Liverpool/Porto/Ownership

Well, for that, much relief. Three points against Liverpool on Wednesday night was just what we needed. The performance wasn’t all that. Let’s file it away under the old pilots’ expression, “Any landing you walk away from is a good one.”
We did seem a little more defensively solid, with one excellently timed tackle from Big Bad Bill Gallas and a decent save from Manual Almunia ensuring that we kept all three points. For once it was the opposition’s woeful defending of a ball into the box which Abou Diaby pounced on, with an unopposed header for our lone goal.
Due to our elimination from the FA Cup we have no game this weekend which allows plenty of time to prepare for our trip to northern Portugal next Wednesday night to play Porto in the first knock-out round of the Champions League. We won’t have any excuses about tired legs but we do have our now customary injury headaches. Alex Song picked up a knee ligament problem and Andrey Arshavin tweaked a hamstring against Liverpool.
With Chelsea losing to Everton at Goodison Park and Yoonited drawing at Villa Park we’re back within six points of the summit. I’m not holding my breath for a title challenge. We can but live in hope. Speaking of Yoonited, the Match of the Day cameras homed in on a United fan wearing a green and gold scarf and a big “LOVE UNITED HATE GLAZER” badge at Villa Park. The commentator explained that the green and gold represented the colours of United’s forbearers, Newton Heath (think Dial Square FC in Arsenal terms). He didn’t explain what the sudden appearance of huge numbers of Yoonited fans swathed in green and gold though.
At United’s home game against Portsmouth last weekend both the home and away areas were a sea of green and gold. The colours have been adopted against the ownership of the Glazer family. “GREEN AND GOLD ‘TIL IT’S SOLD!” as the slogan goes. The Yoonited v Portsmouth game was the anniversary of the Munich air disaster. Pompey fans who, to say the least, have their own issues about ownership and debt, contacted United fans to suggest a joint protest, hence the sea of green and gold.  They say a picture says more than a thousand words so here’s one:
On the field I wish United nothing but ill-will. Off the park I don’t ever want to see Arsenal descend into the sort of chaos and financial games being played out in very different ways at Old Trafford and Fratton Park. On that, I’m right behind those United supporters campaigning against the financial vampires of the Glazer family.
The reaction of the Glazer’s to the campaign to get them out has been to try and stamp out dissent and free speech. Fans have been slung out of Old Trafford for chanting “We Want the Glazers out!”. Very democratic. What a shining example of the land of the free and the home of the brave the Glazers are, behaving more like  British colonial overlords than the descendents of the Boston Tea Party. Amongst those bounced have included a father and his eleven year old son. How to win hearts and minds. Not.
The problem is of course the Glazers have a calculating machine where most people have their heart. Their ONLY interest in Manchester United is how much money they can vacuum out of the club. Not that we don’t have our own concern about ownership of course.
The report in Charlie Sale’s column in the Daily Mail last month about Danny Fiszman’s throat cancer slipped pretty much under the radar. I don’t like or trust Sale but the report hasn’t been rebutted so I assume there’s something to it.
The piece does say that Fiszman is responding to treatment which I hope is true on a personal level. I wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody. The “Big C” fills us all with dread but most cancers are treatable these days if diagnosed early enough. It is however a reminder that Fiszman isn’t getting any younger. With increased life expectancy in the rich parts of the world and modern medicine it’s possible that he’ll live for another twenty years of course. You do have to wonder though. None of Fiszman’s offspring seem especially engaged or attached to Arsenal as an institution.
On the other hand Alisher Usmanov is about to be a LOT richer than he was with the postponed initial public share offering in his company Metalloinvest, now set to go ahead sometime in the first half of this year. Estimates vary but most valuations are in the US$20 billion range (around £12 billion). Usmanov owns half the company so his pockets will be bulging with cash post the public share sale in Metalloinvest, assuming all goes to plan. How much of the company will be floated isn’t clear but if only half the shares are sold Usmanov would trouser around £3 billion. Nice work if you can get it.
Stan Kroenke on the other hand has nothing like the cash on hand that Usmanov will have which is why he bought the Carr family and Fiszman shares he did on tick. He’s paid off the Carr brothers and Lady Sarah Phipps-Bagge, he still owes Fiszman. There is also the 15.9% stake of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith of course. I’ve never made any bones about it. I wish Alisher Usmanov had never darkened our door. I find the man deeply sinister. It would break my heart if he ended up owning my beloved club but you can see how easily it could happen. God fights on the side with the heaviest artillery and that isn’t Kroenke. Nobody who knows me would ever describe me as racist or xenophobic. I simply want my club owned by people who place its welfare above their own personal interests.
Stan Kroenke has no interest in Arsenal other than as an investment. Usmanov’s involvement is all about personal ego. Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith is a major owner in Arsenal by accident of marriage. She’ll never go into the same sort of deep depression each of us in the Gooner Nation does when we’re not fulfilling our potential on the park. I’d guess she’ll want to cash in at some stage. Her shares are a bit like a winning ticket in multi-rollover Euromillions lottery week which she can’t immediately cash. I get very bleak when I think about this. I can’t see why Stan Kroenke would want to stay in for the long-term with no dividend income and only the distant prospect of selling his stake for a big capital gain, especially as he’s managing his stake essentially by remote control from the American mid-west. Easier to do than it was with information technology and modern airline travel, but still not ideal. It’s all too easy to see how Kroenke could decide to push back from the table and take an easy and quick capital gain.
His alternative is to sell his forty percent minority stake in his NFL team the St Louis Rams to fund a bid for the remainder of the 70%+ Arsenal shares he doesn’t own. I can’t see why Usmanov would sell his 26% at the sort of price Kroenke would be willing to pay, around £8,500 a share. He’d take a £50-60 million loss if he did that. Although he could afford to take the hit, especially if the Metalloinvest stock market flotation is a success, but I don’t imagine his ego will let him. A bid for the shares not already in his hands would cost up to around £370 million. As Usmanov is unlikely to sell at the price Kroenke would offer he’d actually end up shelling out around £232 million, about what the sale of his minority stake in the St Louis Rams would fetch. He’d be in comfortable majority control with at least 62% of the club and more depending on how many small shareholders sold at an offer price of around £8,500 a share. If Usmanov wouldn’t sell he’d be stuck with a large minority shareholder with a stake of more than a quarter, large enough to block any financial changes Usmanov didn’t like. Not a situation he’s likely to want to find himself in.
On the other hand he could walk away with a large profit on his involvement in Arsenal of £13-20 million, depending on the offer price that Usmanov might make. Usmanov’s new huge cash pile which he’s likely to have soon would mean he could offer £9,500-£10,000 a share easily if he was so minded and the Russian government had no objections to him blowing money on a vanity purchase.
There are those Gooners who’re attracted to the idea of a deep-pocketed owner. I’m not one of them. I want my club to be built as a joint enterprise on the cash we generate through our own efforts. I do NOT want to be a rich man’s train-set.  Wenger and UEFA call this financial doping. They’re both right.
Still, we’re not likely to have a quick resolution to these issues so we’ll just have to live with the uncertainty, self-inflicted as it is. We need now to concentrate our efforts on next Wednesday night in O Estádio do Dragão in Oporto.
Keep the faith!

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