Back to League action tomorrow with the visit of Birmingham City. Let’s hope the international break hasn’t disrupted the momentum that was building before the players scattered for the World Cup qualifiers. We need three points in the bag. Manuel Almunia is said to be “50-50” for availability for selection. Lukasz Fabiański is definitely available. If the decision were mine I’d stick with Vito Mannone. He’s earned his chance to make the top spot his.
Following the latest World Cup qualifiers, as things stand the following Gunners are likely to fly out to South Africa for the World Cup with their national teams:
Cesc Fàbregas
Robin van Persie
Philippe Senderos
Johan Djourou (if recovered from injury in time)
Emmanuel Eboué
Theo Walcott
Nicklas Bendtner
Carlos Vela
Also possibles if France and Russia get through their play-off games are Samir Nasri, Gaël Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby and Andrey Arshavin. Likewise Alex Song if Cameroon qualifies. They lead their qualifying group by one point with Gabon tucked in behind them. Gabon is away to Togo and Cameroon to Morocco in the last round of games. Both Togo and Morocco are out of it.
All this assumes of course that all the players are fit, selected and stay with us. We could have fourteen players at the tournament however. I’d guess we’ll end up with eight-ten players at the tournament. We’ll end up with some recompense for this. FIFA now sets aside US$40 million to compensate clubs for the release of their players for the tournament, as does UEFA for the European Championships. We netted around £750,000 for the last Euros in Switzerland and Austria. Not billy bundles but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. I’d guess we’ll end up with about £400,000 from the World Cup “pot”. More if some of our players go a long way in the tournament.
Off the field, Silent Stan Kroenke has lashed out another £765,000 on ninety more Arsenal shares, taking him with 1.1% of the threshold where he’d have to make a compulsory bid for the all the rest. Despite press speculation in some quarters, including the Daily Express, I expect him to stop buying just short of thirty percent. He still owes about half of the £100 million or so he paid for the shares he bought from the Bracewell-Smith family and Danny Fiszman. He’s not likely to want to lash out for hundreds of millions more in a compulsory offer. He paid £8,500 a share for the latest batch he’s bought.
The quoted market “mid” price (half way between the “bid” or buy and “offer” or sale price on the PLUS market, the exchange on which Arsenal Holdings shares are publicly traded has shot up £900 a share from £7,550 to £8,450 a share. This backs up reports that agents for Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings are out there in market trying to buy out small shareholders with fifty-one hundred shares. Not that it particularly matters what I do with my one share, but the only way I shall sell no matter what the price gets to will be if somebody gets to ninety percent of the shares at which point they can compulsorily buy the remaining ten percent. In those circumstances they can’t make you take the money of course but if you don’t you’re left with a worthless piece of paper. Even I’m not that much of a masochist. I hope that it’ll never happen though. I think a good chunk of shares in the hands of supporters is crucial to the club’s health.
I’m writing this blog in Washington DC where I’m working this week. The big sports news of the field has been the involvement of ultra-right wing “shock jock” talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s involvement in a consortium bidding to buy a controlling sixty percent stake in the St Louis Rams of the National Football League. Limbaugh, who for my money speaks completely ill-informed nonsense, has a huge following here. Last year he signed a US$400 million (around £254.77 million) eight year contract for his syndicated radio show, including a US$100 million (£63.69 million) signing bonus. £612,000+ a week for talking complete bollocks on the radio. ‘Gis a job. I could do that.
Anyway, his relevance to Arsenal is that the other forty percent of the St Louis Rams is owned by Silent Stan Kroenke. He has the right to match any offer that’s made for the majority sixty percent of the Rams if current owners (which moved the club from Los Angeles to St Louis in 1995, restoring an NFL club to the city which lost the Cardinals to Arizona seven years earlier in 1988) decide to sell. Alternatively of course it’s possible that Kroenke could sell his forty percent stake in the Rams which would net him around £250-280 million. Stan has a reputation for liking undisputed sole ownership of his sporting and entertainment assets. He owns all his other teams (all based in Denver, the football team at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the ice hockey, basketball and lacrosse teams at the Pepsi Centre, both of which he also owns) outright.
He is a Missouri native and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri which is why he’s involved with the Rams. He can either stay a minority owner in the back-seat or match the offer other groups are likely to make which will mean him coppering up about £450 million for the sixty percent of the Rams he doesn’t own. It appears more likely to me that he might let his stake in the Rams go to fund his purchases of Arsenal shares. Speculation on my part, but it appears to add up.
One other interesting factor in the Rush Limbaugh involvement in buying a majority stake in the Rams. NFL rules require that any change of ownership of any of its member clubs must be approved by a three-quarters majority of the owners. 24 of the 32 clubs have to vote in favour BEFORE the ownership can be transferred. Limbaugh’s involvement in one of the consortia preparing bids for the Rams has caused such a stink here.  The head of the NFL players’ union has stuck the boot in, a number of leading players have said they’d never play for a team in which Limbaugh was involved and the owner of the Indianapolis Colts has stated he’d vote against any transfer of ownership involving Limbaugh. The rest of the consortium he’s involved in pushed him overboard yesterday, it being made clear to them informally that they could forget it if Limbaugh remained involved.
Here’s the exact wording of the rule:
“In conducting this investigation and evaluation (of a proposed owner), the N.F.L. Commissioner’s office and the N.F.L. member clubs will consider all pertinent information. The ultimate decision on the purchaser’s application for membership in the N.F.L. will be based on the N.F.L. member clubs’ assessment of whether the proposed ownership is likely to result in successful operation of the club, with acceptable ownership and management operating in compliance with all league rules and policies and in the best interests of the league. This assessment will be made by the member clubs in their sole discretion. Prospective buyers and sellers should bear in mind that the N.F.L. reserves the right not to approve any application for membership.”
Oh for a similar rule here on football club ownership. The powers that be at the Premier League tell us it won’t work legally. Oh no? That’s what they said about the “fit and proper person” test and that’s in place now. We share the same form of law with the USA. Whilst the law here is different there are sufficient similarities to think that the Premier League, Football League and Football Association could introduce a similar rule in Blighty – if they wanted to. There’s the rub.
Here’s to three points tomorrow. I shall be watching the game in a bar here in Washington and raising a glass to you all, if that’s not too rude at 10.00am in the morning, which is kick-off time here!
Keep the faith!