Dec 182008

Yesterday was a big day in the Arsenal boardroom, with the announcement of a major reshuffle, with goings both in and out. New Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis joins the board officially, while Richard Carr steps down. Carr will continue in his role as a director, overseeing the academy side of the club.

Neither is a huge shock – the arrival of Gazidis was already known, while Carr may be off the board but it simply lowering his workload, which given that he is past retirement age is somewhat wise. That he remains a director indicates that from a practical point of view, his departure means little. After 27 years, he deserves a break.

The one big surprise, which seemed to be passed off as a footnote on the original report, is the departure of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, one of the major shareholders (her 15% is only bettered by Fiszman and Usmanov). Her exit breaks a run of Bracewell-Smiths being on the board dating back to World War II, and has come out of absolutely nowhere. She has gone from board member to not being involved at all in one sentence.

That she is leaving so suddenly causes alarm bells to ring. It should be remembered that she has been involved with Arsenal for a long time, and her husband (whose shares hers originally were) is a cousin of both chairman Peter Hill-Wood and major shareholder Danny Fiszman. Arsenal are a family run club, and for one of its own to depart so abruptly is not a good sign.

There are various rumours abound that tensions in the boardroom led to this split, with Lady Nina being increasingly cast aside in the major decisions. But the truth is that we just don’t know. Peter Hill-Wood has tried to answer some questions on the official site, but his answers create further speculation:

“Lady Nina is no longer representing the Club and therefore is released from the lockdown. However it was created to maintain stability in the Club and those participants are committed to maintaining the ownership structure as it is.

I don’t know for certain what she wants to do with her shares. I do know that the Bracewell-Smith family have been involved with the Club for many, many years and are great supporters.”

While it is true that her family have been involved for many a year, that is the family she married into rather than her own. After so long, however, it can be hoped that the Arsenal value system and hers now meet, and Hill-Wood does go on to suggest that she agrees with the need to avoid external money (i.e. Usmanov).

So the question is what she will do with her shares now. 15% is a huge amount, enough for the existing board to close ranks even further if Stan Kroenke decides to increase his stake, or if Gazidis buys into the club (something he has done in the past and has the wealth to do again).

Of course the cloud is Alisher Usmanov, but for Lady Nina to sell to him would be as much of a betrayal of the club and its board as when Dein sold out (and I mean that in every sense of the phrase). Yes, he would pay over the odds, as he has done before, but Lady Nina is not exactly short of a bob or two.

One thing is for certain – she will be made an offer, possibly from both sides, and her decision will have an enormous impact on the future of our club. Let’s hope she chooses wisely.

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