The Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, yesterday dismissed as "fantasy" Chelsea's avowed aim to become the biggest football club in Britain. Speaking as Arsenal announced that they now have the highest turnover in the country – a staggering £201m last year following the move to the Emirates Stadium – Hill-Wood was scathing about Chelsea's prospects of domination.
"It's bullshit," he said bluntly of their plans. "I don't want to run Chelsea down but if you compare them to Manchester United or Liverpool, who you could say are the two biggest names in UK football, for Chelsea to think that they can suddenly dominate is fantasy. It is not going to happen."
The response follows repeated assertions by the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, that his club would "dominate" in England. Famously, he said that Chelsea would become the "London club" and also referred to their expectation that they would be in a "bunch of one" when it came to football super-powers.
Although Arsenal were dismissive of Chelsea's prospects of becoming the country's biggest club, they were more optimistic about their own future. They claimed they are "closing the gap" with United and Liverpool in terms of "fan base", having already leap-frogged them in income, although that particular title may return to Old Trafford once their next set of financial figures are released.
Hill-Wood also raised doubts over the effect the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, has had on the club and the Premier League in general, and whether or not he has harmed the prospects of another oligarch, Alisher Usmanov, gaining control of Arsenal. "I don't think Abramovich has helped the Russian cause," Hill-Wood added. Arsenal believe that their model of running a club, without a wealthy single owner or foreign investment, has been vindicated by the financial results announced yesterday, which showed that turnover and profit – £57.2m for the year to 31 May – were at record levels since the move.
It means that the club now have an astonishing £73.9m in cash in the bank. This could be made available to the manager, Arsène Wenger, to strengthen his squad. Or it could be used to reduce the debts – £50m can be paid off as a one-off lump sum – which currently stand at £255m, mainly through the cost of building the new stadium. "We are currently top of the Premier League and are committed to providing Arsène with funds to strengthen the playing squad whenever he deems it fit to do so," Hill-Wood added.
The chairman also said that the board intends to extend the "lockdown" agreement, by which members cannot sell shares until April 2008 to ward off potential buyers such as Usmanov, who owns 21 per cent, and the American businessman Stan Kroenke, who has 12 per cent.
"I do not think the April date is significant," Hill-Wood said. "It was fixed [in April 2007] at the time because we felt committing people to more than a year was not reasonable. The board are totally united in resisting any attempt to wrest it from us. If you listen to the major shareholders and believe what they tell you, they have absolutely no intention of selling one single share.
"The board are completely united and have every intention of remaining so. The idea of selling to whoever is simply not on the agenda. We are custodians of Arsenal Football Club, so to disrupt the way it is run at the moment would be a tragedy."
His claim was endorsed by the managing director, Keith Edelman, who added: "There is a view that you need a wealthy benefactor to chuck lots of money at it. We disagree with that logic. I have nothing against foreign owners, new owners, Russian owners, as long as they understand the principles upon which football clubs are built."
Edelman said Arsenal had a "good relationship" with Kroenke, but would resist attempts by Usmanov, through his investment vehicle Red & White Holdings, which is chaired by the club's former vice-chairman, David Dein, to gain a place on the board. "Representation on the board is given by anybody who has over 50 per cent of the shares," Edelman said. "If he had 49.999 per cent, but the board did not think he would add value as a director, it would say no."Reuse content