AGMs are normally dim affairs. A bunch of sour-faces converge in an austere room, planning for a job they don’t want to be in, talking to an audience they have no time for.
Arsenal’s AGMs are different, seeming more like evangelical exorcisms than dry business meetings. Shareholders sweat over the microphone begging for answers, before the cool hand of Arsene Wenger releases their demons with talk of ‘mental strength’ and ‘prudence’.
In recent years, the agenda has been dominated by questions of ownership, and today’s AGM is no different.
There was a collective sigh of relief when Stan Kroenke assumed a controlling stake of the club in 2011. His only realistic challenger, Alisher Usmanov, bore an uncomfortable resemblance to another foreign oligarch, whose ostentatious takeover of Chelsea jarred with the more understated modus operandi of North London. ‘Silent Stan’ was a better fit, because it was felt that he would intrude less on team affairs, leaving the football matters to the football men.
Six years later, that perception has been ground to dust. Kroenke’s greatest strength is now viewed as his biggest failure. In a recent survey conducted by the Arsenal Supporters Trust, they found that 95% of fans want Usmanov to be given a seat on the board. The Uzbek billionaire has been vocal about the need to invest money in the squad and his nakedly political statements have found traction with an exasperated support.
The news in recent weeks hasn’t been promising for the Gunners faithful. Kroenke is keen to buy his rival’s 30% stake and finally oust him from Islington but the Uzbek has no interest in deigning to the man who stitched him up all those years ago.
More worryingly for Arsenal fans, any successful bid would prompt a compulsory buyout of the rest of the club. The smaller shareholders – including the Supporters Trust – would be out on their ear with the club becoming the private property of the American.
Who wants to win?
This week, the Daily Telegraph did the unthinkable and managed to secure an interview with Kroenke and his son. Obvious politicking aside, it was an illuminating exchange with the tycoon at pains to show just how much he cared about the club. There are, he insisted, ‘much, much easier’ ways of making money than being at the helm of Arsenal.
These comments are in stark contrast to those he gave to the Evening Standard last year, when he admitted bemusedly: “If you want to win Championships then you would never get involved”. It was a strange confession to make but it is one that has been evidenced by his rudderless tenure.
Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis and manager Arsene Wenger are complicit in this failures though. The South African is good at talking but a move to install a director of football last season was shot down by the French coach in embarrassingly public fashion. It was the first time that Gazidis had moved against Wenger’s wishes and the results spoke of a man incapable of the silken manoeuvring so perfected by his predecessor David Dein.
Commentators often warn about the post-Wenger era. Arsenal fans, the refrain goes, don’t know how good they have it. Wenger undoubtedly cares about the club, but even he must be wary of the club’s direction of travel under the American entrepreneur.
Pitch above Profit
In the end, though, Arsenal’s fans have once again been lost in the boardroom intrigue. They only want to know why the contracts of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have been allowed to run down. They only want to know why they should pay for the league’s most expensive beers and burgers but then be subjected to watch bland football with average players.
Most importantly, however, they want to see a strategy that places pitch above profit. For all his soothing words, Stan Kroenke has allowed the club to drift into mediocrity whilst the supporters broil. Will they get answers from today’s meeting? Will they heck.
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