Fiszman seeks greater Arsenal role amid takeover talk

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The Independent Online

Arsenal's largest shareholder, Danny Fiszman, is considering taking a greater role in the running of the club as it attempts to head off a potential hostile takeover.

The former diamond trader has again insisted that he has no intention of selling his 24 per cent stake and, despite living in tax exile in Geneva, is said to want to become a more active member of the board.

If he does, it will be a clear sign that Fiszman, who could make £150m from a takeover, really has no intention of selling and is, indeed, looking to remain involved for the foreseeable future and beyond the expiry of next April's "lockdown agreement". It's believed he is already planning to wind up his other business interests to devote more time to Arsenal.

Fiszman is regarded as holding the key to Arsenal's future ownership. If he decided to sell to either Stan Kroenke, the American sports tycoon, or the new vehicle headed by former vice-chairman David Dein, and with the backing of Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov, it would make it impossible for the present board to fend off a takeover.

In another intriguing development it appears that Kroenke is considering aligning himself with the current board and working closely with them. His approach is likely to be met with a warm reception given recent developments.

Kroenke owns 12.19 per cent of the shares and it had been expected that Dein would sell his 14.58 per cent stake to him. However it is understood that the American was not happy with the details of the proposal and so Dein has, instead, sold to Usmanov and his business partner, Farhard Moshiri. They have set up a company called Red and White Holdings with Dein as its chairman.

The task will now be for them to slowly buy up shares in Arsenal to build up their stake. That process will take at least another six months, according to sources, with a bid then being made. There was a small volume of trade in shares yesterday.

At the same time Dein, as the representative of a significant shareholder, may request a place on the Arsenal board which, given the acrimony surrounding his departure, is unlikely to be granted. The Arsenal board does not have to agree to such a request, especially as they know it is part of a potential takeover bid. Dein could point out that Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, who owns 15 per cent of the shares, has a seat on the board.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, indicated yesterday that he would be signing a new contract next week. It is likely that it will be a three-year deal with Wenger saying he was not worried about Dein selling his shares. "I consider myself, as always, an employee of the club," Wenger said. "I have not one share and that's not a coincidence because I never want to be involved in any struggle, structure or strategy. I want to remain where I am and focus on the results of the team. It [the possible takeover bid] has no implication on my contract at all."

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