Is there a crisis at Arsenal? No. Well, not yet anyway. It has however gone badly pear-shaped on the park.
Others have commented on our miserable, passionless performances at home to Villa (including me) and at the Council House against Citeh this past weekend. I’ll leave match analysis to others. I want to concentrate on what needs to be done on and off the field to get ourselves turned around and heading in the right direction again.
Firstly, the playing side. Arsčne Wenger has taken us to three League championships and four FA Cup wins (as well as one runners-up spot in that competition), including two Doubles, and to the finals of the Champions League, UEFA Cup and Carling Cup since taking over twelve years ago in the autumn of 1996. We’re now in our tenth successive season in the Champions League. He has already won his place as an Arsenal immortal along with the visionary Herbert Chapman.
Alongside the trophies he’s bought us, he’s revolutionised the playing side of the club off the park. We have one of the best training and academy set-ups in the world, alongside an excellent scouting network. He was a large part of the reason we were able to generate the loans we needed to build our new home at Ashburton Grove. The new ground was essential to our development as a club.
For much of his time at Arsenal his key relationship inside the club was with his friend David Dein, who was given his cards by the rest of his colleagues on the board nineteen months ago in April 2007. Dein was trying to orchestrate a takeover at Arsenal. The rest of the board didn’t like it. He believed Arsenal simply couldn’t compete in the new world of football without billionaire backers.
Subsequently he sold his shares for £75 million to Uzbek/Russian billionaire Alisha Usmanov. He paid £292,000 for his original 16.6% stake in Arsenal in 1983. After selling his shares he was appointed chairman of Red & White Holdings Ltd, registered in the tax haven of Jersey. The company was set up by Usmanov with his British partner Farhad Moshiri to hold his Arsenal interests.
Dein was 65 this past September. He has, to say the least, provided for a comfortable retirement for himself. Clearly though, he pines for his former involvement in Arsenal and the wider game. He was at one time vice-chairman of the FA and president of the G14 group of 18 major European clubs (now dissolved).
I think Dein made the fatal mistake of allowing his ego to rule. Many thought at the time that Arsčne would follow him out the door given their long friendship. That didn’t happen. What Arsčne did lose was the sounding board that Dein provided him. Whatever you think of Dein (and my opinion of him has plummeted) he was a smooth operator in football’s murky backrooms.
I think we may have suffered on the park for this lack of a sounding board, a trusted counsellor and confidant. This role needs to be restored. We need a board member who the manager trusts who doesn’t just sit back and wait for the manager to say, “I want player X” but who can also suggest that “player Y is available if you want him.”
The manager should always decide which players he wants, who should go and who should stay. It’s easy to believe that Arsčne never developed anything like the warm relationship with former managing director Keith Edelman (also, it appears, made to walk the plank) that he had with executive vice-chairman David Dein. Looking at Arsenal from the outside is a bit like Kremlinology in the days of the Soviet Union. We’re all reduced to seeing who’s being air-brushed out of history and is no longer in the photo of the Party leadership on Lenin’s tomb for the May Day parade. Edelman was many things but a schmoozer he was not. “Fit in or fuck off” was more his management style.
Since Dein and then more recently Edelman were given the shove, former club secretary and managing director Ken Friar has been helping Arsčne with transfers and player contracts. I have great respect for Ken. Arsenal through and through, over more than fifty years’ service. I wasn’t born when he first started work at the club. But is it really fair to dump this burden on a man who is 74 years old? Ken should be rolling up to games and adding the voice of his experience at board meetings, not being expected to carry an executive burden.
This issue needs addressing. Urgently. I also think that Arsčne needs to be kicking arse and taking names in the dressing room. Two VERY large signs – metaphorical if not actual – need to be erected in the dressing rooms at the Grove and the training ground:
LEAVE YOUR EGOS AT THE DOOR. AND YOUR MOBILE PHONES. HERE WE WORK FOR A LIVING
Those of us who fork out fortunes for tickets, television subscriptions, merchandise and all the rest of it are entitled to know that the players are giving everything they’ve got in return for their huge salaries. Too many are hiding at the moment when the going gets tough. I don’t resent the big money they’re on. I do expect them to be professional in return for it. Arsčne should absolutely insist on it. Anybody not shaping up should be shipped out. Now. An iron hand needs to be applied I’m afraid. Look what Capello has done with England. He simply won’t tolerate unprofessional conduct. John Toshack has done exactly the same with Wales.
Off the field, we’ve got to start at the top. Let’s have a look at the current board:
Stan KROENKE: lives in the USA. Age: 61
Lady Nina BRACEWELL-SMITH Age: 53
Richard CARR: Age 70
Danny FISZMAN: lives in tax exile in Switzerland, only able to be in Britain for 90 days a year. Age: 63 (64 in January 2009)
Ken FRIAR: Age: 74
Lord Philip HARRIS: Age: 66
Peter HILL-WOOD: club chairman Age : 72
Sir Chips KESWICK: Age 68
So there we have it. Lady Nina is the young whipper-snapper at 53, one still very active with his American business interests and living on the other side of the Atlantic, one in tax exile in Switzerland, involving a self-imposed restriction of 90 days in the country each year, including the day of arrival.
The right wing is well covered on the board with Sir Chips a fund-raiser for the Tories and Lord Harris taking the Conservative whip in the Lords and well in with Party leader David Cameron. Stan Kroenke is a staunch Republican in the USA, which didn’t stop his Pepsi Centre in Denver copping US$6.5 million from the Democrats who held their National Convention there earlier this year (business is business).
