Hill-Wood gives Kroenke blessing as billionaire raises stake

The American billionaire Stan Kroenke was given further endorsement by Arsenal chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, yesterday when the latter sold him 100 of his 500 shares in the club, worth £850,000. Kroenke spent another £850,000 buying another 200 as well to take him within 0.09 per cent of having to bid for the entire stock.

Hill-Wood retains 400 shares, or around 0.64 per cent, for now. Takeover regulations forbid Kroenke, never the most loquacious of investors, from discussing his plans for Arsenal. That Hill-Wood has now sold his precious stock to Kroenke demonstrates that the Arsenal chairman regards the American as the best bet for the club's future.

While sources indicate that Kroenke has no immediate plans to take his holding to 29.99 per cent – and there would be no guarantee that other shareholders would sell – he is diligently sourcing shares wherever he can. He bought the shares from Hill-Wood two days after buying another £3.6m-worth from the estate of Ernest Harrison. His holding is now 29.9 per cent.

As reported in The Independent on Wednesday, Kroenke is understood to be waiting until May next year before he puts himself in a position where he would have to bid for the entirety of the club. Under takeover regulations, if he hit 29.99 per cent before then he would have to offer the highest price he has paid for a share in the last 12 months – £10,500 – for the remaining stock. It would be cheaper for him to wait until May.

It was the family of Hill-Wood who historically held the controlling stake but Peter sold the majority of his shares in the club to former director David Dein, just before the launch of the Premier League in 1992 and the explosion in value of English football clubs. While Dein has made much more money out of the original stake – selling his shares for around £80m to Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov two years ago – Hill-Wood has retained his place on the Arsenal board.

Arsène Wenger said yesterday that he believed Fran Merida could be persuaded to stay at the club even though the Spanish Under-20 international is now going into the last year of his contract. "He's in the squad, as long as he is committed to the future. We make room for players we have on longer term, as long as they commit we plan to make room for them.

"It's massive for us to keep him because I believe he is an outstanding player. He is a technical player and he knows where to stand on the pitch and you cannot leave that to people. The quality of the passes he received [benefits him]. He is a man on the football pitch, despite his size."

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