It has been quite an eventful 24 hours for Arsenal Football Club. First, Robin van Persie announced on his personal website that he would not be signing another contract. That alone is perfectly reasonable – a man approaching 29 who has one big contract left in him is entitled not to sign a new one with his current employer. In fact, anyone is entitled not to sign a new contract – that is their whole premise. They have an expiry date.
The nature of the statement was what (rightly) caused a lot of anger, and the transparency of his failed PR move has backfired badly on the club captain who probably thought that his position as the best player in the squad (or even the league) allowed him to step so far out of line. Arsenal then responded with a curt statement of their own, essentially saying ‘that’s fine, but you’ve got a contract, so you’re going nowhere unless we say so‘. I’ll cover this whole saga in another post later on, but I want to deal with today’s events – Alisher Usmanov, and Red and White Securities’ open letter to the board.
Now, whatever side of the Kroenke/Usmanov fence you come down on, there are a couple of very important things to realise about this letter:
- Open letters are PR exercises. Nothing more, nothing less. The letter wasn’t intended for the board, but for the fans and the media.
- The timing has been very deliberately calculated to coincide with the van Persie statement.
Now that I’ve got the out of the way, there is one other crucial thing I want to get across. Usmanov’s tactic here is akin to John Kerry’s in the 2004 US elections – essentially ‘support me, because I’m not that guy‘. ‘That guy’ in 2004 was George W Bush. Today it is Stan Kroenke.
This is a very deliberate tactic. Many fans (myself included) are wary of Kroenke, because even if his intentions are good, they are so clouded in silence and mystery that we still have no idea what the long term strategy actually is. Ivan Gazidis is a brilliant talker, but without actually saying anything of note, so we are largely in the dark. Some fans go a lot further than that, being actively against the current setup, and that is the feeling Usmanov is trying to capitalise on, by presenting himself as the viable alternative.
It is a clever strategy, because by basing his arguments on not being someone else, he deflects attention both from his past (which I’m not going to go into, but do a quick Google if you’re curious) and his own plans for the club, which have yet to be aired either. In fact, the only paragraph that alludes to his plans is on page 4:
(note the use of the term ‘war chest’, a fairly obvious soundbite for the media to pick up on)
“So what is Red and White’s vision for the club? It is simple. A debt-free club, with a big enough war chest to buy top talent players who can hit the ground running…..Together they can help the club win trophies…[which is] key to the commercial success of the club – they increase the value of the players, the value of the brand, attract the best sponsors and maximise the value of our commercial contracts.”
While all this sounds laudable, it is a little pie in the sky. Essentially, they are saying that the way forward is to invest, win things, and then everything and everyone is worth more, which in itself is perfectly logical. But this is coming from a company that already owns 29.96% of Arsenal. If they think it is as easy as putting some money in to increase the value of the club (and therefore that shareholding), then go ahead and write a cheque.
That might sounds flippant, but frankly, so is a lot of that letter. It is a PR exercise at its worst, trying to capitalise on unrest by switching allegiances from the current board to Usmanov, aided by the mystical promise of large sums of money that realistically we know aren’t going to be forthcoming. This is a man who wanted dividends, remember – he wants to take money out, not put it in. Even if he does brilliantly and raises the value of the club, he wants to suck that money out afterwards. That’s about all we know about his plan.
Before I cover the absurdity of the plan a little more, I want to reiterate a point. Usmanov is attempting to polarise the fanbase by making us believe that if we are anti-Kroenke, we are pro-Usmanov. This is categorically NOT the case. I’ve lost count of the number of pro-Usmanov arguments that begin with a criticism of Kroenke. Similarly, I’ve seen a lot of arguments where it is stated that ‘Usmanov couldn’t be worse, so why not?‘.
Couldn’t be worse? Really? I think we are all in agreement that certain things at the club could be a lot better, that there are certain policies and decisions that we don’t agree with. But to say that there is no way Usmanov could be worse is naive in the extreme. Let’s take another look at his plan:
“As a top club, we should, at the very least, match if not beat the offers that other clubs make to try to lure our very best players away.”
“To have a fighting chance of success, which means winning trophies, we need to match them in every aspect, including, if not first and foremost, financial.”
I’m sorry, but this is laughable. Manchester City have limitless funds. You don’t match their strategy, because they can always take it a step further. If we really could afford to offer van Persie £200k a week, City would just raise the bar further and offer £300k a week. If they want a player, they can afford to pay more for him than we can, with or without Usmanov’s ‘benevolence’. Creating a strategy based around competing with ‘and beating’ their financial offers is doomed to fail from the start.
And Usmanov knows it. Don’t be fooled – this isn’t a man who is going to take over, plough half a billion in just to see his ‘beloved’ club succeed. If that were his plan, there is nothing to stop him executing it right now. Yet it seems many are lured by this enticing prospect, despite the seeds being sowed in populist fiction.
It is also easy for him to criticise the board, just like it is easy for any politician in opposition to criticise – they don’t have to come up with a concrete and viable plan of their own, just verbally dissect the one in action. And a politician is exactly what Usmanov is – not a kindly old charitable gentlemen, but a PR-driven brutal politicking businessman. If he were a fan, as he claims to be, we would see him in more positive times. Where was we when we were winning games, signing players and getting over the finish line to claim third (whatever you think of that ‘aim’, it was the target of the day)? We only see him when the chips are down, when players want to leave, when targets aren’t being hit. Whenever Arsenal is in the news for the wrong reasons, up pops his head with another bit of PR spin.
But of course, he would never do anything to destabilise the club at a delicate time, would he?
“We are part of this club and naturally want the best for it, but our investment is less important than the fact we are loyal supporters and will never do anything that will destabilize or create conflict at the club.”
Vomit-worthy. That line is actually in the open letter, which of course was not intended to destabilise the club in any way. Oh no.
Here’s where I come back to the point I was trying to make earlier. You do not have to be pro-Usmanov if you don’t agree with decisions made by the current board. You can disagree with both. I cannot stand the prospect of Alisher Usmanov ever becoming a significant part of Arsenal Football Club – I simply cannot see that ending well – but that doesn’t mean I am wholeheartedly behind Kroenke. I am very wary of the man.
But Usmanov is unashamedly transparent, and frankly when I look at this letter all I see is a collection of outrageous lies and half-truths. I thought van Persie had set the bar high for coming up with a statement that relied on the gullibility of the fans, but I think in less than 24 hours he has been trumped.
I have no interest in being polarised or patronised, thank you very much Mr Usmanov. Cut the crap.