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A Fistful Of Dollars Or The Fatman Menace?

The quiet time is upon us, no football until Sunday. A time when journalists will devour their plates of food and consume copious quantities of alcohol whilst attempting to create mayhem all around them. So, a normal week then.

It appeared that the fallout from Hull would be the talk of the week but never one to let the grass grow under his feet, Stan Kroenke snaffled a handful of shares to leave himself even closer to the edge of an Arsenal takeover attempt. Given that he could buy the remaining 17 or so shares required to cross that threshold from Danny or any one of the Board crew, exterior reasons must be behind any stalling on this front.

The popular reason or belief is that he does not want to pay the £10.5k per share he would have to for any deal before May of next year. Quite possibly this is true.

Or perhaps he is waiting for the outcome of the renegotiation of the contracts concerning sponsorship of shirts and the stadium. According to a report in this morning’s Daily Mirror, envious glances have been cast around the Premier League as Arsenal realises that the long-term nature of The Emirates deal was good at the time in helping secure the external borrowing for the new stadium and disposal of Highbury flats but now looks somewhat paltry compared to deals achieved elsewhere.

Perhaps he is waiting for Usmanov to get close to the threshold and then hope he tippi-toes over it, ridding the club of the Uzbek Menace once and for all when the bid fails. The Uzbek can see £32m disappearing down the swanee if Kroenke does not make a bid in the next five months or so, observing that, “it is important for the stability of the club for him to clarify his position.

Mr Pot? Please let me introduce you to my good friends, Kettle and Black. If anyone is unsettled by Kroenke, the vast majority are deeply disturbed by Usmanov and his intentions. The media would adore a battle between the two, guaranteeing that back pages would be filled with all manner of salacious gossip disguised as background fact, mixed with a sprinkling of attention to the detail of each deal.

The pair know the Takeover Panel rules and therefore the calls from Red & White are empty rhetoric. Usmanov does not have to wait until he reaches 30% to launch a bid neither does Kroenke. So, let’s be having the pair of you: outside with your piles of used fivers, business plans, the works.

Prove that you can afford to buy Arsenal through improving the club’s financial standing, without loading debt and still have money to spare to continue the investment in not just the first team squad but the reserves and youth academy as well. As it is the season of goodwill, put together a package that will permit a reduction in ticket prices to boot, opening more of the stadium to proper fans rather than relying upon corporate sponsors.

One upshot of this is that according to reports in The Guardian, Kroenke wants Arsenal t0 undertake pre-season tours to the USA, a direct conflict with Arsene’s desire to continue taking the team to Central Europe. In a World Cup year, there is little football sense in undertaking such a jaunt but huge commercial scope, even if none of the first team ‘regulars’ (although they are all regulars with the current spate of injuries) can be there. Whilst I can see Wenger’s point, no evidence exists that such trips are detrimental with all recent Premier League champions traversing the globe.

’til Tomorrow.

Injured Feelings and Silent Stan Gets Ready…

The usual injury concerns emerged following the internationals but compared to previous breaks, this fortnight has been relatively kind. Gael Clichy’s ankle knack presumably means Kieran Gibbs gets the chance at left back with the only other doubt from the last Premier League fixture being Abou Diaby who has this year’s vogue injury, back knack.

Manuel Almunia is supposedly only 50:50 which means nothing when Arsene says it given his previous track record on guessing injuries. Nil desperandum since Lukas Fabianski is apparently fit but to be honest, there would be no reason to drop Mannone purely on the basis of the the Pole’s return.

All the while this is going on and Usmanov procrasturbates, Stan Kroenke has snaffled a few more shares, payment terms presumably yet to be agreed. There is a little anecdotal evidence that this is the prelude to a full bid, possibly next summer, since this was the very action that Lord Peter observed may happen:

It does look like he is edging towards a takeover, which I would welcome. I have not asked him if that is what he plans to do, but I am very relaxed about it.

These days, it seems that old PHW has been very relaxed about everything, possibly because all of the others are running around doing the hard work. He is becoming more like the Spitting Image caricature of the Queen Mother, G&T in one hand, wandering around offering inanities and telling everyone that she was “92, you know“.

How much sway he has in the matter of a takeover is open to debate. It is pure conjecture on my part but I would hazard a guess that if Fiszman said he wanted out and Kroenke was on hand to take his shares on the never-never, there is absolutely jack that Hill-Wood could do about it.

He further observed:

If it was to happen, I don’t think you can expect any big changes because he seems to like things very much the way they are.

