Rory Smith: Silent Stan speaks to reassure fans but discontent rumbles
American owner ends his omerta at Arsenal's AGM but supporters remain disgruntled by a lack of clarity over their club's direction
Of all the items to forget, of all the slips of the mind, it had to be that one. "I appear to have one more resolution," said Peter Hill-Wood, Arsenal's old-money, straw-man chairman, performing a swift about-turn after a surreptitious word from a suited apparatchik. "It is resolution five. All those in favour of re-electing Stan Kroenke to the board?"
Hill-Wood, it is fair to say, was the only person among the 300 in the Emirates Stadium's Woolwich Suite whose thoughts strayed from the moustachioed American seated to his left at any point during Arsenal's hour-long Annual General Meeting yesterday.
This was the moment the club had waited four years to see, four years of gradual accumulation of shares, of winks and nudges and pleas and pontification. This was the moment when Silent Stan would speak.
"Hey," he said, in his grits-and-corn Missouri drawl, laconic, laid-back, far more at ease than his reputation for taciturnity would suggest. "It's great to be here. We just got in a few hours ago. What a wonderful club. I have been asked to say a few things. I'm not quite sure why."
Because this is a club whose fate lies in his hands, of course. Because this is a club desperate to know what its destiny is to be. Because this is a club that has been run with dignity for decades by the well-meaning blue-bloods sitting around him on that raised dais, men and women with morals and stiff upper lips and names like Sir Chips Keswick, but one that now needs dynamism and decisiveness if it is to retain its place among the elite.
It was too much to ask that Kroenke, in his first public utterances at his fourth appearance at an AGM, would outline his plans for his newest sporting acquisition, the asset which he has slowly bought 66 per cent of in recent years. He may have broken his silence, but he is not about to pour out his heart.
That is not to say his appearance did not enhance Arsenal's understanding of its benefactor. He is, he assured listeners, "in it for the long haul".
"We are glad to be here, we love London, so you had better get used to seeing us," he said.
Arsenal "has all the elements you need to have success in this kind of business" he claimed, citing "tremendous management at the top and a tremendous following with the supporters". That means Arsène Wenger retains his full, and fulsome, backing. "He is a wonderful manager on the pitch who makes great decisions in regard to personnel."
So far, so platitudinous. It was only when the position of Hill-Wood was called into question by one interlocutor – demanding his removal and the appointment of former vice-chairman David Dein in his stead – that Kroenke, a man with more than a hint of Ron Burgundy and Donald Sutherland about him, felt moved to speak.
"We are all fans," he said, taking the microphone from the stuttering chairman. "We are going to a certain place and Peter has our full support. Peter, we are with you." Indeed, as Hill-Wood, his composure restored, later confirmed, there is no mood for further change at board level. No representative of Red & White Holdings, the investment vehicle through which the Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov has acquired almost 30 per cent of the club, will be elected to it. There will be no equity injection into the club, despite Usmanov's offer to write a cheque for £100m if the funds are invested in the team.
Instead, as Wenger, Hill-Wood, Kroenke, Keswick and the rest wish, Arsenal will continue with the self-sustaining model which they feel places the club in the best possible position for a future likely to be shaped by Uefa's looming Financial Fair Play guidelines.
Arsenal's brave decision not to cherry-pick only the softest of the pre-selected questions meant that Kroenke (pictured right) now has first-hand experience of the disaffection pulsing through this club.
A demand for Hill-Wood to resign, calls for Dein's reinstatement and complaints over sky-high ticket prices subsidising a minimal net transfer spend and a wage bill enriching mediocrities. This is not a happy place.
The message emanating from the board was that fans should "trust us", in Wenger's words, that the club are on the right path. The question emerging from the floor was where that route leads. That is why, when Hill-Wood eventually remembered to ratify Kroenke's position on the board, there were two votes against. The motion still passed. "Stan, you're still here,' said the chairman, sotto voce. For the long haul, too. Without tangible progress, though, that minor mutiny will spread. The ayes have it. For now.
Anxious Arsenal: The three key issues
The self-sustaining model
The complaint Arsenal are determined only to spend what they can generate, but that has seen them fall behind rivals.
The case for the defence the club reiterated its belief that such a regimen is the most intelligent way to compete.
The complaint The departure of players has benefited the balance sheet, but the funds raised have not been reinvested.
The case for the defence Wenger remains adamant that the nine signings he made this summer will prove astute.
The Usmanov issue
The complaint Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek billionaire, has volunteered to write a cheque for £100m for players, while garnering less than 30 per cent of the club. Thus far, the current regime has shown no interest in working with him.
The case for the defence Peter Hill-Wood indicated there was no desire to change the constitution of the board at all. rory smith
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