Be careful in wishing for new owners

By Tony Attwood

One of the great assumptions made by people who wish for major change at Arsenal is that a new owner is bound to be better than the existing owner.

Unfortunately there is not much evidence around to suggest that this might always be the case.  While Chelsea supporters will be pleased to have won trophies that Arsenal have not won, the few Chelsea regulars that I know are not so happy with the change of managers, or indeed the current manager’s approach.

The supporters of Málaga are probably not so happy with their current owner, who at one time was seen as a saviour, as they have been banned by Uefa from international competition for four years for debts owing to other clubs.  Or for the fact that they have recently sold Rondón, Joris Mathijsen, Cazorla, Monreal and Diego Buonanotte.

Indeed I can’t imagine too many fans of Inter Milan are happy with the way their club is being run, as they currently sit 7th in the Italian league.  José Mourinho had given them everything (well the treble) but the owners let him slip away as they appointed Rafael Benítez who they then had to sack six months into a two year contract.

Besides such clubs Arsenal appear as a haven of stability and good sense.

But in making such a point I must surely bring in one other British example of what owners can do to a club: Blackburn Rovers.

And I do this not to pass my own comment on Blackburn, but rather that of a judge who in court described their modus operandi as “utterly unforgivable.”

The issue in question concerns Henning Berg who was awarded £2.2m in unpaid wages after being manager for 57 days last year.

The club agreed to meet the manager’s request to have his three-year contract paid up in full.   But then in the High Court the club suddenly said they had  changed their minds.  They did this after they had agreed a deadline for filing papers, and caused Judge Pilling to say their actions were “entirely contrary to the way justice is supposed to be served”.

During the course of this crazed dispute Blackburn’s owner hired new solicitors who were instructed to claim that Rover’s  MD, Derek Shaw, did not have the authority to give Berg a contract which included this severance allowance in the first place.  Meanwhile Shaw is being disciplined and perhaps sacked by Rovers for not following orders.

But Berg’s side then presented a press release which appeared on the Rover’s web site which says that  Shaw has the complete support of the owners, and the Berg contract was not an issue.

The club claimed in court that the press release, entitled “Owners respond to Berg rumours” was “not true”.   However I have just been on their web site (14.07 BST Wednesday 17 April) and the press release is most certainly there.

But as the judge said, a disciplinary letter was sent 24 hours before the press statement and directly contradicts it.

Rovers’ explained that their “global adviser” Shebby Singh couldn’t get to Blackburn to talk to Shaw because he couldn’t get a visa.

Judge Pilling then granted the club’s barristers the chance to argue that Berg’s contract is not valid because Shaw was not authorised to offer it.

The Judge argued that the case was “guaranteed just to waste time and money”.  The matter was made worse when the club’s solicitors’ application claimed it was providing a witness statement in support of the case, but then did not provide it.

Next up an unsigned witness statement was sent.

Then after that a signed version of the witness statement was presented to the court.  Only it was different from the first one.

OK this is all Blackburn, and Blackburn are a laughing stock – but it does show that the argument that somehow Arsenal (the club that can build the Emirates) is badly run, after being run so well during the double double period and the unbeaten season, is wide of the mark.

New owners might bring in new money, but they also might insist on taking total control, no matter what.

The books…

The sites from the same team…


23 Replies to “Be careful in wishing for new owners”

  1. There are dozens of examples of new owners taking over clubs and failing to meet supporters’ expectations, as well as a number which have brought clubs into disrepute, with a whole range in between.

    One example from as long ago as 1980’s when Walsall was bought by a Mr. Ramsden, promising successive promotions which never happened. Mr. Ramsden himself subsequently served a prison sentence.

    Then there was the previous owner of Man City, wanted for human rights abuses.

    Leeds Utd are a more recent saga which is still unfolding, with the Ken Bates era now leading to new Bahrain based owners, with rumours that the club is again for sale. Cardiff have done well in gaining promotion under their new owner, (at some cost to the Club’s traditions), but they are heavily indebted over their new stadium and it remains to be seen whether they have a sustainable position which will enable them to stay in the EPL.

    Then there is the serial Portsmouth stories, Birmingham City, and, of course, QPR………..!

