
And that probably sums it up. The reality for Gunners minority shareholders and fans is that they just don’t have the leverage to hold a gun to their board’s head. And that means if Kroenke wants Wenger for another two years, they will get him for another two years.
However, Wenger did intimate that the Arsenal board will review his position and performance as manager at the end of the season. The board can review anything they like though, they don’t make the big decisions. Those decisions are made in the US.
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