Usmanov, that wobbly-jawed, walking Rouble, first came to most Gooners attention in 2007. This was the year he breached the previously impenetrable group of shareholders. The people who technically owned our club were part of an illustrious group that still held the values of Arsenal aloft to the rest & showed that a successful team could still be maintained without a major foreign-investor. The dusty, mahogany-filled boardroom, much like Ron Burgundys house, was an example to all clubs. It was serene, untouched, untroubled. Fans never really had cause for concern in that regard. We were in fact, proud that the traditional values were still in place. Until 2007.
We had become a valuable commodity. Thanks mostly to our manager, we were making waves in the financial pool & the smell of a crisp note wafted to the ever-pricked nostrils of the savvy Uzbek.
His investment, when everyone found out about his net-worth, was greeted by a fair portion of fans with positivity. Thanks to Abramovich resurrecting a club that was on its knees to a lofty position fighting for honours it had no cause to fight for previously, it would seem that a slice of Gooners wanted that for themselves. They wanted us to suckle on the teat at the expense of our scruples. With Usmanovs comment in an interview with Bloomberg stating that his stake with Arsenal is ” a business interest “, does this pull back the hood on the Oligarch’s intentions & reveal the sharp incisors bared in anticipation?
Let me blast some background at ya’ll, all gleaned from everybody’s favourite reference tool, Wikipedia. Alisher Burkhanovich Usmanov was born in Uzbekistan. His father was a State Prosecutor, so not quite the humble beginnings that we imagined. Alisher naturally followed daddys’ leanings & progressed through University to earn a Degree in International Law. Now comes the fun part. The cash. He earned his first millions with investing in metal & mining, but the breakthrough came when he invested in Metalloinvest, of which he is now the majority shareholder. So far, so Abramovich. This company now is the sponsor of Dinamo Moscow, so if they face us, expect Alisher to purchase ALL the half ‘n’ half scarves.
It would seem that once the moolah started rolling in, that ole’ ABU got a taste for the success and power, because he started to cut a swathe through most of Russias’ power companies. He not only did that, but they were shrewd moves as well. He invested in media. A lot of it.
Kommersant, the rather large Russian newspaper, formerly owned by Boris Berezovsky, yup, the same Boris who was the Russian tycoon who was in exile in the UK, facing tax embezzlement charges after disagreeing with the Kremlin, also found dead by suicide in 2013. Well, Kommersant was bought by Usmanov. ABU also co-owns Megafon, the 2nd biggest mobile phone operator in Russia. ABU also dipped his toes into the internet, he co-owns the biggest company based on the web in the Russian-speaking world. So Newspaper, telecommunications and the internet. That’s quite a portfolio. No stopping for portly Alisher though, for his corpulent frame belies his rapier business sense. In 2013 he bought shares in Apple. In 2014, he sold them. No doubt for a juicy profit. He also owns shares in Facebook, Zynga and Groupon, not to mention everybodies favourite soapbox, Twitter. I’m having second thoughts as to putting this blog out……..
I worry for legitimate reasons, for our chubby shareholder is a former jailbird. The conviction was vacated upon further inspection in 2000, but 20yrs earlier, he was doing bird at the Kremlins Pleasure, serving 6yrs out of an 8 year stretch for Fraud. It is sometimes hard to hide your millions under the mattress……
Now to the crux of the matter. ABU’s interest with our beloved Club. Our Club that had upheld it’s traditions throughout its existence. Proudly standing under fire whilst its rivals sold their soul to pay for dreams that were wafer thin. As mentioned previously, ABU ( I do hope he doesn’t mind me abbreviating his name in such a way, why do I feel he’s watching me after I found out about his investment in Twitter? ) first invested in 2007, when he bought David Deins’ shares, £75m for 14.58%. David Dein is still lamented as a significant loss to many of us as his close ties with Arsene & his suave, dilligent business manner were useful in luring targets to us, but I digress. Dein still had a part to play in this tale though, as he became the Head of the Investment Vehicle that owned the shares, Red & White Holdings. Leap forward a month, R&W Holdings upped its stake to 23%. Fiszman was the biggest shareholder at the time with 24% as Silent Stan didn’t get to 30% until a year later. Coincidentally, ABU worked behind the scenes & by Feb 2008, he had acquired just over 24%. Upon reaching this marker, he issued a statement, stating that he had no intention to make a full takeover bid for 6 months and that he had been a fan for 7 years. Upon this statement being released, our beloved Peter Hill-Wood, Chairman at the time, issued a lockdown at Boardroom level. I can just imagine the meeting around a gargantuan Oak table, high backed chairs, all members swilling around brandy in their glasses, but with stern faces of consternation to offset the walls of leather-bound tomes. It must have been the most dramatic meeting they’d had for years.