    The terms “new owners / investment /” are loosely bandied around, often by people who don’t understand them.

    Finally, the “fit and proper” test is applied by the FA, which is hardly a competent body itself.

  2. I’m not saying Usmanov is the man to lead us but Satan Kroenke is not the answer. That guy is despised even by his American countrymen. His American teams are languishing in mid-table mediocrity. Kroenke is just a sports team collector, nothing more.
    I failed to see what Kroenke brings to the club in terms of strategy or investment. His intentions are unclear and most fans do not trust him (even some staunch Wenger supporters).
    So, in this Kroenke’s tenure, Arsenal is accumulating bank in the cash. I know he hasn’t taken money out of the club yet, but who knows what he’ll do in the future. Profit, profit and profit!
    I can see him selling Arsenal with a lot of cash in the bank. If this happen, then it’s a way of taking money out of the club.
    So, he doesn’t invest a single penny into the club but can afford to buy a farm for £80 million. Hmmm!
    Besides, you cannot trust someone who doesn’t see anything wrong with the Glazers taking money out of ManU.
    While you feel we should be more careful about new owners(something I agree), I advise the same cautious approach toward Kroenke’s ownership.

  3. Mr. Attwood,
    In your defense of the realm, am I now being prepared to accept a non-spending summer at ye old and erstwhile HQ?

  4. Apart from buying shares and selling them later at a profit, owners shouldn’t be able to make money from the purchase of football clubs.
    It should be fairly simple to determine the real reason why people outside the game (and possibly outside the country) are interested in a club.
    Most clubs have a considerable impact on the local community and it is therefore incumbent on Boards to take great care before admitting unknown shareholders into their midst.

  5. nicky,

    Should owners be allowed to dictate which player to purchase? And what if he has an ulterior motive in buying a certain player because he owns ‘shares’ in a player’s contract through a ‘third party investment’. Players’ valuations being unpredictable makes it perfect ground to launder some money.

  6. Owners are not absolutely good, or absolutely bad. It depends on what you want from them. For Arsenal and it’s established desire to be a self financing business, while being a successful football club, I think Kroenke (with caution of course) is as close as it gets to being an ideal owner. He’s not known to interfere, and is apparently happy to delegate to people who know their jobs better than he does. He’s not known to be a ‘in it for the quick buck’ type owner either, instead never selling any sporting team he’s acquired. He does have experience in running sports teams and building an empire around them, and as such has provided the groundwork for Arsenal to be run in a more professional manner. The sponsorships are bound to increase. Basically, everything according to Arsenal’s pre-Kroenke plan. A plan I agree with.

    Of course, Kroenke could end up selling us to make a quick buck, or use our bank accounts as leverage for borrowings, but then so could anyone in charge of Arsenal. Nothing so far suggests this is what he’s doing. He can buy as many ranches as he likes. What is that to do with Arsenal? We don;t rely on his money to run. And we don;t intend to either. We’re a bigger club than any of his other sports tams (and he’s massively improved the Denver Nuggets NBA team since he took over) and as such that comparison of titles won etc is of little value. (His Colorado Rapids did win the MLS Cup in 2011 by the way.)

    All in all, as long as he’s content to stay in the shadows, not interfere in the daily running of the club, while providing the platform for a growth in the business side of things, I’m happy enough with his ‘ownership’.

  7. Personally I have had enough of these northern clubs, you reap what you sow.

    Maybe a compulsory percentage of the clubs shares should be held by registered season ticket holders or registered fans.

  8. @Adam,
    I like your last para, particularly if the % was in excess of 50!
    In case you are interested, I live in cloud cuckoo land.

  9. Nicky, the governance of football chats brought that up (fan ownership) and I don’t see a problem with it. If a club fails/folds it will be due to the fan base if they do hold 51% of the club, it will stop the sugar daddies throwing money at clubs but will keep the true supporter/beneficiary interested.

    Anyway nice to see Man U losing. Come on you irons. A fare few of my mates are going to be in heaven tomorrow if this keeps up.