Kroenke may well think that things are tickety-boo and hunky-dory off the pitch and of course he is happy since he can see profits to be squirrelled away into his own bank accounts whilst quite possibly servicing loans required to buy the club. In that instance, you have to wonder which of the duo is more acceptable or indeed, if there is any difference between them. And then you remember Sheriff Fatman’s past…

Compared to Usmanov, the American has been quieter in public about taking a dividend out of the club but no-one would be surprised if it happened were he to launch a takeover bid. One possible obstacle might be a counter-bid from the Uzbek but one would hope that they will have the good grace to stop their silly buggers antics until the summer when the season is over.

’til Tomorrow.

Fred, Ed & Money – The Usual International Suspects

I know that international week makes people jittery and strange things happen in such circumstances but can the media please leave the comedy stylings to UEFA?

It is enough to have bad jokes played upon us by their disciplinary committee without some wag starting rumours of Freddie Ljungberg returning to the club. Don’t get me wrong, Freddie was a fantastic servant for the club but I suspect that I am not alone in believing that we have enough injury-prone midfielders at the club as it is.

This current desire to have pld players return makes me wonder if Eddie McGoldrick will return for one last hurrah in Liege, a desperate attempt to recreate one of the finest goals ever scored by Arsenal.

More comedy stylings from John Terry. Answering just the one question on the misdemeanours of his employers, he set forth a stiff upper lip and pouted it in Eduardo‘s direction, comically proclaiming that the English don’t dive, it is not in our nature nor footballing culture.

Someone ought to whisper in his ears, “Japan 2002, Michael Owen, Argentina, Dive, Penalty” and then for good measure, Owen’s observation that he would dive in a World Cup Final if it meant increasing England’s chances of winning the trophy.

Add into that mix the claims by Macedonia’s Under-21s that Jack Wilshere dived and the laughable claims of Terry get hollower by the minute. Arsene commented after the England game that the club would hold an internal investigation into the incident, Wilshere likely to be fined if found to have been fouled in the area, for a gross breach of club policy.

Rather scarily, Alex Ferguson has gone back to “I love Arsene” mode. Criticising Eduardo on the one hand, he launched a defence of Wenger’s reaction, observing that he would have reacted in the same manner. The crucial difference is, and the Scot failed to mention it, that he would probably have gone back into press silence mode, no bad thing. The media are scared of not being able to report on United.

Whatever we may think of them, there are probably more people interested in them in the UK than those who follow Arsenal. Having taken on the BBC and come out with the upper hand, Ferguson knows his power and is not afraid to use it. Wenger knows his power but is too urbane, not as petty and refuses to use it. Even in the face of vile allegations, he did not refuse media enquiries, the contrast between the two managers could not be more pointed.

As Dara O’Briain observed in this morning’s Guardian, this whole episode becomes more pantomime as the days pass. That is until UEFA hears the appeal. A point I read earlier this week is that apparently Italian professional players scrutinise any incidents that may arise in a match domestically. This has happened for several years apparently.

In that time, they have not been able to decide with any certainty whether a player has deliberately dived because they are not the player in question and do not know what he is thinking. That piece of logic appears to have escaped UEFA. Perhaps Arsene could hop onto Silver and rope it up, allowing Eduardo – his Tonto for the day – to sling into UEFAs Nyon Jail Cells.

Forbes reckons that Arsenal are worth in excess of £700m, a figure that will not be any surprise since it is not much different to the last valuation they put on the club. Whilst the sums involved are subjective – the value is more accurately the amount someone pays for it – there is a vindication to a degree of the board’s policy of self-sustainability.

Reports suggest that Sherrif Fatman is on the verge of a full takeover, a little wide of the mark since he has yet to breach the % shareholding that requires him to declare all transactions. Kroenke still owns more of the shares and is more likely to be accepted as a buyer than the Uzbek. Even then, there is no guarantee that the American would succeed with a takeover nor any suggestion that the pursuit of that outcome is on his agenda.

Where the problems with this lies is the timing. It would be better for the players if this took place in the close season, an unwelcome distraction for them. Even if they state that these things do not affect them on the pitch, they would be talking about it away from matches, a natural reaction for any employee.

The question is does the valuation actually matter? It does not impact the playing side, no transfer funds will mysteriously appear as a result nor will the mortgage on the stadium be paid off any quicker. It will help with renegotiating the borrowing but only as a small part of it, this gives no more confirmation of the ability to pay than a ten pence piece found in the club car park.

Why are we obsessed with it? United’s valuation is open to severe dispute since the debt incurred to buy the club are further up the food chain, sitting with a holding company rather than the club itself. This is why they would probably be able to pass any licensing requirements from UEFA. Likewise, Real Madrid is not just a football club and whilst this aspect forms a huge part of their value, other sports help along the way.

