From outcast to owner? Stan Kroenke's Arsenal transformation
PUBLISHED: 17:32 11 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:32 07 September 2010
2004 Getty Images
For a man clearly unwanted in the boardroom just two short years ago, Silent Stan Kroenke - the US tycoon who owns a larger slice of Arsenal than anyone else - is just 71 shares away from the next stage of full ownership. Peter Hill-Wood, the current ch
For a man clearly unwanted in the boardroom just two short years ago, 'Silent' Stan Kroenke - the US tycoon who owns a larger slice of Arsenal than anyone else - is just 71 shares away from the next stage of full ownership.
Peter Hill-Wood, the current chairman whose family connections at Arsenal span nearly a century, once famously sniffed the club didn't need 'his sort'.
So, ironically, half of Kroenke's last £1.7 million block purchase came from the Old Etonian himself, taking him to 29.9 per cent - 0.1 per cent short, under City regulations, of triggering an obligatory takeover bid.
Quite what Hill-Wood's father, former chairman Denis, would make of it all one can only imagine. It was he who fought so vehemently to keep perimeter advertising out of Highbury, so an American with no previous connections to English football would, no doubt, amount to nothing short of sacrilege.
Football finance expert Alex Fynn, co-author of the revealing Arsenal: The Making Of A Modern Superclub, says it is "inevitable" that the American will launch a formal takeover. The question is: When?
"The irony is that one of the reasons (former vice chairman) David Dein left the club was because he was trying to bring in Kroenke," Fynn tells Ham&High Sport.
"Now, this is the man who is looking increasingly likely to be the first to own the club outright."
Arsene Wenger appears in the dark, half-joking Kroenke is "flirting" with taking over the club lock, stock and barrel, while Hill-Wood, once the sceptic, has taken it upon himself to act as his unlikely first line of defence.
At last month's club AGM it was he who chose to answer for Kroenke, who sat smiling as he was quizzed by fans as to his future intentions.
"I don't think we are looking for a change in custodian,'' said Hill-Wood. ''I think you will find the club is in pretty good hands. I believe he is happy to be a long-term shareholder in our club. Really it's not for me to say what his intentions are."
Just days later Hill-Wood sold him 100 shares.
Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who owns a quarter of the club thanks largely to picking up Dein's 14.6 per cent shareholding for £75m two years ago, has sat on the sidelines as his main rival for supremacy has snaffled up any spare shares he has come across.
Even an offer of a £100m to help clear some debts and fund transfers was politely declined.
Of the two, Kroenke is clearly in the driving seat - and flavour of the month with the existing board.
"It is an amazing transformation," adds Fynn. "After being so publicly rebuffed when he was persona non grata, he is now a valued, trusted figure since being invited on to the board.
"He is relatively young, but very experienced and maybe seen as a very wealthy version of themselves."
Kroenke is now in prime position for a takeover, a prospect which has even become a hot topic of conversation among fans who don't usually concern themselves with boardroom politics.
"There are two things to think about here," says Fynn. "If he were to take over he may depart from the traditional way the club has been run for so many years.
"You'd expect that to an extent, because in the past the club has been run by families like the Hill-Woods and Bracewell-Smiths, all of whom have regarded themselves as merely custodians of the club.
"But the real concern - and nobody has any idea what he wants to do - if he were to attempt a takeover, is how would he fund it?
"The danger is, like at Manchester United and Liverpool, he could borrow the money needed and then saddle the club with a massive debt.
"The current debt is both manageable and there for a reason. It is also secured against the long-term future of the club which, as we know, is making very good profits.
"That is the key to all of this: what are his intentions and how will he acquire the club if he wants to? Nobody knows and fans should have some concerns about that."
They already have. The Arsenal Supporters Trust, said in a statement last week: "Two red lines that cannot be crossed are the use of debt secured on the club's assets to fund a takeover and an ownership structure which excludes small shareholders."
Any takeover would not happen before January 1, says Fynn.
"It would cost him too much. Under strict rules he would have to offer all shareholders the highest figure he has paid for shares this calendar year.
"Well, that would be £10,500 per share - much more than the market value. It would be prudent to wait so he could save himself millions."
Clearly 2010 could be a pivotal year off the pitch.
Meanwhile, the enigmatic Kroenke remains 'Silent Stan'.
l Alex Fynn will be giving a talk - 'The Secret History Of Arsenal FC' - at Birkbeck College, Torrington Square on Wednesday November 18 at 6pm. Nearest tube Russell Square, and admission is free.