Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov warms to fine form

 

Alisher Usmanov's more conciliatory tone towards Arsenal's board suggests the cold war between those with the power at the Emirates could be thawing - for now at least.

Success on the pitch always tends to silence the critics, even if they have a much bigger agenda and the mind-boggling wealth to act upon it.

By declaring a new era at Arsenal, the Uzbeki-born billionaire might be jumping the gun a bit. Arsenal are four points clear at the top of the Premier League going into Saturday's game at Cardiff but there is still an awfully long way to go before manager Arsene Wenger can claim the club's first league title in a decade.

When investors come and invest in the economy, in British football, it is big part of the entertainment economy in the United Kingdom. What's bad?

Alisher Usmanov Arsenal shareholder

Nevertheless, it is hard for Usmanov to criticise Arsenal's "silent" American owner Stan Kroenke and Old Etonian chairman Sir Chips Keswick when they have finally released the purse-strings to buy Mesut Ozil and the team are four points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Broadcast interviews with Usmanov are rare - I can't recall him ever doing one with the BBC - but whenever he is quoted, he uses the media to send a strategic message to those in charge at Arsenal.

He also tries to reassure supporters that he has the club's best intentions at heart and that he, like them, is a fan. He has an executive box at the Emirates and six seats in the directors' box and regularly ensures they are filled. By contrast, the American is rarely sighted at games.

Despite that - and Usmanov's almost £13bn fortune - Kroenke shows no appetite to sell.

Although he has seen a massive jump in the value of Premier League TV rights deals since taking control in 2011 with a 63% holding, he is a shrewd businessman who senses the next round of TV negotiations could be even more lucrative.

He believes financial fair play and Arsenal's prudent approach will lead to a big increase in profitability in the future.

Some fans are worried Kroenke will take profits out of the club to service other parts of his sports empire. They would prefer an owner such as Usmanov, who would ensure Wenger always has the money to buy the best talent and to win trophies.

All of which begs the question: Why doesn't Usmanov make Kroenke an offer he can't refuse? He surely has the money and Kroenke surely has his price. But sources say Usmanov remains a "rational" investor and won't overpay (despite offering £14,000 a share to shareholders in the past).

When Kroenke increased his stake to 63% in 2011 he paid £11,750 per share, valuing the Gunners at £730m.

Usmanov's offer of £14,000 per share would value the north London side at £868m.

So for the time being, it's stalemate. And while things are going well on the pitch, Usmanov wants to let fans and the board know that he has no intention of rocking the boat.

Foreign investment in the Premier League

Arsenal: Stan Kroenke (USA) 2011

Chelsea: Roman Abramovich (Russia) 2003

Man United: Malcolm Glazer (USA) 2005

Man City: Thaksin Shinawatra (Thailand) 2007, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Abu Dhabi) 2008

Liverpool: Tom Hicks and George Gillett (USA) 2007, Fenway Sports Group (USA) 2010

Aston Villla: Randy Lerner (USA) 2006

Southampton: The estate of Markus Liebherr (Switzerland) 2009 when in League One

Sunderland: Ellis Short (USA) 2008

Cardiff City: Vincent Tan (Malaysia) 2010 when in the Championship

Fulham: Shahid Khan (USA) 2013

He didn't go so far as to say this, but he no doubt feels vindicated that his calls to invest in world-class players have been acted upon with such immediate impact.

Much will now depend on the outcome of this season and how Kroenke and the board respond.

One thing he and Kroenke seem to be in agreement on is the benefits of foreign ownership.

Arsenal have come to symbolise the ideological debate at the heart of English football - the self-financing model versus the super-rich benefactor.

With the Football Association establishing a commission on the state of the English game, there is renewed scrutiny on whether foreign investors have the wider interests of the national game at heart.

Put more simply: Are they in it just for the money?

Usmanov dismisses the critics and is in no doubt that men such as him and fellow Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who has owned Chelsea since 2003, are good for the English game and the British economy.

"It is an artificial question," he told me. "Everyone who has legal right to buy something can perform this right.

"When investors come and invest in the economy, in British football, it is big part of the entertainment economy in the United Kingdom. What's bad?"

This laissez-faire approach has driven the Premier League's startling commercial development over the last two decades.

And while television rights and other revenues keep going up, it's hard to see that coming to an end.