The former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein yesterday made a dramatic return to English football at the head of a Russian consortium with their sights set on taking over his former club. Dein has sold his Arsenal stake to the investors in return for £75m and a place in charge of the new company bidding to take over the club.
Alisher Usmanov is the new name with ambitions to control Arsenal. He is the world's 142nd-richest man according to the Forbes rich list, a 53-year-old from Uzbekistan worth £2.75bn. Based in Moscow, he is a close friend the of Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, and has a private box at the Emirates Stadium. His business partner is Farhad Moshiri, an Iranian fund manager based in London.
The pair have installed Dein as the chairman of their new holding company and his role will be to oversee the acquisition of more Arsenal shares for the two investors, although yesterday he refused to comment on the other party stalking the club. Stan Kroenke, the American sports tycoon who owns 12.19 per cent of Arsenal, was the man to whom Dein was tipped to sell his 14.58 per cent stake ever since his acrimonious departure in April.
Yesterday, Dein, 63, refused to divulge why he had not sold his stake to Kroenke, although it would not be impossible for the two sides to work together in the future. While both sides are adamant that they are working independently – in keeping with Stock Exchange rules – the nightmare scenario for the Arsenal board is that the Russians will at some point combine with Kroenke to take over the club.
The Arsenal board members have an agreement not to sell any of their shares until April, but from then it will be a question of which party breaks first. The board has 45.45 per cent under its control and the key stakeholder now is Danny Fiszman with 21.1 per cent. If the Geneva-based diamond dealer decides to sell, then the board will lose control. The Arsenal share price rose to £7,100 last night, valuing the club at £441m.
It is another chapter in an extraordinary six months for the club: from Dein's bitter departure in April and the sale of Thierry Henry in June to the wait for Arsène Wenger to sign a new contract. The chairman Peter Hill-Wood's snub to Kroenke – "We don't need his money and we don't want his sort" – now looks ever more likely to be the epitaph to an old regime. With two foreign investors now circling, Arsenal are prime candidates for a takeover.
Speaking for the first time since his departure in April, Dein would not go into the details of his split with the board, which cited " irreconcilable differences" when he was sacked. He would only say that in the last five months he had watched Arsenal at the Emirates from friends' executive boxes. He was passionate about the need for Arsenal to attract foreign investment if they were to continue to compete with the biggest clubs in the Premier League.
Under Dein's chairmanship, the new investment company Red and White Holdings said yesterday that it had "committed funds to enable it to increase its stake in Arsenal". Dein once characterised Abramovich's arrival and the threat to Arsenal from Chelsea as the Russian "parking tanks on our lawn and firing banknotes at us". Now it is the former Arsenal vice-chairman who is preparing to take over his club from the outside.
He claimed that the new shareholders would even be prepared to invest in the team in return for a share rights issue, but given the board's current position that seems to be unlikely.
Dein's ambitions also stretch beyond Arsenal. He indicated that he would be interested in the newly created role of independent chairman of the Football Association.
He did not appear to see any conflict in being wholly committed to the principle of foreign investment in English football and doing that job.
A board member since 1983, when he paid around £292,000 for his original 16.6 per cent stake in Arsenal, Dein played on his connection with the club to reassure supporters – "I have always had the best interests of Arsenal at heart – I've had a love affair with the club since I was six," he said. Dein described Usmanov and Moshiri as "individuals who share my vision for Arsenal and where it needs to go to be the world's leading football club".
Dein also claimed he had been approached by more than one potential investor for his stake but settled on Usmanov and Moshiri – presumably because they handed him such a crucial role in their investment company. Dein added that Usmanov was such a dedicated fan that he could even name the 1971 Arsenal Double-winning side.
Whether anyone gets the chance to test that claim is unlikely. Usmanov is known as an uncompromising, tough businessman who bought Russian steel and mining companies. He profited handsomely through investment in the British steel company Corus. He has reportedly tried to invest in Italian football before now. Crucially for any Russian oligarch, he evidently has the support of President Vladimir Putin, having been awarded the Presidential Medal of Honour in 2004.
Edelman said last night: "The club is in an incredibly good position financially, we are very strong and you will see that at the end of September when we produce our results. We have ample cash resources for the manager to invest in the team and the squad. The manager caught his targets this year well within his budgets, which means his budgets will be increased next year."
Sharing in Gunners' glory
David Dein paid £292,000 in 1983 for a 16 per cent stake in Arsenal.
Yesterday he sold shares worth a 14.58 per cent stake for £75m to Red and White Holdings Ltd, of which Dein will become chairman.
Roubles rule in the Premier League
Russian oil billionaire, aged 40, and owner of investment company Millhouse Capital, Abramovich is worth $18.7bn (£9.3bn). In June 2003 Abramovich raised his profile in Britain with the purchase of Chelsea football club, wiping their £80m debt burden and establishing them as one of the biggest, and richest teams in Europe.
Alexandre 'Sacha' Gaydamak
French businessman of Russian descent, aged 31, Gaydamak followed in his fathers footsteps (Arcadi Gaydamak) and became co-owner of Premier League Portsmouth alongside Milan Mandaric in January 2006. Gaydamak went on to become the sole owner of the club in June of that year.