The big shareholders on the Board are:
Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith (15.9%)
Danny Fiszman (24.11%)
Richard Carr (4.6%)
Stan Kroenke (12.19%)
Stan Kroenke has not joined the so-called “lock-down” agreement which commits the other shareholders on the board not to sell their shares until 2012. From April next year however the restriction will be eased to allow the signatories to the lockdown to sell shares if they first offer them for sale to other signatories to the agreement.
The elephant in the room of course is Alisha Usmanov. His Red & White Holdings is now the single biggest shareholder in the club and is rapidly heading for 25% of the shares. It was probably him who bought a block of 43 shares on Friday for £344,000. There are only 62,217 authorised and issued shares in Arsenal in total, currently on the market at £8,050 a pop. Apparently relationships have thawed with him and his partner Farhad Moshiri since they jettisoned David Dein. He’s been spotted in the directors’ box. This man makes me deeply, deeply uneasy. As I don’t want this esteemed blog to be closed down by Usmanov’s legal Rottweilers I shan’t repeat the reasons here. You can find them for yourself quite easily.
Stan Kroenke has gone from “we don’t need his sor t” in PeterHill-Wood’s famous words to the warm welcome he got when joining the board and appearing at this year’s club shareholders’ annual general meeting (which is more than Danny Fiszman managed. He was ill apparently).
Peter Hill-Wood said last April that the Carr family, Lady Nina nor Danny Fiszman had, “No intention of selling”.
He also said : “These people love Arsenal, they are independently wealthy and do not need the money. Having a few extra million pounds in the bank is of no interest to them. We’re here for Arsenal football club, not to make a few bob. The club has been run for the benefit of supporters, staff and players.”
I would like to believe that. I really would. Here’s a simple plan to ensure it. Ladies and gentleman of the board, this is the way forward. Gift your club shares to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST). Job done. The future of our great club ensured in perpetuity. An honoured place in the Arsenal pantheon for all of you. It would leave an indelible mark on the game. It would be a step in keeping with our proud club tradition of innovation on and off the field. It would end ownership speculation at a stroke. It would stop us becoming a toy at the whim of the über-wealthy. We would become overnight the first REAL peoples’ club in Britain at the elite level.
After all the only board member in recent memory who actually put any money directly into the club was David Dein who bought newly issued shares in 1983 for £292,000. He did VERY nicely out of that, thank you very much. Talk about money for old rope. And he was copping for a quarter million in year in salary before he got the boot too. The only other direct equity investment was by ITV plc (Granada plc at the time) who bought 9.9% of newly issued shares which helped to fund the new ground. These shares were subsequently bought by Stan Kroenke through his newly created KSE(UK) Inc, registered in the US state of Delaware (famous for its opaque business ownership laws).
Danny Fiszman did spend a good few quid buying shares from David Dein but nothing like the near £121 million his 15,000 shares are worth on paper at the moment. He also copped nearly £4 million for the 659 shares he sold in March 2007 (which ended up in Stan Kroenke’s hands) which is a good start on squaring him up for the 2,840 shares he bought from Dein for £7 million in 2000. He also bought 3,000 Arsenal shares from him in 1996, around the time Dein was involved in a sugar trading business that went spectacularly bankrupt. This money benefitted Dein of course, not Arsenal. Aside from making around £85 million selling Arsenal shares to Dein and Usmanov, he did as I said draw a VERY healthy salary too.
On the other hand the current board don’t take much out of the club either. No dividend has been paid since the 1970s and the directors drew £25,000 each in fees in the last financial year ended 30 May 2008, aside from chairman Peter Hill-Wood who got £65,000 and Ken Friar who got £275,000 for “minding the store” post David Dein. Lord Harris, it should be noted, waives his fee and has it donated to charity, a nice gesture. If they’re true to their word, they should be prepared at least to consider my plan to put their shareholdings in Arsenal into perpetual trust with the AST. If they love Arsenal as they say they do, they’ll be more interested in the future of the club than lining their own pockets with super-profits from investments they say were never about money in the first place.
They won’t earn out of them, but neither will anybody else. Ever. They’ll be in the favourite words of the Irish peace process “weapons placed permanently beyond use.” The problem is that Arsenal shares were until very recently seen by nobody as an investment. Peter Hill-Wood called David Dein’s £292,000 invested in the club in 1983 “dead money”. Essentially it was a donation to the club, or so it was seen in those days. Let’s not think David Dein was some kind of business visionary who saw the digital television billions on the horizon. Sky wasn’t launched until February 1989 and VERY nearly went out of business after losing billions of pounds. Even in the USA the big money in sports rights was from free to air terrestrial broadcasters until the 1980s. He got lucky. Very lucky. That’s not to say he didn’t contribute to Arsenal. He did. He was a gifted and very well connected administrator. In the end though he was more interested in himself than Arsenal.
In the meanwhile the board, while they’re thinking about my idea, should get on with bringing in a top of the range managing director. They should widen their search to include some of the key players on the board of the AST as candidates. There are some VERY serious, able people with right professional backgrounds in their ranks. Every one of them is as madly passionate about Arsenal as you and me.
They also need to be doing a bit of succession planning on board membership as none of them is getting any younger. I like having lots of experience around but in the boardroom we’ve got the reverse of the problem we’ve got on the park. We need a balance of age and experience. This is lacking at the moment.
Food for thought?
Keep the faith, my fellow Gooners! Arsenal u akhbar!
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