Anyway, good luck to all those players in internationals this weekend. And remember, Arsenal are your employers so no new injuries. ’til Tomorrow.

A Kind Champions League Draw, Eddie Takes Centre Stage & More

Play To Win

The Champions League draw has been made, as you are no doubt aware. I half-joked in yesterday’s comments about the ‘easy’ draw and to be honest, the opponents drawn suggest that failure to reach the first knockout round will require the squad to wear sackcloth and ashes for the remainder of the season. That said, if I was asked to choose – the PL title or winning the Group Phase – I would forfeit the CL quite happily.

The full draw is:

Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa.
Group B: Manchester United, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsburg.
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich.
Group D: Chelsea, Porto, Atletico Madrid, APOEL Nicosia.
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni.
Group F: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, Rubin Kazan.
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni.
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos, Standard Liege.

That said, it leaves you looking at the runners-up spot in each group, wondering who the likely opponents would be and I guess that they would be any one from Bayern, CSKA, AC Milan, Atletico, Internazionale or Stuttgart. Liverpool’s group is a tad too tight to call between themselves and Lyon although I suspect Fiorentina may just have a thing or two to say about that.

Despite being told that this season’s competition is one of the strongest yet, it seems more as if Platini’s tinkering has cemented the progress of the top sixteen clubs in the tournament. Only a paucity of form on one or more of their parts will prevent qualification. The hardy perennials of the knockout stages will not be looking in any fear for the most part at the third and fourth seeds in their groups.

Dive

Eduardo finds himself at the centre of a storm in a D-Cup with football administrators everywhere rushing to join the assembled hacks in making right tits of themselves. Gordon Smith, still smarting from his disasterous miss in the 1983 FA Cup Final, has more contentious issues to deal with at the SFA like, for instance, ooooh, I dunno, qualifying for the next World Cup. Instead he is whining that the footballing world won’t listen whenever he complains about diving.

Michel Platini believes that the implementation of two assistant referees behind goal lines will enable officials to make more definitive calls in these instances. Up until now, measures to improve the decision making by officials have got nowhere fast, the resistance to anything that implies the fallibility of referees utterly rejected by Sepp Blatter. It is curious though that UEFA believe they can intervene on this subject. As I understand it, if a referee sees an incident and deals with it, then the matter is closed. In this instance, a penalty was awarded and therefore the incident was dealt with. Well, I wonder if this will quietly go away?

No doubt there will be some backtracking over coming weeks as the enormity of the can of worms which is gradually being opened. If anyone should ask, Platini, no longer a charming man, will probably fly into a panic, questioning what difference does it make if UEFA does nothing or acts decisively, with a suitably Gallic shrug of the shoulders accompanying his rash statements.

Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the media coverage this week was The Sun and its “Security Watch” at The Emirates on Wednesday. They were disappointed that everyone seemed sweet and tender, hooligans not rampaging through the massed ranks of Prawn sandwiches, knocking the collected G&T’s flying as they marauded. The media is currently rushing to get on various high horses since the violence in and around Upton Park earlier in the week. It is simply another bandwagon upon which they can hitch their horses. At the end of each day though, nothing changes since they rush home, ruffians that they are, to search for another pot to stir.

Back In Fat

It was a week where the criminally vulgar rose to the surface. Sheriff Fatman, never described as a charming man, snaffled some more shares up. Surely it is a case of “I Want The One I Can’t Have” with Arsenal as far as he is concerned? It has to be. Heaven knows I’ll be miserable if he gets his grubby mitts on the club. A sneaking suspicion is emerging in the back of my mind now that he is purchasing more shares to ensure that the payday from Stan Kroenke, when it comes, is absolutely huge.

At least this weekend’s fixture has come around quickly. The small matter of a visit to Old Trafford will be a most welcome diversion. ’til Tomorrow.

It Rhymes: Red & White Talk…And A Bit Of Transfer Gossip

Awwww, come on, you know the word which was missing. Red and White has launched its own PR offensive with Farhad Moshiri interviewed by the BBC offering their own version of the current state of play at the club. Mindful that the manager still has the support of all but 0.001% of supporters, Moshiri chose to divert attention to the Board and their rejection of Red and White’s Rights Issue.

There were several curiousities that emerged from the interview, not least of which is that Red & White are refusing to put their information into the public domain. The Lazard Brothers Report is based purely on the published financial statements of the club and at best, that information is six months old. Therefore, most of their conclusions are either out of date or based on estimates. That is not to say some of their thoughts might well be true but until R&W put the whole of their plans for the Rights Issue open to scrutiny, they will never be able to win the minds of supporters on this matter.

