Usmanov mulls over Arsenal move

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The Independent Football

Advisers working for Alisher Usmanov were considering their next move yesterday after they admitted the Russian oligarch was "completely shocked" by the sudden departure of two of Arsenal's directors, including Nina Bracewell-Smith, who owns 15.9 per cent of the club.

Usmanov, who has steadily acquired shares in Arsenal and has a stake of just under 24 per cent, has been careful not to antagonise the other shareholders, and has now even been granted space within the club's directors' box, but may be tempted to buy out Bracewell-Smith, who is understood to have had a major falling-out with the directors.

If Usmanov did make a bid, which would cost around £50m at current market value, it would force him to submit an offer for the whole club as, under stock market rules, his holding would exceed the 29.9 per cent threshold for investment stakes.

Usmanov had no prior warning that Bracewell-Smith was to be removed from the board but, following a stormy board meeting eight days ago, an announcement was made on Wednesday that she, along with Richard Carr, who is related to her through marriage and owns 4.4 per cent, had left the main board.

The resignations mean that neither shareholder is now part of the "lockdown agreement" which had been set up between board members to prevent any more shares in the club being sold. Both can do as they like, although Bracewell-Smith has said in the past that she has no intention of selling and ending her family's 70-year association with the club. That situation could soon change.

One theory is that the move is part of an attempt by Danny Fiszman, who owns just over 24 per cent and is the most influential figure at Arsenal, to grab more power at the club. He is working more closely with the American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke and the club's new chief executive, Ivan Gazidis.

Other directors, presumably Fizsman and Kroenke, have already indicated that they would like to acquire more shares in the club and, although Usmanov has said he does not to want any hostility, he may be tempted into a bidding war with them.

The uncertain situation has taken fans by surprise, with the influential Arsenal Supporters' Trust stating that it "calls into question again the future ownership of the club". A spokesman added that it was "disappointed to see the departure of the director with such a large shareholding from the board of Arsenal" and urged Bracewell-Smith to act "in the interest of Arsenal supporters".

At last week's board meeting one of the other issues that was discussed was the club's transfer policy with directors – apparently severely disappointed by recent results, especially as the meeting came after the Champions League defeat in Porto – urging the manager, Arsène Wenger, to spend.

Wenger hinted yesterday that he may now make a move next month. "I cannot say something will happen, but you never know," he said. "It is feasible that we can do it and sometimes a [new] player can give some extra belief to the squad."

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