AZ Alkmaar – Kroenke's At It Again!

AZ Alkmaar - Kroenke's At It Again!

I’m sure you’re all like me out there in the Gooner Nation. Still luxuriating in the warm glow of the derby win last Saturday over the Forces of Darkness. The cod DVD cover doing the email rounds with Spurs releasing a highlights video of the first forty-two minutes of the game is absolutely delicious. Although we didn’t play better than average for us we were more than good enough to see them off, with thanks to them for pushing the self-destruct button.
The bad news is that our continuing injury gremlins have seen both Gaël Clichy and Nicklas Bendtner out for around a month each. Surely our luck (or lack of it) with injuries has to turn eventually, just by the law of large numbers? I’d like to think so at least. I’d hate a promising season to be blown apart by injuries.
The draw for the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup has seen us come out of the bag away to Manchester City. This game will draw more attention and probably a bigger attendance than it otherwise would in the aftermath of our League visit to Eastlands and Adebayor-gate. I was hoping for another home draw but we can’t really complain. We’ve been drawn at home twice in the Carling Cup this season. If we manage to beat City then we’re guaranteed a home tie in the semi-finals as these are played over two legs. That’s a big if however. City will be fired up. I hope we will be too, whatever team the manager selects.
Talking of team selection, as I predicted Manual Almunia was selected in goal against Spurs in place of Vito Mannone with whom I personally would have persisted. Almunia didn’t have all that much to do, but looked steady and did make one good diving save from a David Bentley free-kick to keep a clean sheet.
Tonight sees the visit of AZ Alkmaar in the Champions League, a game which still hasn’t completely sold out. A sign the difficult financial times I’m afraid with fans being more and choosier about the games they attend. With the greatest of respect to AZ Alkmaar, they aren’t the biggest box office around. But neither were Racing Club de Lens nor AIK Solna and we sold out Wembley for both those games. In fact our all-time record attendance for a home game of 73,707 was recorded against the French Ligue 1 outfit. The reason is simple. Tens of thousands of seats were available at £11 a head behind the goals. We need to take a long, hard look at our ticketing policies to ensure sell-outs. The Liverpool Carling Cup tie sold out in double-quick time due to the attractive pricing and the opposition.
On the field we need to put AZ Alkmaar away clinically. We – yet again – stood on our collective crank in injury time in the Netherlands. Neither of our away performances in the group stage of the Champions League has been impressive. We were two down in no time at all in Ličge against Standard. We came back to win that game but with no small measure of luck. Likewise we were the better side without really impressing in Alkmaar. In the play-off round against Celtic we were likewise. We need a win tonight. We could also do with Standard Ličge doing us a favour at home to Olympiakos. If at all possible it would be a real bonus to travel to Athens for the final group matchday needing nothing from the game to finish top. Arsčne Wenger and I clearly disagree about the importance of finishing top of the group. In the last couple of seasons he’s sacrificed the fight for top spot having secured qualification in second.
To be fair results have proved him right with an absolutely classic European night against Milan in the San Siro in 2007/8 and last season against Roma in the Stadio Olimpico. In the latter case though we really rode our luck, only going through on penalties after extra time. I think playing at home second, which is guaranteed to group winners, is a real benefit worth playing for.
Off the field Silent Stan Kroenke has increased his Arsenal Holdings stake to 29.6%. Here’s the current line-up of share ownership. I’ve given totals for all the current board members and the two big shareholders outside the board:
Stan Kroenke (SKE (UK) Inc)     18,394 29.6%
Alisher Usmanov (Red & White Holdings Ltd)  15,555 25.0%
Danny Fiszman      10,025 16.1%
Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith    9,893  15.9%
Peter Hill-Wood      500  0.08%
Lord Harris of Peckham     50  0.008%
Ken Friar       47  0.0075%
Sir “Chips” Keswick      40  0.0064%
Ivan Gazidis       0  0.00%
TOTAL:       54,504 87.60%
Small shareholders inc Arsenal Supporters’ Trust 7,713  12.40%
The current board owns 29,056 shares or 46.7%. The two big shareholders outside the board, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith and Alisher Usmanov own 25,448 between them or 40.9%. However, Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings is known to have been active in the market buying since his last declaration to the PLUS market on which Arsenal Holdings shares are traded that he had crossed the threshold of 25%.
Shareholders who own three percent or more of the shares who are not board members only have to declare to the market movements in their holdings up or down of one percent. Red & White Holdings’ last declaration to the market was made nearly nine months ago on 16 February 2009. It’s fairly safe to assume that Usmanov is now closer to a 26% holding than 25%. That would mean small shareholders own fewer than 12% of the shares. Discounting the sales to Stan Kroenke by the Carr family and Danny Fiszman all the Kroenke and Usmanov purchase have come from small shareholders.
I confess that I find the number of small shareholders who have been prepared to sell some or all of their shares depressing. I can understand that some may well be very hard pressed financially at the moment but a lot will have been tempted to cash in. I bought my share for about £1,900 about five years ago. I could sell it for a profit of more than £7,000 at today’s “mid” price (half way between the higher “bid” or buying price and the lower “offer” or sale price) of £9,250, up £1,700 in just a few weeks.
I hope I don’t sound too self-aggrandising when I say I have no intention of selling at any price. I have already willed my share as a gift after my death to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust. The only circumstance in which I would cash in and sell would be if any shareholder got to ninety percent ownership. At that stage the person or company owning ninety percent can compulsorily buy the remaining ten percent minority stake. Hanging on in that event would be masochism. Any shareholder refusing to take the compulsory offer just ends up with a worthless piece of paper.
Around one percent of the 62,217 paid and issued shares are “orphan” shares where the ownership has become lost in the mists of time. These can legally be cancelled at any stage by order of the board following a simple legal procedure, placing notices in newspapers and attempting to contact shareholders at their last registered address. Assuming Alisher Usmanov is indeed lurking just under the 26% mark this leaves barely ten percent in the hands of small shareholders.
I make a simple plea to all my fellow supporter-shareholders – DON’T SELL, AT ANY PRICE. Once we collectively drop below ten percent we lose a vital right to insist that supporters can remain part legal owners of the club. I have said before that my fervent hope would be that Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith will gift her shares to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust. I don’t imagine that she will but she would instantly gain a place in the Arsenal pantheon by doing so.
 
