Kroenke keeps eye on greater Arsenal share despite lockdown

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The Independent Online

When American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke announced in April he had increased his stake in Arsenal, fuelling speculation of a takeover bid, Gunners chairman Peter Hill-Wood famously declared: "We don't need his money and we don't want his sort."

Yesterday, Kroenke, who owns 12.36 per cent of the club, made a rare public appearance in London and used the occasion to defend his investment, stressing it was no fly-by-night strategy and that his affection for Arsenal was genuine.

Kroenke said people were jumping to conclusions by suggesting he wanted to play a more influential role at the club. But, tellingly, he did not rule out owning a greater share in the future. "It's a partnership at this point," said Kroenke, one of the speakers at a global sports industry conference in London. "Everybody has a tendency to want to speed things up but these things take a lot of time and effort, and often years to develop."

Earlier this month, in an effort to end rumours of potential foreign takeover bids, Arsenal's board announced they had extended a "lockdown" agreement preventing directors selling their shares to outside investors until 2012. The deal was a blow not only to Kroenke but, more significantly, Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov who owns 23 per cent of the club.

Asked whether he was in favour of the lockdown agreement and would be signing, Kroenke, who is now talking to the Arsenal board despite Hill-Wood's initial scepticism – seemingly in order to head off a possible bid by Usmanov – hedged his bets. "I don't have any problem with the agreement, we'll have to see." Asked how he had repaired the relationship with Hill-Wood and got back on side with the Arsenal board, he said: "I don't really think I did anything [to turn it around], we do things for very specific and good reasons."

If Kroenke's appearance was publicised in advance, the presence of former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein was more of a surprise. Dein was sacked in April after 24 years service for allegedly going behind the board's back by talking privately with Kroenke about a potential partnership. The pair appeared to have ended their association when Dein, hoping to make a comeback, instead sold his 14.5 per cent stake in Arsenal to Usmanov's Red and White Holdings for £75m.

Those hopes were effectively frozen out, however, by the recent lockdown extension and Dein has since kept a low profile while he considers his next move. Although yesterday's conference was closed to the media, it is understood Dein sat close to Kroenke.

"That's a question I probably shouldn't answer," said Kroenke when asked later whether the pair had resumed discussions. Dein would only say: "I can't add anything to what has already been said by Red and White Holdings."

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