Russian billionaire may bail out Arsenal

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The Independent Online

A Russian billionaire could have the solution to Arsenal's funding problem, the need to find £400m to build a new stadium in north London.

Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia's most powerful businessmen, is considering investing up to £120m in the Premiership club's proposed 60,000-capacity stadium at Ashburton Grove.

In return, the former deputy prime minister of Russia would take a stake in the club, following in the footsteps of Roman Abramovich at the club's west London rival Chelsea. Mr Potanin, who was richly rewarded for helping to bankroll the former Russian president Boris Yeltsin's troubled 1996 election bid, has discussed taking a stake in Arsenal with a number of his business associates, according to weekend reports. He has yet to broach the idea with Arsenal's board or the City bank that is heading the club's fund-raising drive.

Arsenal have until the end of December to meet a self-imposed deadline to finalise their funding plans for the new development. The club's defeat in Ukraine last week left them struggling to progress beyond the group phase in the Champions League. The Highbury club banked about £15m from the competition last year, and an early exit would make the club less attractive to potential investors.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, when asked about the possibility of a Russian investment, said: "I didn't meet anybody in the corridor there but I would be happy to see them."

Mr Potanin, whose Interros conglomerate has assets in banking, media, property, gas, agriculture and mining controls Norilsk Nickel, the world's biggest nickel producer. An Interros spokeswoman denied that Mr Potanin planned to acquire any sports club. Arsenal hope to report on their funding plans by the end of the year.