Wenger remains relaxed over Arsenal future

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The Independent Online

In view of events across the capital, the news that a Russian billionaire had increased his shareholding in Arsenal, and was aiming to build a "blocking share", might be imagined to create a feeling of unease for Arsène Wenger.

Not at all, said the Arsenal manager yesterday, he remained "totally relaxed" about Arsenal's future. It probably helps that, under Wenger, Arsenal are not just top of the Premier League, but have reached the summit by playing the sort of football Roman Abramovich craved but Jose Mourinho could not deliver. Nevertheless, billionaires can be unpredictable and little is known about Alisher Usmanov, who has increased his stake to around 21 per cent.

"I am relaxed because I want to work the way I do now," Wenger said. "If that is not possible, I will have to assess the situation, but at the moment I work the way I want to."

That includes not suffering interference from a director of football, as Martin Jol is thought to do from Tottenham's Damien Comolli. It was also Avram Grant's job title before he replaced Jose Mourinho.

Wenger said: "Frankly I do not know how it worked [at Chelsea], but here we do not have 18 people [who think they can control the first team]. I have the freedom to work how I want to. We can employ a director of football as long as he does what I tell him to do."

Usmanov's holding company is now Arsenal's second-largest shareholder behind the director Danny Fiszman and reports in the Russian media suggest Usmanov is ready to up his interest to obtain a "blocking stake" of just over 25 per cent before then waiting for the share price to "go up in value".

The latter aspect is another reason Wenger is relaxed. It indicates Arsenal are an investment to Usmanov, and the figures expected to be released by Arsenal's parent company on Monday suggest it is a good investment. The annual financial results are understood to show total turnover increased to nearly £200m following the move to their new 60,000-seater home.

Even if Usmanov increases his holding to 25 per cent he would have little influence over company affairs, only enabling the veto of so-termed "special resolutions" such as total refinancing, which would have to have been put forward by the current board anyway. It would not afford him any individual influence over the appointment of directors, management or the buying and selling of assets, namely players.

Usmanov, who is worth an estimated £2.7bn, could yet request representation on the board. This would be normal business practice for such a major shareholder and could open the door for David Dein to return to the boardroom.

Under Stock Exchange rules the Russian is prohibited from launching a hostile takeover for at least six months having made a public statement stating he would not make an offer. The current Arsenal board own 45.45 per cent of the shares between them.

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