Usmanov makes $1.3bn bid to take control of Arsenal FC

Arsenal shareholders Alisher Usmanov and Stan Kraonke

LONDON – Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire who owns a minority stake in Arsenal football club, has in recent weeks made a $1.3bn bid to buy out his rival shareholder, according to three people close to the situation.

Mr Usmanov, a metals magnate who owns 30 per cent of the English Premier League club, conveyed the offer in a letter to Stan Kroenke, the US sports mogul who controls a 67 per cent stake. The approach, made last month, valued the club at $2bn. Mr Kroenke has yet to formally respond.

He is understood not to have dismissed the idea out of hand at first. However, he has since informally indicated he is not interested in selling to Mr Usmanov or anyone else. “Two weeks ago, I thought something could realistically happen. Now I am not so sure,” a person close to the situation said.

The approach reignites the bitter feud between the two men over the direction of the club. Neither Arsenal nor the Kroenke Group responded to requests for comment. Red & White, Mr Usmanov’s investment vehicle, declined to comment.

The Russian steel magnate has become concerned by a lack of investment in Arsenal by Mr Kroenke. In an interview with Bloomberg last month, he said the blame for the club’s performance should not rest solely with Arsène Wenger, the club’s manager, but also with Mr Kroenke and the board, from which Mr Usmanov is excluded.

Alisher Usmanov (left), Arsène Wenger (centre) and Stan Kroenke (right). Arsenal are sitting in fifth place in the Premier League and face the prospect of failing to qualify for the Uefa Champions League for the first time in two decades as the season comes to an end on Sunday.

The club stands to lose out on about £50m in revenue if it misses the European tournament. Arsenal’s disappointing performance has generated frustration among supporters and increased the tensions between fans and Mr Wenger. Many, disenchanted with the club’s form in recent seasons, have accused Mr Kroenke of being an absentee owner. Two people following the process closely said that other bidders were circling.

Mr Usmanov is not planning on disposing of his stake and the offer to buy out Mr Kroenke came from a desire to work cooperatively and strengthen the team, one of these people said. Mr Usmanov, who was born in what is now Uzbekistan, first acquired shares in Arsenal in 2007, when he teamed up with Anglo-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri to buy a 14.6 per cent stake for £75m.

Last year, Mr Usmanov increased his stake to 30 per cent, buying out Mr Moshiri, who went on to buy rival club Everton. Mr Kroenke also bought into Arsenal in 2007 and became majority shareholder four years later. Arsenal Holdings made a pre-tax profit of £2.9m in 2016, on revenue of £353.5m.

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