Despite his resignation from the Board of R&W, Dein appears still be heavily involved. That deduction came from Moshiri’s comments that the relationship between Dein and Wenger has never been replaced. That is according to Moshiri. No evidence exists to suggest that Wenger and Gazidis are heading towards that level of friendship. Likewise, no evidence exists to suggest that their is anything other than personal respect on either part. Any antagnosim is being hidden from public view, if it exists.

It is apparent that Moshiri is particularly clueless:

Based on our analysis any money is very limited and possibly spent already and I don’t think there are any spare funds with the exception of Adebayor’s proceeds

Even by my dodgy grasp of mathematics, that means that there are about £20-25m of spare funds. Since wild, sweeping statements are the order of the day, I would suggest that R&W would not make that money available in its entirity to Wenger since one aspect of their investment is abundantly clear. If they take the club over, money will be diverted into dividend payments, a matter on which Usmanov already made his views known before being put in his place by the current board.

The lack of knowledge displayed with regard to the first team squad was baffling if R&W are truly intent on taking over the club. Moshiri or one of his minions has obviously been reading blog comment sections and taking the extreme views as some sort of vindication of their intentions towards Arsenal. Particularly baffling was the notion that Arsenal will suffer greatly when Kolo Toure goes to the ACN next winter. It must have escaped their notice that there are six centre backs at the club.

The sale of Adebayor unsurprisingly brought more ill-informed comment. R&W clearly believe that Eduardo, Bendtner, van Persie and Vela are not up to scratch. It may well be that Wenger brings another striker in but more than anything else, R&W were clearly starting to stoke the fires of malcontent. Should the start to the season be less than spectacular, it will be little surprise to find another exacting analysis provided by R&W, stating that since Dein left, no success has arrived, erasing Wenger’s contribution entirely.

Having failed through normal channels to secure support for their strategy, R&W are now clearly attempting to portray themselves as the voice of supporters, the assumption being on their part that fans are too shallow to see through such pitiful posturing.

Elsewhere, the usual suspects are emerging for the first train into Euston. Lee Catermole is probably the first to arrive since it will be quicker for him to journey down from Wigan. Hot on his heels on the Heathrow Express is Klaas Jan Huntelaar, whose wages demands have seen Peter Crouch  usurp him as ‘Appy ‘Arry’s top transfer target.

Kolo Toure has apparently agreed personal terms as part of Manchester City’s triple transfer swoop which is rapidly disintegrating since John Terry has refused to countenance earning huge wages. Apparently Toure popped out to a local Wiener Schnitzel parlour for talks with City when Arsene turned his back. It seems many moons ago that clubs agreed a fee before contacting the player directly.

’til Tomorrow.

Pre Season Sunday Round-Up

Alisher Usmanov is not going to go quietly but in following a high risk strategy, he risks becoming a lame duck investor. According to the, ahem, usually reliable News of the World, the Sheriff Fatman is going to call an EGM to put his proposal for a Rights Issue to the vote.

Which is perhaps the ultimate in gesture politics for a shareholder. With the Board at very close to 50% control of the voting rights, he looks very likely to be defeated in his objective. No doubt he will hope for a close run thing but for him, it will mean public scrutiny of his plans and open questioning of his motives, something that he has reluctant to let happen to date.

Overall, it is an unlikely scenario for it puts the Uzbek into a corner but it also explains Stan Kroenke buying shares this week. His tally is closer to the 30% level than Fatman’s and therefore he may have enough to stop an Usmanov takeover bid in its tracks even with a beneficial Rights Issue for the Uzbek. It is interesting that most sniping has taken the form of criticising the current Board for not investing directly into the club as if it is something that Usmanov has been doing all along. No, the Uzbek has not put one penny into the club and indeed is more intent on taking something out, having previously demanded that dividends be paid on his shareholding.

Problematically none of the detractors has come up with the sustained model arising from the Rights Issue. Assuming that it is spent clearing the loans surrounding the properties, the outcome of that is to save the club £5m per season (using rough roundings on the interest payments). That does not buy a player of the calibre that everyone demands: it might pay their wages but not their purchase.

The remainder of the funds once loans are cleared may be enough to buy one world class player this summer but with prices the way that they are, I would not like to bet on it. What happens next summer though? Where is the funding to make a similar purchase? If someone can come up with a strong argument, bring it on.

