Arsenal passing into foreign hands too?

Arsenal may soon be the final big English side to fall into foreign ownership...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

American Stan Kroenke has just bought £42.5 m of shares, meaning he now owns 20.5% of the club. This takes his stake to just over a fifth and makes him the most powerful shareholder on the Arsenal board. He'll be jostling for position with Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov who, while not a board member, is actually the club's largest single shareholder - owning 25% of the club.

The sale sets the scene for a crunching boardroom tussle to mirror those dished out on the pitch by Patrick Viera back when the French hard man patrolled the Gunners' midfield. Usmanov is worth around $9.3bn, and is known for his muscle too, even by Russian oligarch standards. He served six years in an Uzbek jail during the 80s, accused of extortion. Kroenke should have the cash for the challenge - if not on his own, then with a little help from his missus: she's Ann Walton, a Wal-Mart heiress.

Either Usmanov or Kroenke could trigger a takeover by increasing their shareholding beyond 29.9%. The key is to sweet-talk the aristocratically-monikored Nina Bracewell-Smith: she owns 15.9% of the club, but was the victim of a coup in December and voted off the board.

Now the ball is at her feet, and Arsenal fans will be watching nervously to see where she punts it. The club has been through a period of transition on the field, where prolonged success has given way to several seasons without silverware, as manager Arsene Wenger brings a new generation of young players through the ranks. Compounding that uncertainty with unrest off the pitch may well just lead to more problems. See what's happened at Liverpool - the Anfield club is having one of its best seasons for years, but would probably be doing even better had it not been for the power struggle between owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet, and between the pair and manager Rafa Benitez, which threatened to derail the first half of the club's season.

Arsenal is currently the last of the ‘big four' clubs to remain in English hands. Its business model has been a proud philosophy for the side: while rivals like Chelsea get saddled with huge debt in order to buy big players, Arsenal compete by developing young, and massively cheaper, talent. Even if it has been criticised for finding relatively little of that talent on home turf.

Mr Kroenke, who owns several sports franchises in the US, bought his latest batch of shares from Danny Fiszman, a diamond trader and lifelong Gooner. Fiszman, who was instrumental in the club's ambitious move from its old Highbury ground to the money-spinning Emirates, says he was forced to sell up because of the credit crunch. 

Bracewell-Smith has said she was unaware of the deal, saying it came as a ‘complete surprise'. Even so, the ball has bounced her way. Gunners blogs are describing Kroenke as the ‘lesser of two evils', and may favour a pass that way if one has to be made. Still, fans will be urging Bracewell-Smith to put her foot on the ball and look up before doing anything rash...

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