  10. Kroenke means mediocrity. He may not have a history of selling his sport teams but Arsenal is a different beast to tame, not one of his American sports franchises so I can see him selling the club to make a huge profit.
    Kroenke knows to delegate and doesn’t like to interfere but when a club of Arsenal’s stature is not progressing, he should do something about it.
    Kroenke’s son, Josh, said Avalanche fans were spoiled ( where did I hear that before?) when the team moved to Colorado. These Kroenke people clearly don’t care about tradition and the fans.
    Kroenke’s US teams are known for struggling in mediocrity, massive lack of investment(some are the lowest-spending teams in the league) and they charge high ticket prices. Sounds familiar?
    So, I fail to see why anyone considers Kroenke close to being an ideal owner.
    He bought a farm for £80 million. Next time will he buy a farm with Arsenal money ? Who knows?
    There are some fans really afraid of Arsenal without Wenger. That’s the only thing I can think to justify the faith some people have in Kroenke. With an owner who demands success on the pitch, Wenger would have walked. With Satan Kroenke that’s not the case and Wenger’s job is safe and he can run the show without interference and do the usual bare minimum, 4th spot profit trophy. Wenger, the control freak.
    As I don’t have any problem with Arsenal without Wenger I can see Kroenke is not a good owner. That guy is probably more interested in toupees than in Arsenal.

  11. An offside goal saves ManU. I bet you won’t see the media controversy over a wrong decision that you saw over Arsenal getting a correct penalty.

  12. If Kroenke sells, You’ll get your wish sperez. So why worry about that?

    As for Kroenke means mediocrity. ho hum.. But as you yourself say, Arsenal are different to his other teams. Which is what I said as well. His other teams’ winning records, or indeed spending records have nothing to do with Arsenal because Arsenal do not rely on Kroenke’s money, and are in a different environment. Besides, I only really follow the NBA in US sports, and what has happened to the Nuggets since Kroenke took over has been absolutely amazing. They haven’t won the championship of course, and so the ‘trowfees’ crowd will point to that. But that team plays some fantastic basketball and is now a perpetual playoff team, when they hadn’t ever made the playoffs before (or maybe did just once).

    I have no special love for Kroenke, but the reasons for hating him appear to be about either what he might decide to do (something which any owner could do), and what he won’t do (follow Abramovich and co in using his own money to purchase players), the latter of which in any case, Arsenal don’t want. He’s, so far, proved to be the type who wouldn’t want to upset the applecart too much, while at the same time putting in place a team to help Arsenal grow commercially. That to me, represents the sort of owner I’d want, if we were to have an owner at all.

  13. I hope you are right, Shard, but I really disliked the way Kroenke runs many of his sport teams in US. And praising the Glazers certainly didn’t do him any favours.

  14. Interesting article. Still do not know what to make of kronke, a bit wary to be honest, not because he has done anything wrong , or gone against anything he indicated he would, but just concerned at his silence and the fact that unlike fizman for instance, he in not a fan, but guess you cannot have everything. BUT despite a few hiccups during the summer of cesc, a learning process seems to be in place. Our last two major signings have been Spanish internationals. The last board may just possibly have given wenger too much to do, i am not trying to come over all ian wright, but one man can only do so much in a high pressure job, no matter how capable he may be.They may also have undervalued us on commercials. Maybe the new breed are rectifying a few things? Hope so. I still cannot fathom as to whether stan is a responsible owner with a plan who is onto something , or a fast buck merchant. We will find out soon enough, we are a very attractive proposition for some who may want to improve international image and move moneys out of oil, I am convinced we have more suitors than usmanov.

  15. sperez

    He was hardly going to slag off fellow owners and alienate them. In any case, when I read that interview, I felt although he was praising them in words, his intent was just the opposite. Maybe I was wrong about that, but I don’t think he really would say anything confrontational at all about them. He has no reason to. After all, aren’t they destroying/harming one of the clubs that compete against Arsenal. What’s not to like? 😀

  16. Mandy Dodd

    Kroenke has given more interviews than ManCity’s sheikh (keep forgetting his name) and Abramovich. He’s not ‘silent’. But then, words don’t matter too much. Actions do. And it is through his actions, that I am satisfied with Kroenke. He hasn’t done anything to harm us, has kept us going on an established path, and has provided the platform for further growth. Nothing dramatic, but all the better for that.

