Arsenal will receive a takeover bid that could cost a Middle Eastern consortium up to £1.5 billion, according to reports last night. The aim is to buy out the American majority shareholder Stan Kroenke and then complete a full takeover at a cost more than double what the Glazer family paid for Manchester United eight years ago.
If Kroenke was offered £20,000 for each of his shares (he has two-thirds of them), he would make more than £800m and a profit of some £350m on his original investment. Smaller shareholders would find that price very attractive but it is thought highly unlikely that Kroenke, who has in the past resisted offers to sell his numerous US sports holdings, would be interested. The other key figure would be Alisher Usmanov, the billionaire Uzbek businessman who has built up 29 per cent of the company but is deeply frustrated that he has not been given a seat on the board.
It was immediately suggested in some quarters last night that Usmanov himself could be behind the bid, which would seem to make Kroenke even less likely to sell. Kroenke was labelled "Silent" Stan because of his low profile and infrequent appearances at matches. The Arsenal Supporters Trust say one of their aims for 2013 is "to seek further explanation from Stan Kroenke as to his vision for Arsenal and to encourage him to engage personally with Arsenal fans".
The consortium would reportedly pay off the club's £250m debt, incurred in building the Emirates stadium, and would hope to win over fans by promising a large war chest for new players – something Arsène Wenger claims he already has – as well as cutting Europe's highest ticket prices. Like Manchester City's Middle Eastern backers, they would need to comply with Uefa's new Financial Fair Play regulations, which aim to prevent rich owners simply pouring money into clubs.
Arsenal were unavailable for comment when the story broke late last night, although there is no reason why they would know anything about it.
Shares in the club have grown vastly in value in the 30 years since Wenger's former champion David Dein bought almost a fifth of them for under £300,000. Dein was ousted in 2007 for backing Kroenke before he was welcomed into the fold, since when Dein and other shareholders such as Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith made millions by selling – Dein to Usmanov and Lady Nina to Kroenke, which helped the American past the 50 per cent mark.
Usmanov, thought to be worth £11bn, refused to sell to him. Last year he wrote a five-page letter about the sale of Robin van Persie, asking: "Where are the safeguards to ensure this doesn't happen again and again?" More recently he claimed that Thierry Henry was urging him to buy the club outright.