Hrishi Anand has a look at why Arsenal’s struggles go beyond Arsene Wenger as a weak and indecisive board have hindered the Gunners’ progress.
Arsenal have had a hugely disappointing season, another failed title challenge and missing out on a Champions League spot summarize the London club’s struggles. Added to this, rivals Tottenham Hotspur also finished above the Gunners for the first time in 21 years. Uncertainty over Arsene Wenger’s future left the club in a difficult situation and while the long serving boss has extended his contract following an FA Cup win, the problems are far more deep-rooted than just Wenger’s influence and position at the club. The Arsenal board have come under criticism for the lack of spine and initiative at the club and rightly so.
Stan Kroenke- At the heart of Arsenal’s Boardroom Issues
Arsenal fans are a much divided group largely due to their stance on Wenger’s continuation as the boss. However, when it comes to Stan Kroenke’s ownership of the club, the general consensus towards the American would not be positive. Largely despised by most of the fan-base for his lack of involvement and callous attitude towards the club, ‘Silent Stan’ Kroenke isn’t the most endearing owner. Kroenke also admitted in recent interviews that he “did not buy the Arsenal stake to win trophies.”
The American entrepreneur who also owns NFL team the Los Angeles Rams and MLS team Colorado Rapids, has seen intense dissatisfaction from the fans of his other sport ventures as well. His company Kroenke Sports and Entertainment was also receiving an annual payment from Arsenal for ‘consultancy services’ until recently when Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis announced that the club would no longer have to pay such a fee. Kroenke’s son Josh is also on the Arsenal board. Kroenke seems to be content as long as the Arsenal accounts show a positive balance which has been the case in recent years. Following the move to the Emirates Stadium from Highbury in 2006, Arsenal spent a good part of the next decade paying off the stadium debt by selling star players. Since 2013, Arsenal’s finances have increased massively owing to sponsorship deals with Multi-National Companies like Puma, Europcar, Emirates and Citroen among others. Combine this with the most expensive tickets in England and the result is a reserve touted by leading football finance sources as significantly greater than Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and behind only Manchester United.
Stan Kroenke’s only challenger is second largest stakeholder Alisher Usmanov. The Uzbek-Russian magnate has spoken frequently of his desire to increase his ownership but this seems unlikely with his recent investment in Everton as well as the Brexit having major implications on the value of the Pound Sterling. It certainly appears that Arsenal will have to deal with Kroenke in the foreseeable future.
David Dein’s Departure
David Dein was the Vice-Chairman at Arsenal till 2007. The Englishman was instrumental in bringing an unknown Arsene Wenger to the club in 1996 having been on the Board of Directors at the time before playing a central role in the club’s recruitment and progress over the next decade. Regarded by many as Wenger’s best friend, Dein was responsible for the acquisition of Arsenal legends like Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. With a love for the club and a passion for success, Dein was also loved by the players for his personal touch and involvement in the dressing room as well. Dein left in 2007 following a fallout with the Board and the club has missed his influence since.
The Board Structure
The Boardroom structure at Arsenal resembles one of a joint stock company in many ways. Sir Chips Keswick is the acting chairman of the club. Usually present at shareholder’s meetings, Mr. Keswick is another figure at Arsenal who isn’t the most popular with the fans. His rather irksome attitude towards answering the questions of fan representatives in the most recent Arsenal Supporters Trust meeting with the Board members was disappointing to see. Below Chips Keswick is Ivan Gazidis as the CEO. Gazidis is an ex-commissioner of the MLS and is one of the very few on the Board with a football background. His influence in improving the club’s situation commercially has been important. Other Directors on the Board include the long serving Ken Friar and Lord Harris of Peckham. A significant fact that stands out is the lack of ex-players or individuals with an involvement in football on the Board. Consider the examples of PSG and Ajax where ex-players are an integral part of the club’s background work. You’ll notice the quality recruitment, youth setup and the extra details that only ex-players or individuals with football knowledge would be capable of implementing on a large scale. Patrick Kluivert is a Director at PSG, Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp (both Arsenal legends) both have roles at Ajax. So why are Arsenal so against ex-players contributing more?
20 years at the helm, 3 Premier League titles and 7 FA Cups, Arsene Wenger is Arsenal’s most successful manager. For many he is synonymous with the club. His control at the club is far more extensive than how it may appear. Wenger has huge influence over every decision at the club. From transfers to ticket prices and even shirt sleeves. Wenger is the final authority. His recent comments over a refusal to work with a Sporting Director indicate that Wenger isn’t ready to give up control at the club. Whether this is the right or wrong decision can’t really be said but maybe the workload of managing every aspect of an Internationally popular club like Arsenal is leading Wenger to focus on comparatively unimportant factors rather than give his undivided attention to Arsenal’s football as such.
Major Changes Needed
It goes without saying that Arsenal are in need of a major revamp. Arsene Wenger’s future had a lot to do with how the club’s hierarchy planned for the future but even though Wenger is staying for another two years, the Arsenal Boardroom remains weak and indecisive. Frankly, the entire fiasco about Wenger’s contract was embarrassing for the club and has divided fans alike. The Boardroom is where drastic improvements are required. Transparency and commitment need to be developed by the Board and they need to do away with the current incapacity to make decisions. It’s a big summer for Arsenal Football Club to cement its status as one of England’s and Europe’s most prestigious clubs.
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