    I suppose the key moment would be when we’ve paid off all the debt. Will we then be prime target to be taken over? Potentially, but I still think Kroenke is in for the long haul. In any case, I’m not losing sleep about it right now. Which reminds me… I need to sleep. Goodnight folks 🙂

  17. Adam, the bundesliga’s 50+1 model would be great, I’m guessing (need to look it up) that its central to their modal that clubs have to live within their means.

    We’ve always had multiplicity of ownership (as far back as I can remember), so anyone in complete control feels wrong. For now I guess its more a case of the ‘lesser evil’.

    Its kind of sad that if we are stuck with this. Considering the choices, an absentee owner may be the best option out there. The guy is not going to pump cash in as per City/Chelsea (I know there are people who have the ‘can’t beat them-join them’ view on owner, but I just cannot get behind that), but he has never taken cash out of his clubs either. So we live or die on our own merits as always.

    It is clear that he needs to adjust to the nature of the game over here, otherwise he would not have made the Glazer’s comment.

    This summer is the key I guess. Everything suggests we have money to spend, a settled squad, and with departures likely to be only those we want to leave. We SHOULD be stronger next year. If we have another 2 steps forward; 2 steps backward summer, then its time to really worry.

  18. Rufusstan,
    The 50+1 model seems good, but don’t confuse fan ownership with fan control. I was talking to a Bayern supporter when we went to Munich, and of the fan owners only the most “senior” (in terms of their season-ticket-holder history) have any influence as far as voting is concerned. About 1500 but I may be wrong on that.
    Im effect, the 49% of non-fan investors are a few blocs of votes that can be easily organised and will always have effective control.
    Having said that, the increased participation by fans would always be welcome.

  19. Rufusstan, I do think its about time I fully researched the Bundesliga’s regulations and background workings, its just finding the time to do it right.

    I have so much literature on football saved on my PC that I could be busy reading for the next three years, EU reports British government reports, Birkbeck papers, you name it, I probably have it.

    Fan ownership is being seriously looked at, at government level. Whether anything happens is still a mystery.

    This next statement may come across as slightly nationalistic, but I do believe England needs to protect its clubs and one way would be to introduce a compulsory fanshare of say 30%, the same amount needed to trigger a takeover. And that 30% should be restricted to season ticket holders and not subject to compulsory purchase if the other 70% was sold. Personally I think the season ticket holders need protecting and so does the money they put into their clubs, these monies should be ring fenced and be untouchable by club owners wishing to take money out of the club (Glazers). This money could also act as an insurance policy against a clubs debt, as I believe that an owner has to now guarantee any money they wish to put into the club in advance, so whilst an owner can gamble. the supporters can rest assured that if the TV money ran out or commercial deals fell through they could maintain the existence of their club, maybe not at the top level, but the club would survive and rebuild the long way.

    Anyway waffling over.

  20. Very true shard and he has been to more games than the city owner as well. Guess we have to wait and see with him. The city owner is shielded by results in a way stan is not, not yet anyway. Keep hearing stans son may take up a more active role with the club?

  21. Hey everyone….great debate and quite civilized as well. Lets not forget that:

    1)AFC is a business venture and a sports club, as well as an entertainment operation, but always primarily a business venture to its owners.

    2)Kroenke is a big supporter of Wenger’s philosophy and also trusts his board’s judgement and his business manager’s acumen to administer the club in a financially and economically viable way….his form of absenteeism is fine with me as long as he doesn’t start draining the Club.

    3)Like any intelligent businessman, Kroenke wants his investments to increase in both monetary and market value and to do this he needs the Club to be financially and competitively stable, well-managed and following a growth plan that is affordable and medium term.

    4)Sperez’s usage of Satan Kroenke instead of Stan, and his insistence on predicting eternally dire consequences of silent Stan’s ownership based solely on fallacious and illogical premature speculation is indicative of a dearth of rational arguments and an illogical dislike of the man based solely on confabulations.

    Silent Stan can do what he wants with his shares and he certainly will, when he decides the time is right…but I am less concerned about his future intentions than what we will achieve over the next few seasons.

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