It couldn’t last. Amongst all the delight around Arsenal’s stunning start to the season, there have been more rumblings going on in the background.
And so, as revealed earlier by ANR and investigated by Gunnerblog, it became apparent that Alisher Usmanov and his Red and White holdings company had purchased enough shares to take them to around 21% ownership of Arsenal Football Club. Now only Danny Fiszman owns a greater slice.
That news is concerning in itself, given the shady background of the company and the apparent single-minded ambition of David Dein. Working in Arsenal’s best interests becomes a lot more difficult to believe when the timing of such actions brings such a swift end to euphoria. At best, it’s a dent in what has been a glorious week. At worst, it is deliberate destabilisation.
But even more concerning was the price of the purchase, placed anywhere between 8.5k and 10k a share, way above the trading price. Usmanov really wanted those shares.
So the question is, why? No doubt we will shortly be fed the same rhetoric about the company raising their stake, but not preparing for a hostile takeover, so should we believe it? Absolutely not.
Purchasing shares from a business perspective is one thing. Usmanov may have believed that the share price would rise, and he could make a quick buck. But he is purchasing the shares for a price well over the odds. Either he thinks the shares are about to boom, in which case he would struggle to find a seller, or he has entirely different plans.
And I think it’s fairly clear that it is the latter. With his stake in the club rising, eyes will now turn to Stan Kroenke, who has decisions to make. He purchased his shares for around 7k each, so with Usmanov paying such inflated prices, the American could walk away tomorrow with a healthy profit in his back pocket. The question is – what does he want?
Suddenly the option of getting Kroenke on side with the board is a wise one, which makes Peter Hill-Wood’s dismissive remarks about him a few months back seems a touch premature. Were he to sell to Red and White, they would become the major shareholder and a very serious threat.
I find myself hoping that Stan Kroenke can work with the board to find a way to reject this new attack. Two months ago, I couldn’t imagine myself saying that.
This one is going to run and run. And it’s going to get ugly.