It wouldn’t be a Sunday if there were not comings and goings happening. Crossing paths at Terminal 5 apparently are Alex Hleb and Eider Gudjohnsen, looking wistfully at the Barcelona suit who is carrying a suitcase full of used Euros that will apparently be enough for Arsenal to let Cesc take the return flight to the Catalan capital.

It is at this point that they will see Mikael Silvestre moving towards the departure gate for Bordeaux, no doubt light of luggage to board his Ryanair flight and considerably lighter in the wallet once all of their add-ons have negated the cheapness of the flight.

Philippe Senderos has to go City Airport for his flight to Sunderland although he is going to meet old chum, Patrick Vieira there to save on the cab fare to the Stadium of Light. All of which is nice but spare a thought for poor old Armand Traore as he leaves the M40 for a cup of tea in a beaten-up Hillman Imp on the way to Birmingham for a year of living dangerously at St Andrews.

A quiet Sunday before the pre-season really kicks in. ’til Tomorrow.

RvP Gives Us A Sign As The Board Gives Usmanov A Different One

So where to begin, where to begin. First up, I picked up a small brochure…Just joshing…

Robin van Persie has signed a new contract – HUZZAH! Well, OK, so it was leaked over the weekend but we never heard from the man himself so he made up for lost time:

I’m so happy to have signed a new long term contract. I’ve been at the Club for five years now and there really is a great feeling here at Arsenal. We have a top class manager, a squad full of superb young players, a world class stadium and brilliant supporters. Arsenal Football Club has a very bright future and I want to be part of it.

My heart is with Arsenal and I just can’t picture myself in a different shirt. I just can’t see it now because I love this Club so much. If you look at the last five years, look at the steps I have made every season, if you look at the support the Boss and the whole Club gave me, the fans gave me, my team mates gave me – this is the right decision

Awww shucks Robin. Are we really that good as supporters? Are we or were you just being polite. Why don’t you take a quick straw poll around the dressing room? On second thoughts, no, for crissakes, don’t. You might change your mind.

I liked van Persie before, like now and anyone that talented who wants to stay at Arsenal for the rest of his career is alright by me. If he can get a full season on form, the prospect of him combining with a fully settled in Arshavin, a fully fit Eduardo and a goalscoring Adebayor shows the strength of the Arsenal front line. The fit bit has been the problem in the past but ever the optimist, I will hope that it remains firmly rooted there.

Which is where I hoped that Alisher Usmanov would stay. Or go. In fact, he can go anywhere as long as it is far away from this club. Sheriff Fatman is crying over spilt milk since the Board has rejected his proposal for a Rights Issue. Ivan Gazidis spelt out the reasons that the overtures were rejected:

The Board, with its financial advisors Rothschild, considered thoroughly the proposal to use permanent equity capital to either pay down debt or to add to the Club’s spending in the transfer market…Using permanent capital to pay down debt would not, therefore, radically transform the annual cash flow of the Club.  With regard to players, the Board decided not to issue permanent capital in the hopes of signing one or two players in an inflated transfer market. Instead, the focus continues to be on securing the services of talented young players we have on long-term contracts and making very selective acquisitions, only where a new signing will add real value to our already strong squad.

If you look carefully out of your windows, the squadron of flying pigs carrying Melo, Hangeland, Cana, Inler, Ribery and anyone else who is going to cost a fair whack are rapidly disappearing over the horizon. Which to me is not a problem since I have a considerable amount of belief in the current squad and the manager’s ability to improve it where necessary.

Fatboy Slim was not having any of it though:

Based on financial information that only they have, the board have informed us that they are confident they have adequate financial resources to support the manager to strengthen the squad, to weather the property downturn, to renegotiate the Highbury Square loan on good terms and to deal with the continuing difficult economic conditions. However, we will keep the situation under close review.

So let me get this right. Usmanov does not have any information to the contrary yet does not believe the Board whilst expecting us to believe him. Hmmmm, it is a tough one but I know whose word has more credibility with this blogger and it is not someone who does not have all of the information.

Crucially, the Board has found the flaw in Usmanov’s plan to spend big in this transfer market through the Rights Issue. It is not sustainable beyond the summer or January if Arsene decided to parsimonious. The only way in which big signings in 2010 could be funded would be through either increased borrowings or sales of existing personnel.

Exactly how this improves the current position is unclear, quite probably because it is the sort of reactionary, short-termist view that Wenger felt unable to clasp to his metaphorical bosom when Real Madrid came calling. The suspicion remains that Usmanov is a pea from the same pod that spawned Florentino Perez. Look at the state Real Madrid were in when Perez’s first reign at the Bernabeu ended acrimoniously to see the future at Arsenal if Usmanov takes control.

’til Tomorrow.

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