The lockdown constituted just that – No shares were to be sold without approval from other Board Members & fellow members had first refusal. Hill-Woods first impressions of outside investment, a breach of the Old-Boys Club if you will, were voiced to his favourite mouthpiece, The Daily Star, of all channels, and were thinly-veiled at best. It would seem that Silent Stan seemed the lesser of two wolves baying at the door though, as an about turn meant that Stan was welcomed with open arms by PHW, beckoning him to his plush chair to talk about hunting and Faberge Eggs, I suspect. ABU however, was left at the doorstep. It was raining and Alisher hadn’t a brolly. He looked in the window to see a roaring fire and Stan sitting comfortably, seemingly regaling the other Board Members with tales of the USA. You don’t get to where ABU is without some resolve though, so he didn’t let this disturbing chain of events rock his yacht. It would seem a storm was approaching though.
Kroenke, or rather, more appropriately, KSE UK, became the major shareholder in Arsenal plc in April 2011. Stan had bought Danny Fiszmans’ and Lady Nina Bracewells’ shares to take him to 62%. He offered to by Alishers shares, to which, unsurprisingly, ABU refused. No doubt with an imaginary turd through the letterbox. As a riposte to this, ABU increased his stake to 29% two months later. A somewhat surprising fact I unearthed is that Rangers Football Club held shares in us. Due to financial constraints they sold them to ABU in 2012.
So, these late purchases after Kroenke became majority shareholder were obviously a statement of intent, a post-it-note on your lunch that is left in the communal work fridge if you will. To further set out his stall, maybe in part in an attempt to curry favour with disenchanted supporters of which many had become tired with a perceived lack of investment, ABU issued a statement. This manifesto was precipitated by that skunk-faced, cunt-weasel RVP leaving for more trophy-laden climes by jumping ship to our rivals. It would seem ABU saw this as a good time to strike, no other man could claim to have his finger closer to the pulse of social emotion than Usmanov with his portfolio of media. He claimed that ” current politics of the Clubs management ” were in part responsible for the Clubs malaise. He repeated this claim a month later.
All quiet really in the marina for a couple of years, until the comments to Bloomberg yesterday. I felt compelled to write about this and air my redundant views as I feel that the use of the phrase ” business interest” has finally pulled back the skin on the greedy, flaccid phallus and revealed the gangrenous intentions beneath. His earlier claims to be a fan and have great love for the club were always utter tosh, but to even spew them and expect the fans to eat it up hungrily had me opting for any other option than him. There was a growing quell of fans, even last season, who were still calling for ABU to ride in on his many chromed steeds, saving the Damsel in distress ( us ) and riding off into the sunset, eventually stripping her for parts to the highest bidder, akin to the auction scene in Taken. Dirty. I have never been one and I think the general concensus was the same. We don’t want your money. We don’t want to set a foundation of borrowed money and set a stall out atop it only for aforementioned foundation to be pulled out under us at any given time, sending every fibre of our Club slowly tumbling toward ruin. I may be being dramatic, but it’s transparent the motives that compelled Usmanov.
I agree Silent Stan isn’t exactly Prince Fucking Charming either. Due to his penchant for sporting franchises in the US, it is quite clear he sees us as a business as well, but in a different sense. He has never attempted to claim fandom. He has never issued barbed statements toward the Board when attempting to swill brandy with the old guard. He’s never tried to be anything other than what he is. I’ll finish with this. Peter Hill-Wood, the third generation of family to have deep connections with our Club, had a choice between the two. He chose Stan, as did Fiszman and Lady Nina. I sure as hell trust their business accumen and decision above anyone elses in this instance. They knew.