Thursday 14 December 2017

Arsenal owners stand firm in rejecting takeover biddespite £1.5bn windfall

Ben Rumsby

Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov have insisted they are united in their resistance to a record £1.5bn takeover of Arsenal by a Middle East-based consortium that has vowed to "transform" the club's dwindling fortunes.

Kroenke and Usmanov, who have wrestled for control of the Gunners for almost five years, both made it clear they had no intention of selling their respective 66.83pc and 29.96pc stakes.

That is despite the prospect of a huge windfall on the amount each paid for their shares, with Arsenal valued at £731m when Kroenke became majority shareholder in 2011.

A £1.5bn takeover by a group backed by funds from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates would be a world record for a football club, dwarfing the £800m the Glazers paid for Manchester United eight years ago.

The group involved do not want their identities made public yet but have requested a meeting with Kroenke – caricatured as 'Silent Stan' due to his low profile – to discuss the proposed offer, which would net the American billionaire a profit of about £400m.

But Arsenal communications director Mark Gonella said yesterday: "Stan Kroenke is committed to Arsenal for the long term and has no intention of selling his stake. There has been no contact from any potential investors."

Gonella added that Kroenke, who also owns the St Louis Rams in the NFL, had never sold any of his sports investments. A spokesman for Usmanov also insisted the Uzbek-born businessman, who has made no secret of his desire to take control of Arsenal himself, also had no interest in selling his stake.

The Middle East consortium is planning an offer for 100pc of the club but believes it will be able to work with the billionaire, who does not currently have a seat on the board and who has been frustrated in his attempts to get more involved.

The news of a proposed takeover bid came as Arsenal prepared for arguably one of the most important north London derbies since Arsene Wenger became manager 16 and a half years ago.

Arsenal are facing the prospect of finishing outside the Premier League top four for the first time in the Wenger era and the consortium tapped into fears that the club had been caught in a cycle of decline since they last won a trophy in 2005.

The proposed takeover would wipe out Arsenal's £250m debt at a stroke, while funds would be made available "to transform the club into a major force in European and world football".

A pledge to reduce ticket prices at the Emirates Stadium – currently among the highest in the world – is also planned, as well as an attempt to re-create "some of the feel of the old North Bank" at Highbury.

Any takeover would inevitably raise questions over the future of Wenger, although the Frenchman is understood to be highly regarded by the consortium. They do not want to lose his football knowledge and want him to remain at the club. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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