Russian prowls the Emirates

Premiership football clubs continue to attract the big beasts of the corporate jungle, with news that Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov has bumped up his stake in league leaders Arsenal to 21%.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The Uzbek’s vehicle Red and White Holdings is now the second biggest shareholder in Arsenal behind Danny Fiszman, the Switzerland-based Cockney diamond dealer who owns 24%.  Fiszman says he’s not selling, and Usmanov says he doesn’t want to buy, but nobody seems very convinced – particularly with US billionaire Stan Kroenke (who has accumulated a 12% stake) hovering in the wings.

Wealthy foreign investors are climbing over each other to get their hands on Premiership clubs, with Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City three of the more recent acquisitions. As the league’s international popularity continues to soar, TV money is pouring in at unprecedented levels to clubs that are now global merchandising machines. At the same time, backers are developing our aged football grounds into vast revenue-generating leisure complexes, with increased stadium capacity and attached luxury homes, restaurants and nightclubs.

So who will win the battle for Arsenal? Usmanov has secured a coup by signing up former vice-chairman David Dein, who is a close friend of manager Arsene Wenger. Dein had been seen as a potential ally of Kroenke, but decided to sell his 14% stake to the Uzbek instead (that’s the same David Dein who criticised Chelsea for selling out to, um, a Russian oligarch).

And of course we shouldn’t forget Wenger himself. Given the Arsenal manager’s track record of talent-spotting, there’s always a chance he could pluck an obscure investor out of an emerging economy and turn him into the world’s richest man.

It’s all about as bewildering as one of Arsenal’s flowing passing moves. The question is, will this elaborate attack by the Russian be any more likely to translate into some kind of end-product?

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