The American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke is expected to announce today that he has control of Arsenal with a £240m share buy-up that takes his stake to around 62 per cent – although the billionaire will not make sweeping changes to the club's structure.
The futures of manager Arsène Wenger, chief executive Ivan Gazidis and long-serving chairman Peter Hill-Wood are not expected to be affected in the short term at the very least. Kroenke, 63, who owns baseball, ice hockey and football franchises in Colorado and beyond has been a major investor at Arsenal since 2007 and has had a big say in the running of the club for some time.
Previously without a win in five games in all competitions, Arsenal yesterday beat Blackpool 3-1 at Bloomfield Road to stay within seven points of leaders Manchester United, who have played one game more. Wenger said that his team had "promised ourselves to give everything" to try to challenge United until the end of the season.
Kroenke will buy the 16 per cent stakes belonging to both Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith. Fiszman, for so long the key figure in the Arsenal boardroom, is gravely ill, having had treatment for cancer. Bracewell-Smith has been looking to sell for some time and has chosen the Kroenke camp.
Kroenke will be obliged to make an offer for the entire Arsenal shareholding but he is unlikely to persuade Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek billionaire, to sell his 27 per cent stake. It is thought that Usmanov, who bought the former vice-chairman David Dein's shareholding, will hold out for the time being. Suggestions last night that Kroenke will bring back Dein, the man who introduced him and Usmanov to the club, were understood to be premature.
On Friday, Arsenal shares were trading at £11,550 valuing the club at £718.6m. Kroenke is thought to be paying around that price to Fiszman and Bracewell-Smith giving each of them a pay-out of around £120m. With Arsenal now controlled by a foreign investor it will leave Tottenham Hotspur as the last major English football club under English ownership.
Kroenke owns the NBA franchise the Denver Nuggets; the NFL's St Louis Rams and the Colorado Rapids, a Major League Soccer franchise. He married into the Walmart dynasty, one of the richest in America. His wife Ann Walton is a niece of the Walmart founder Sam Walton. Kroenke also owns National Hockey League franchise the Colorado Avalanche as well as a lacrosse franchise.
It was Dein who first made the connection with Kroenke, and the first stake in Arsenal that the American purchased was the 9.9 per cent owned by television company Granada. Since then he has acquired small holdings while hanging on for the big capture of Fiszman's and Bracewell-Smith's stakes. Usmanov made a big splash when he bought Dein's stake in August 2007 but it did not discourage Kroenke.
Nicknamed "Silent Stan" in American sport, Kroenke fits with Arsenal's old-school style of keeping their business private. On the few occasions that he has been interviewed, by the Denver Post newspaper, the city in which all but one of his franchises play, Kroenke has done so only on the condition that he communicates via email rather than in person.
Jens Lehmann, starting his first game for the side since May 2008, was lucky not to be dismissed for a foul on D J Campbell. Laurent Koscielny was also fortunate not to concede a penalty. "These things at this level make huge, huge, huge differences," said Blackpool manager Ian Holloway.