Archive for December 18th, 2008


Bracewell yourselfs, we’re headed into the maelstrom

We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.

‘Not long ago,’ said he at length, ‘and I could have guided you on this route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past, there happened to me an event such as never happened before to mortal man — or, at least, such as no man ever survived to tell of — and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man — but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?’  — E.A. Poe “A Decent into the Maelstrom

Huge news yesterday has many an Arsenal fan staring into the gaping maw of uncertainty. The first salvo was the sudden restructuring of the Arsenal board and the second shot came in the form of an interview with Arsene Wenger.

To the first, the facts are that Gazidis has joined the board as CEO, Richard Carr is stepping down from the Holding Company board but is staying on at the Football Club board, and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith has resigned completely and immediately and is no longer a participant in the lockdown agreement.

Obviously, the only story here is Lady Nina resigning and subsequent breaking of the lockdown agreement. If you didn’t know, when Alisher Usmanov appeared on the scene and started buying up Arsenal shares the board instituted a lockdown agreement that basically gives board members the first right to buy any shares that any other board member wishes to sell. This agreement, it seems, was only a sort of a “paper tiger” in that the only teeth it had was that as long as you wanted to be a member of the board you couldn’t sell your shares. It prevented people, like David Dein, from siphoning off shares here and there for Usmanov but if someone was so inclined they could sell all or part of their shares — if they quit the board.

Which is exactly what Lady Nina just did.

Now, no shares have changed hands yet but I’d be shocked if she resigned from the board over a minor disagreement. Her family has a long and proud history at Arsenal and really the only reason to leave the board is to cash in on that history and cash in is exactly what she will do: in the 4 years that I have been following this story, Arsenal shares have gone from £1,500 a share to, reportedly, £10,000 a share. To put it another way, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith owns 15.8% of a company worth somewhere around £800m or roughly speaking she’s got about £125m worth of Arsenal stock from her initial £20m investment. The temptation to cash in, especially now, must be very powerful indeed.

What happens next is a bit murky, Peter Hill-Wood indicates that some board members want to aquire more shares (Stan Kroenke) but it remains to be seen how much they are willing to pay for them and if they can match Usmanov’s offer — he has been known to pay well over value to get these shares. Also, if Usmanov buys just 5% of Lady Nina’s shares, he would be obliged to make a hostile takeover bid, which the current shareholders could just refuse but would still cause a major disruption.

Both Kroenke and Usmanov surely have taken a hit in the economic turmoil of the past few months so how much of their personal fortunes that they have left and want to risk on Arsenal is unknown. But the one thing that is certain is that if Usmanov does acquire a good portion of Lady Nina’s stocks he would want himself or a representative on the board. Not David Dein I don’t think, Usmanov has enough sense to know that that appointment would be pure poison. But there would be changes at the board level no doubt; Usmanov has publicly stated that Arsenal shares should pay dividends, for example.

At the same time that that Maelstrom was developing, Arsene Wenger was causing a stir of his own in giving an exclusive interview to a group of fans that was broadcast on the interwebz. Gunnerblog has a transcript of the interview and you should check it out if you have questions about Diaby, Denilson, Song, and whether Arsenal will be buying in January.

SPOILER ALERT ——————————————————————–

Wenger likes all of them and he won’t be buying in January.

The one thing that surprised me in the interview is how much he likes Alex Song. When asked who the most improved player has been of the season, he answered Song… Song and Djourou. Man, that’s a real shocker. I don’t know anyone who thinks Song is a good player — oh wait, except me!

My conclusion after reading Wenger’s interview is that he is fully prepared to drop out of the top 4, sure he wants to instill belief in this team that they could win something, but I think deep down he knows that they need more experience before they can win anything.

This is a rebuilding, folks, a rebuilding in Arsene Wenger’s image. He wants to build a youth team that will win trophies for several seasons, and is not going to risk that by bringing in someone in order to win a trophy this year. That doesn’t mean he won’t buy in January, but if he does, it will be a player for the future. And if this is a rebuilding in the image of Arsene Wenger, then I want to be the first to throw my support behind the man. Who better to lead this club through this economic and leadership turmoil than the greatest manager in the history of the club?

Of course, what future the club will have is up to a lady and a tramp. Will they drag us into the Maelstrom?

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December 2008