Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
The... let's call it ‘new chapter’ narrative lasted shorter than anticipated at Arsenal. Any early optimism was overshadowed even before Sunday's defeat to Manchester City with news of Stan Kroenke’s takeover that will see the club becoming his own private plaything.
Arsenal’s fanbase, famously outspoken, heralded the transaction as a ‘sad day’ in which ‘a part of the club died’.
The protests were spearheaded by Ian Wright and former-Arsenal non-executive director Nina Bracewell-Smith – the person who opened the doors for Kroenke to become influential in the first place by selling him her 15.9% of the shareholdings in 2011.
According to them, Arsenal will never be fighting for trophies again and all the magic surrounding the dawn of the Emery era is gone. Same old Arsenal, you might say. The well-known doom and gloom is back at the Emirates even before the first whistle of the season.
But this prematurity makes the whole tantrum evoked by the Kroenke takeover preposterous. The American steel magnate hasn’t been Arsenal’s very own Roman Abramovich, the oligarch who pumped huge swathes of capital into Chelsea and received affection from the fans by regularly turning up to the games.
But there are little signs that Kroenke will ruin the club either, as the majority of the fans seem to imply. Has it gotten to the point where the fans need to cut Stan Kroenke some slack?
The romance is dead
The Kroenke takeover is purely about money. That fact is hardly disputable.
Arsenal, one of the few clubs who used to maintain some sort of fan ownership, will now become fully privatised and Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) will manage the club’s finances behind closed doors from their US-based headquarter as discussed on RealSport before.
Does this make Kroenke a villain, though?
Sport has become highly globalised in recent times and commodification and profit-making are one of the main characteristics of globalisation. It is only football romantics stuck in the past who cannot accept the growing importance of money in the game.
Barcelona dropping the UNICEF logo in favour of Qatar Foundation was about money. Tottenham’s move to a stadium partly owned by the NFL was about money too. Similarly, Arsenal becoming a private entity under American ownership is about money. But this decision seems to be taking much more of a beating than it deserves.
Action Images via Reuters/John SibleyJames Montague, the author of The Billionaire’s Club, recalls the Glazers’ takeover of Manchester United – a move very similar to what Kroenke is doing at Arsenal.
Initially, the Glazer takeover infuriated fans of the Red Devils. However, they have since buried the hatchet with the family as the club has become the most successful English team not to mention one of the most recognisable and valued sports brands in Europe. The Glazers became the trailblazers for the American investors in the UK.
“These guys are very, very successful businessmen who know how to make money out of sports teams,” says Montague.
And in sports, success means money – a simple equation that should keep the Arsenal fanbase in high spirits. For Kroenke, an American mogul, it will only be beneficial if his clubs start winning again. Not otherwise.
Looking further afield, other KSE-owned clubs – the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams – have been making progress in recent years.
Following the Rams relocation to Los Angeles, their last campaign was a resounding success, resulting in a place in the play-offs: their first since 2003. The coach, Sean McVay, in his first season at the club, managed to notch up the Coach of the Year award. The Rams have now strengthened their squad and, with a star-studded team, are expected to push for the title in the upcoming season.
This all comes off the back of the momentous 2016 season. It was then that the Rams’ LA relocation was announced, when the groundwork for the current roster was laid through careful team planning and shrewd player moves, and plans announced for the building of a new stadium in the Hollywood Park: the world’s most expensive sports arena worth £3 billion.
REUTERS/Fabian BimmerOver in the NBA, the Denver Nuggets were on the verge of their first play-offs appearance since 2013 last season, failing only after losing a winner-takes-it-all game to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Nuggets, however, have significantly improved their squad adding talented young players alongside more experienced big-name personalities like Isaiah Thomas. The team is now expected to feature in the post-season and remains in a good financial situation to add more quality into their roster in the following years.
Both teams have grown significantly in value under the Kroenkes and seem to have eyes set on being competitive again – something Arsenal fans have been anticipating for years.
The Arsenal project is exciting
The changes that have been underway at Arsenal in the past few months already seem to be aligned with the careful and effective strategy implemented by the Kroenkes in their homeland.
The board, led by Ivan Gazidis, prepared the club well for the inevitable departure of Arsene Wenger. The aim was to avoid the Manchester United scenario leading to the Gunners taking a completely different approach.
Wenger didn’t have much to say about his successor’s recruitment – like Alex Ferguson did, tipping his countryman David Moyes to the job. Instead, the almost autocratic power Wenger held was decentralised and given to Sven Mislintat, Raul Sanllehi and Huss Fahmy, all standing behind the newly elected head coach Unai Emery.
REUTERS/Eddie KeoghIt was also under the Kroenkes that Arsenal finally started to fill gaps in the squad troubling the club for as long as since the Invincibles’ times. Early in the year, Arsenal splashed £55.5 million on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – one of Europe’s most-wanted strikers, a position the club had failed to fill since the departure of Robin van Persie in 2015.
On top of this, this summer, Arsenal finally brought a top-class defensive midfielder in Lucas Torreira – a player of a level the club haven’t seen since Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva wore the red-and-white.
Perhaps most importantly the club, famous for last-minute panic buys, managed to wrap up its deals early enough to give the new players time to bed in and make an impact from the first minute of the new season.
Has the magic been lost?
It’s difficult to understand the pessimism that has engulfed the Emirates since the information about Kroenke’s takeover.
This is not to defend 'Silent Stan' who is yet to prove his loyalty to the club itself – profits aside. However, it seems reasonable to give the man some time as the sole owner and judge him by his actions.
The project, as every business venture, might obviously turn sour. But at this point, it’s difficult to see why the excitement that comes with the arrival of the new era at the club would go away simply off the back of this buyout.
The fans will be the first ones to throw their pints in the air when Aubameyang scores goals during the season. The fact his transfer was paid from Kroenke’s pocket won’t diminish the magic of those moment, will it?