Listening Is As Vital As Talking
Ivan Gazidis hosts a Q&A session with a wide range of supporters groups today, an opportunity to ask questions about the club and its operations. Expectations are being raised that the club will be open and forthcoming in their views.
A quick glance down the list of topics from the AST and you can already pick those which will elicit a deflective response (He has certainly headed off a number in his interview). Knowing that the media will soon be in possession of comments made, any controversy will be avoided with diplomacy being the order of the day. That should not stop him being candid, just not as candid as many would want. The problem is that personal agendas come into play with occasions such as this and all involved are aware that any answer will twist in whichever way the prevalent wind is blowing.
I do not, for example, expect much depth to questions about the club’s ambitions. The limit is not fourth place, it’s facile to believe otherwise. The ambition has to be to win trophies, to be the best. It is an almost insulting question to ask. Similarly questions about transfers, RvP and wages are likely to be given short shrift although being the consummate politico, Ivan will be far more diplomatic than might be expected from you or I.
The scope for expansive comments will be more forthcoming in the areas of youth development rules and Financial Fair Play (FFP). The relaxation of the former will assist in promoting more English talent but the latter, I fear the club have overestimated the impact it will have on football. The owners of City, Chelsea and their ilk will have already employed a small army of professional advisors on how to structure deals to ensure compliance. The most startling example of this is the derided Etihad deal that was constructed with Uefa’s input.
Arsenal have long held these rules as the playing fields being levelled but in truth, it is not; they are Uefa’s PR battle to counter negative headlines that promote misunderstanding about football’s finances. The regulations were aimed at the wrong clubs, those at the top table are feasting gluttonously on sponsors money, barely pausing to cast pennies to those less fortunate. Fortunately the Football League recognised this and implemented their own version of the rules. Hopefully this will be more effective in policing the clubs genuinely at risk financially.
The problem is that there is a natural limit to what Ivan can say, for commercial and footballing reasons. Whilst we may be interested in the commercial department and its activities (and I believe there are questions about their operation), specifics cannot necessarily be divulged. It is a scenario that lends itself to open interpretation of what was not said, what was being hinted at.
One area where no comment of any substance will be made is Red and White Holdings.
Informed opinion suggests that Usmanov has been purchasing shares recently but is not quite at the 30% threshold. That might be closer than widely thought with purchases believed to have been made outside of the R&W vehicle. Engaging PR agencies suggests that movement is expected soon. The threshold is a little misleading in terms of what it bestows. It does not for example, garner him a place on the board nor does it mean he has to make an offer for all other shares, the Takeover Panel absolved him of that responsibility upon KSE’s majority acquisition.
Premier League rules give him access to company confidential information but the extent to which is debatable and untested by lawyers, which it would surely be. Either way, he is not going to release information into the public domain that damages the value of his investment. He might follow the example of Cubic Expression and ask 99 questions with the intention of winning a board place via that medium. But what then? He confers on himself no greater power than he has already since the board will already be loaded with KSE acolytes.
The question then becomes what purpose is served by Usmanov being on the board; what footballing experience will he bring to benefit the club? He is a successful businessman but so is Kroenke. The false presumption is that Usmanov coming onto the board will automatically bring an injection of funds. FFP regulations prevent the usual football route of loaning money to clubs to cover player purchases, that investment now has to be equity-based. In that scenario, KSE must invest more or else this will dilute their shareholding which does not seem likely given the reticence to become involved in a rights issue. Angry of Islington covered the workings and possible impacts in his excellent blog.
From the supporters point of view that is the ideal outcome in the current scenario; money invested into the club which clears debt on the stadium. Investment in the squad comes from beyond this, funds released from contractual control of banks and financiers can be used for salaries and purchases. It might be the best of a bad lot – as the two billionaire non-investing owners must be considered – and the Arsenal ownership battleground might feasibly become sullied in the forthcoming PR war.
And I have deliberately not clouded the issue with comment on his past, it is an issue for another day.
If today’s meeting is to be considered successful, there has to be a willingness on the part of the club to impart information in a meaningful dialogue. More importantly, supporters have to be willing to listen, to participate in constructive dialogue whilst accepting that decisions are taken as part of a cohesive policy to benefit the squad and not just sulk in the corner when the club does not bow to their every whim. If either party can’t fulfil their part of the bargain, there is little point to the whole event.