Kroenke on board but Arsenal will stay best of British

Steve Tongue
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:20

When the Abu Dhabi United Group were hovering over Premier League clubs, they considered buying Manchester City, Newcastle or Arsenal. City's Thaksin Shinawatra duly rolled over with his legs in the air and Newcastle's Mike Ashley was left cursing, not having had the opportunity to do the same.

What would have been more interesting, however, was the likely response from the panel-led boardroom transferred two years ago lock, stock and cigar-smoking directors from Highbury up the road to the spanking new Emirates Stadium.

Emirates and Abu Dhabi: a natural fit, surely? Not quite. Here is Peter Hill-Wood, formerly of Eton, the Coldstream Guards, the Free Foresters cricket club and Hambros, whose grand-father and father both preceded him as chairman of Arsenal, on the subject of whether the club should remain in British hands: "I'd prefer it that way. For traditional reasons. I think we perhaps have a deeper understanding of Arsenal than somebody who comes in from Timbuktu and puts down a billion pounds to buy it. It's been part of our lives and lifeblood.

"My family [involvement] goes back almost 90 years, and one's never thought of being involved in any other football club."

Last Friday, Arsenal did admittedly take the almost revolutionary step of appointing as a director the American businessman styled as "E. Stanley Kroenke", of whom Hill-Wood once said: "We don't need his money and don't want his sort."

Kroenke and his 12.4 per cent of Arsenal shares have now been welcomed on board – and on the board – as a bulwark against the Uzbek Alisher Usmanov, who holds twice as many. "I don't think he'd bring the sort of talents Kroenke can bring and we are not really looking for any other directors," Hill-Wood said on Friday after announcing impressive annual turnover of £223 million and £36.7m pre-tax profit.

As for David Dein, who was one of the most influential figures in English football before backing Kroenke at the wrong time and being forced out of Arsenal: "He didn't do quite as much here as he made out and I think he gave the impression that he was the only person running the place, which wasn't strictly true." Ouch.

Arsenal believe their current set-up, together with the successful move to a modern 60,000-capacity stadium, offers sufficient long-term financial security without the need for any rich benefactor like Roman Abramovich or a Middle Eastern sheikh.

"If you're expecting some sort of sugar daddy to top up the coffers every time you overspend, that leads to the business becoming unsustainable," Hill-Wood said. "And the guy could easily get bored or decide to go into horseracing, say, rather than football. I don't think it's a help, because it makes you pretty slack in the way you run the business."

What, though, of those £30m transfer fees their rivals pay for Robinho, Dimitar Berbatov and, er, Andriy Shevchenko, while Arsène Wenger scours the French League for bargains? "Arsène has not been under any restraint at all. We've never denied him any request, and having an economics degree he understands the figures and doesn't want to be responsible for bankrupting us. Danny Fiszman [an Arsenal director] asked Arsène what he would do if we gave him £100m to spend and he said: 'I'd give it back'."

Similarly, Hill-Wood insists that although valued players such as Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb have left the club, they would resist any bid for Cesc Fabregas, adding: "We hope the club will continue to be stable and do what it's supposed to do, which is play attractive football and hopefully win something."

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