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What's at stake in Arsenal's never-ending ownership battle

Published on: Oct 04 at 8:13pm

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Arsenal's never-ending ownership battle is back in the spotlight this week as Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov continue their tug-of-war for the club.

Reports that Kroenke was making another attempt to buy out minority owner Usmanov had fans worried that the American could soon seize full control of the club and take it into private ownership. Usmanov, however, responded with a statement on Wednesday saying he is not involved in any talks over selling his 30 percent stake to Kroenke -- drawing a collective sigh of relief from fans in North London.

That may not be the end of the story, however, as Usmanov also indicated he would be willing to sell his shares to a third party -- as long as that buyer shared his vision for how the club should be run.

So what happens now? And why are fans so worried about Kroenke taking full ownership? Here's a look at the major issues involved:

What's at stake?

In terms of the way Arsenal operates day-to-day, not much. Kroenke already has the ultimate say on all major decisions at the club, as was evident when he handed manager Arsene Wenger a new two-year deal in May despite reported trepidation among some board members. Kroenke and his son Josh also sit on the club board, while Usmanov has been refused a seat.

Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has reportedly made an offer for Alisher Usmanov's 30 percent stake in the club.

But if Kroenke -- or Usmanov, for that matter -- was able to buy up his rival's shares, it would change the club's ownership structure dramatically and could have significant long-term ramifications. Anyone with more than 90 percent of the club's shares could force the remaining shareholders to sell. The owner could then take the club into private ownership, delisting it as a public limited company. That could lead to less oversight, as there would be no obligation to hold an annual general meeting or publish detailed accounts of the club finances. It would also make it easier to use the club as leverage in other deals and saddle it with massive debts.

However, neither Kroenke nor Usmanov has said he would force out the remaining minority shareholders, which include the Arsenal Supporters Trust, if either bought up the other's stake.

So why does Kroenke want a total takeover?

The American already made a mandatory offer for Usmanov's shares back in 2011 when he reached the 67 percent threshold, but was rebuffed. It's unclear why he would now make another attempt, although it could be a response to Usmanov's offer in May for the American's shares. However, Kroenke could also be worried that the Russian is preparing to sell to someone else instead, which would likely create renewed pressure from fans to give the new minority owner a seat on the board.

Usmanov made it clear in his statement that "if a party appears who shares my and undoubtedly the majority of fans' vision for the club, I could consider the question of selling my stake." Kroenke is already widely unpopular among fans and would probably want to avoid having to deal with yet another rival.

What happens now?

The most likely scenario is for the impasse to continue. Kroenke says he won't sell to Usmanov, and Usmanov says he won't sell to Kroenke. The only question is, who would Usmanov sell to? The only individual who has publicly contemplated a bid for Arsenal is Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, who has said his first order of business would be to fire Wenger. That may not qualify as sharing Usmanov's vision, as he has repeatedly backed Wenger in the past. According to the Guardian, there is also a consortium of unidentified wealthy Arsenal fans who have come together to make Kroenke several offers over the past year. They were reportedly also interested in only buying Usmanov's stake, on the condition that they were given a seat on the board -- which Kroenke was unwilling to grant.

That consortium is so far shrouded in mystery, but we may hear more from them in the future.

Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.


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