Off The Field At Arsenal – Where Next?

With the training ground taking on the appearance of the Marie Celeste this week due to the forthcoming international weekend, I thought I’d blog on where the club goes from here off the field. 

All of what I’m about to say will depend a lot on the future ownership and the composition of the board of directors.
Currently board membership is as follows:
Peter Hill-Wood (chairman): 74 years old
Danny Fiszman:
Ken Friar: 76 years old
Stan Kroenke:63 years old
Lord Harris of Peckham:68 years old
Sir Chips Keswick:70 years old
Ivan Gazidis:46 years old
The effective “axis” controlling the club at the moment consists of Danny Fiszman and Stan Kroenke. Between them they own 46% of the club’s shares. The two heavy hitters in terms of share ownership outside the board are Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings Ltd which has a declared holding of 25%.
This stake will be knocking on the door of 26%, a threshold he will likely pass at some stage. Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith holds 15.9% and is a known seller having appointed the American bank Blackstone to find a buyer for her stake. Red & White announced crossing the 25% threshold in February 2009. They’re known to have been active in market for Arsenal Holdings shares since then.
As Alisher Usmanov isn’t on the board he only has to notify changes in his holding up or down one percent of the current issued shares (62,217 plus two non-voting subscriber shares). Once he’s got his hands on 622 further shares on top of his current 15,555 he’ll have to make a declaration to the PLUS market, the junior stock exchange on which Arsenal Holdings shares are publicly traded. Likewise if he sells more than one percent of his holding. This obligation applies to all shareholders once they own more than three percent of the club.
>Whilst we still maintain the plural model of ownership which has served the club so well over the decades, what is new is that a) owners of 71% of the club live overseas and two are foreign nationals and b) there is a split between the four biggest shareholders with Alisher Usmanov outside looking in and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith looking for the door and a rollover Euromillions lottery style windfall payout.
This has to be a matter of concern. How can it not be? There have been calls for a considerable number of Gooners to launch a retaliatory spending attack and open the club cheque book to compete with the moneybags at Chelsea and Manchester City.
This would be a) reckless and b) self-defeating with the new UEFA financial fair play rules and Premier League squad restrictions. Chelsea has already applied the financial brakes. Manchester City is going to have to jam them on soon, because of the new regulations and also because nobody, no matter how rich they are wants to continue to lose the sums that City are – £121 million in their recently published accounts for 2009/10, following a loss of £92.6 million the previous year. The new owners have already pumped in £500 million.
If City wants to play in Europe they’re going to have hit the brakes – and soon. 

We’re not doing as well as we should however, given the money we generate. The board needs to be planning now for its own succession. I’m all for experience on the club board but it needs a couple of younger figures who can drive the club and make sure progress is being made on and off the field.
The board has a nominations committee chaired by Lord Harris. The other members are Sir Chips Keswick and Danny Fiszman. One of its jobs is succession planning for board membership. Some new blood needs to be added, especially in the light of Danny’s health and the fact that he lives in Switzerland. We need board members who have the right skills and live close enough to the club to exercise effective strategic and policy oversight and to measure performance. 

I think the board needs a football committee headed by Ivan Gazidis to work on the strategic direction of the team and the composition of the playing squad. This doesn’t mean micro-managing the manager. It does mean holding him accountable. Any organisation that allows one person too much unaccountable autonomy takes huge risks in so doing. The manager must be left to determine team selection, tactics, training and so on. That doesn’t mean that the board shouldn’t probe the manager’s strategic plans to build on strengths and address weaknesses.
Off the field Ivan Gazidis needs to continue his excellent start in building relationships with supporters and facilitating supporter ownership in the club. He needs to ensure that we’re punching our weight in terms of commercial income, within the restraints placed on him by the major sponsorship deals with Nike and Emirates that he’s inherited.
The board is going to have to take responsibility for renewing and strengthening itself. With the exception of Ivan Gazidis none of them is getting any younger. Danny is seriously ill. The SC Braga home match was the first game he’s attended this season.
Stan Kroenke lives in the Midwest of the USA. He’s just taken full control of the St Louis Rams of the NFL. His other professional sports and commercial property interests and the fact that he lives 4,200 miles away from London on the other side of the Atlantic, and in a time zone six hours behind Britain means he’s never going to be able to devote the time to Arsenal that the club merits.
Add to age, health and residence of the current board together with the fact that relations between the board and two senior shareholders are guarded and frosty and we don’t exactly have a recipe for a dynamic, active board driving the club forward from the top. It’s all too easy for the club to fall into a “holding pattern”. That’s what we need to avoid, likewise complacency and self-satisfaction.
Generally Arsenal is run with a level of professionalism and financial common sense that knocks most other clubs into a cocked hat. Unfortunately as we’ve seen with the Portsmouth fiasco amongst many others the bar isn’t set very high. We can and should be performing much better than we currently do off the field, and significantly better on it.
Those are the tasks that every Gooner expects the board and the senior shareholders to perform. Gentleman, leave your egos and self-interest at the door. What’s best for the club must come first. 

Keep the faith!

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