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Billionaire Alisher Usmanov explores sale of 30% Arsenal stake
Move marks beginning of the end of battle over English Premier League football club
Arsenal are preparing to move into a new era on the pitch as well as the boardroom © AFP
July 24, 2018 4:01 am by Murad Ahmed , Arash Massoudi and Patrick Jenkins in London
Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov is actively exploring a sale of his stake in Arsenal, accepting that the London-based football club’s majority owner, the US sports mogul Stan Kroenke, will never sell control to him.
Mr Usmanov, a metals magnate who owns 30 per cent of the English Premier League club, has grown frustrated that Mr Kroenke is unwilling to engage in takeover talks and has given up all hope of acquiring the club outright, according to two people familiar with his thinking.
“He was really frustrated that Kroenke wouldn’t sell at any price and now just wants out,” said one of those with knowledge of Mr Usmanov’s intentions.
The decision marks the beginning of the end of a long-running battle for control over Arsenal, with the club’s two biggest shareholders locked in a bitter feud having repeatedly clashed over the direction of the club.
Last October, Mr Usmanov turned down a £525m offer from Mr Kroenke to acquire his shareholding, saying: “I have always been and will continue to be an ardent supporter of Arsenal and I see my 30 per cent stake as an important aspect in protecting the best interests of the fans in the club.”
A few months earlier, it was Mr Usmanov who made a $1.3bn bid to acquire Mr Kroenke’s 67 per cent stake, which is held through the US billionaire’s investment vehicle KSE UK, only to be rejected.
Alisher Usmanov is actively exploring a sale of his stake in Arsenal © AFP
Mr Usmanov has said he is willing to sell to any party — other than Mr Kroenke — who “shares my and undoubtedly the majority of fans’ vision for the club.”
But a person close to Mr Usmanov added this is a difficult sales pitch: he does not have a board seat at Arsenal or any say over the running of the club. Any new shareholder is likely to face the same problems with Mr Kroenke in effective control.
It remains unclear if Mr Usmanov has begun talks with interested parties, though another person familiar with Mr Usmanov’s thinking said the “logical buyer” would be Mr Kroenke.
A sale could also end the impasse in the boardroom just as Arsenal prepares to move into a new era on the pitch.
At the end of last season, Arsène Wenger departed the club he managed for 22 years. Though the French coach has been credited with revolutionising English football, introducing modern tactics and training techniques to guide Arsenal to several major trophy victories, the club’s on-pitch fortunes have waned in recent years leaving some fans disillusioned.
In May, Arsenal appointed Spanish manager Unai Emery as Wenger’s successor.
Mr Usmanov, who was born in what is now Uzbekistan, first acquired shares in Arsenal in 2007, when he teamed up with Anglo-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri to buy a 14.6 per cent stake for £75m. In 2016, Mr Usmanov increased his stake to 30 per cent, buying out Mr Moshiri, who went on to acquire rival Premier League club Everton.
Mr Kroenke also bought into Arsenal in 2007 and became majority shareholder four years later.
Mr Usmanov and Arsenal declined to comment. A representative for Mr Kroenke did not respond to requests for comment.