By Tony Attwood
It has taken a while, but finally the move was made away from endless sniping at the manager and instead turning on a target, the removal of which could indeed open up a new era in the history of Arsenal.
If there were banners and protests and aeroplanes flying over the trailing messages of the type we have seen for so long, I didn’t see them, and no one seemed to mention them. Instead on the hour, it all came together, the one simple song, sung over and over again, that points the finger in the right direction. Not only pointing at the person who really has caused the problems, but pointing a way forward.
The media were of course caught out, for they have been utterly reliant on the “Wenger Out” campaign by the anti-Arsenal Arsenal (aaa) for so long they could hardly imagine anything else. The Daily Mail manages to mention what happened at the stadium in the 9th paragraph of their report, and the Independent slipped in a line near the end. The Telegraph does the same, although it manages to get the chant wrong – which is a bit bizarre given that it only has two lines in it. One can only suspect that their man had long since gone to the pub.
The Guardian however does come good and not only reports the events properly but also recognises the significance of the disappearance of all the anti-Wengerian paraphernalia and its replacement by one single message. Maybe they were slightly prepared by our articles before the game.
But the fact remains finally the message has got through: you can change the manager and maybe see an improvement, but if you want a radical change that is not the point. It is the ownership wherein there is an issue.
Arsene Wenger said after the game, in relation to the protests run by the aaa and the media alliance,
“We played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons. Some obviously that you know about, and that is very difficult for the group of players to cope with that. Some other reasons we will talk about another day. But the psychological environment for the group of players was absolutely horrendous. It has been difficult.”
Writing all this does not make me a fan of Mr Usmanov (as numerous articles from 2008 onwards show), it makes me simply a fan of not doing it things Kroenke’s way. I must admit that I had hoped when Kroenke took over – and indeed when I didn’t know too much about him – he would turn out to be a different sort of owner. But he hasn’t.
David Dein brought Arsene Wenger to Arsenal and then later introduced Stan Kroenke in the hope that Kroenke’s funds might be useful to Arsenal if newly enriched Chelsea were not blown away by legislation controlling football expenditure (which of course it wasn’t.) It was, I believe, also hoped that Kroenke’s money could help fund the club and keep it competitive during the years of paying off the stadium cost – although it is often said that when Danny Fiszman was selling his shares he was not aware of who the final owner was going to be. Sadly, with share dealings that is often the way.
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Indeed at first Arsenal stood firm, and the wonderfully bumbling Peter Hill-Wood made his little speech about not wanting Kroenke’s “sort” at the club. Eventually the board got rid of Dein for inviting in Kroenke, then went and invited in Kroenke themselves.
What makes this interesting is that the original ideals of the club, of having the club owned by a range of people, not one dominant shareholder, had at least to some small degree, been maintained until that point. In the original Woolwich Arsenal club there was a rule that anyone who owned a single £1 share could stand for elections (which were held each year) to the board of directors. Even Henry Norris, when he took over the effective running of the club when the club ran out of funds in 1910, did not have a majority stake. No one person in fact controlled Arsenal, until the board sold the club to Kroenke. It means that Kroenke can and will spend Arsenal’s money however he wants doing what he wants.
So is Kroenke in there forever?
Certainly with the old board having agreed to sell their shares to him, he is going to be very hard to get rid of, but it is possible if the aaa and their media allies can be held at bay for long enough to make Kroenke the story, it could be done.
Of course he might choose to sell out to Usmanov, and it is more than likely that Usmanov’s bid of £1bn is merely an opening position, and that Usmanov will come back with a higher bid. However we should perhaps not get too carried away with this, for three reasons.
One thing is that Mr Usmanov’s past activities come with a range of issues that, shall we say, raise questions of a rather serious nature. The second is that replacing one billionaire shareholder with another does not guarantee anything at all.
And the third is that the media has had such a wonderful free ride on the back of the aaa for years that they are hardly going to let it go. If the aaa continue to make their protests the centre of everything, the media will certainly follow, and next season we’ll have more of the same as this season.
But here’s an oddity to end with. Sir Alex Ferguson had a comment yesterday, saying “There’s no evidence that sacking a manager brings success,” – a line he might have picked up from Untold! He continued, “but there is evidence that Arsène Wenger, myself and Brian Clough can bring success with long-termism. I wonder, really, do they realise the job that Arsène has done?
“He has come through a forest of criticism for months now and he has never bowed. He has sailed right through. He has shown a determination, a stubbornness. That is a quality.
“I’m not sure they’ll ever get another manager like that. It’s quite easy to say, ‘Yeah, get rid of him’, but who are they going to get who is going to keep that club the way they are, the way they’ve been for the last 20 years?
“I feel sorry for him, because I think he’s shown outstanding qualities in how he’s handled the situation. I don’t know many that could have done that.”