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Usmanov Launches Attack on Arsenal Board

Christopher Thompson
Friday, 6 Jul 2012 | 2:20 AM ET

Arsenal’s second-biggest shareholder has attacked the English Premier League football club’s management after its star player decided not to renew his contract when it runs out at the end of the 2012-13 season.

Stuart MacFarlane | Arsenal FC | Getty Images

Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire steel magnate who owns almost 30 percent of Arsenal, accused the company’s board in an open letter of “trying to distract attention from fundamental issues” facing the club, loading it up with long-term debt and squeezing the fans with some of the highest ticket prices in the league.

The letter comes after Robin van Persie, the Dutch forward who was the club’s top scorer last season, announced on Wednesday he would not be renewing his contract after disagreeing with the club about its direction.

Mr. Usmanov, who does not have a seat on the Arsenal’s board, claimed the departure of the “true marquee” player was indicative of tight finances that “carry the burden of repaying the stadium debt”.

Separately, Mr. Usmanov lambasted management for allegedly giving the impression to Arsenal supportersthat his investment company, Red & White, was in “some bitter stand-off” with the board.

He also accused Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s chief executive, of unprofessionalism after he allegedly inquired about shirt sponsorship from Megafon, one of Russia’s largest mobile phone operators, not knowing Mr. Usmanov was a majority shareholder in the company.

The letter marks the latest chapter in Arsenal’s often acrimonious ownership sagas.

Last year the club’s leading shareholder, the US billionaire sports franchise owner Stan Kroenke, made an offer to take control of Arsenal, valuing its equity at 731 million pounds ($1.14 billion).

Mr. Kroenke was initially made unwelcome when he first became an Arsenal shareholder in 2007, but he has since been brought into the fold and now holds just less than 63 percent.

However, Red & White has been largely kept at arm’s length by a board that includes Mr. Kroenke, Lord Harris of Peckham and chairman Peter Hill-Wood.

Arsenal had 137 million pounds in net debt according to its latest half-yearly report, much of which is down to the construction of its Emirates stadium, completed in 2006.

The football club, which declined to comment, said it was “evaluating” Mr. Usmanov’s letter.

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