They make it clear that they don’t want any debt-financed takeover and to maintain a stake for supporters in the club. Both points are spot on. We want more supporter ownership, not less. The AST is hopeful of being able to leap all the legal hurdles and launch a supporter sharesave scheme in the not too distant future.
Up until about a month ago I was pessimistic about keeping the club out of the hands of Alisher Usmanov. I’m now more optimistic on that front PROVIDED none of the other big shareholders sell to him. The most obvious candidate for this would be Lady Nina. I hope that she would reflect long and hard before she did so. I believe it would catastrophic for the club. Even if she did sell to him however, Usmanov would still need almost all the small shareholders to sell to him to get himself over fifty percent at which stage he could take control, assuming Fiszman and Kroenke hold firm and don’t sell. My worry was, and still remains that Stan Kroenke wouldn’t want to involve himself in a big battle over the future of the club from the other side of the Atlantic. His property development interests and sports franchises there require his attention and he may decide the game isn’t worth the effort if he can get out with a profit. Likewise I’m unconvinced about Danny Fiszman staying in for the long term. I think he’s far more likely to sell to Stan Kroenke than to Alisher Usmanov but there is still that danger.
If Lady Nina were to gift her shares to the AST, or even be prepared to accept payment over a long period at a price well below market, that would immediately stabilise the club and guarantee continued plurality of ownership and a permanent place at the table for us, the supporters. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s likely to happen. Nothing could be more in line with the traditions of the Bracewell-Smith family involvement in the club though, which is one of service and civic duty rather than profit. The decision of her in-laws to sell to Stan Kroenke for huge capital gains makes what would be a wonderful, historic philanthropic gesture unlikely however. Stranger things have happened, but I wouldn’t put any money on it, wonderful as it would be.
Here’s hoping for a good win tonight in the Champions League, upon which we need to focus. No last minute dramas tonight please.
Keep the faith!
 

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