U.S. Billionaire Gets Full Control of Arsenal, Buying Out Russian Rival

U.S. Billionaire Gets Full Control of Arsenal, Buying Out Russian Rival

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LONDON — The Russian tycoon Alisher Usmanov agreed on Tuesday to sell his 30 percent stake in Arsenal to the club’s majority owner, the American billionaire Stan Kroenke, an agreement that would end years of acrimony and values the English Premier League team at $2.3 billion.

Kroenke and Usmanov spent years fighting for supremacy at Arsenal, buying up shares whenever they became available, and the deal clears the way for Kroenke to take the club private, an action that Usmanov had long blocked by refusing to sell his shares.

Kroenke, whose family also owns several American sports franchises, including the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Nuggets, gained the upper hand in July 2011, leaving Usmanov to do little more than complain from the sidelines or seethe privately in the luxury skybox he maintains at Arsenal’s stadium.

Usmanov accepted an offer of 550 million pounds in cash, or about $712 million, giving Kroenke more than the 90 percent stake required to purchase the remaining shares in the club, Kroenke’s investment company, KSE, said.

Usmanov spent years denouncing the way Arsenal was run, frequently complaining in open letters about the club’s strategy and direction under Kroenke’s leadership, and he expressed a desire to take full ownership so that he could invest his own money to allow the club to compete for soccer’s top trophies.

It is unclear why Usmanov, who is 118th on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people, decided to finally sell shares in the team. As recently as last year, he offered £1 billion to buy Kroenke’s stake. A few months later, Usmanov rejected an offer of £525 million for his stake — only slightly lower than the figure he eventually agreed to.

“I have always been and will continue to be an ardent supporter of Arsenal, and I see my 30 percent stake as an important aspect in protecting the best interests of the fans in the club,” Usmanov said at the time.

In announcing the terms of the deal on Tuesday, KSE said the sale would further the club’s strategy and ambitions, allowing it to act more decisively than in the past. But the Arsenal Supporters Trust, a group that represents the club’s small shareholders, described the announcement as a “dreadful day.”

“Stan Kroenke taking the club private will see the end of supporters owning shares in Arsenal and their role upholding custodianship values,” the group said in a statement. Under private ownership, the club will no longer have to hold annual meetings, forums that at times made for awkward questioning of its management.

Usmanov’s exit comes during a time of great change at Arsenal. This will be the club’s first season in more than two decades with a manager other than Arsène Wenger, who stepped aside and was replaced in May by Unai Emery.

The team, which last won the Premier League in 2004, prepared for the Wenger’s exit by revamping its soccer operations, bringing in senior executives from high-profile European clubs including Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund.

Yet uncertainty remains. Ivan Gazidis, the club’s chief executive and the one responsible for many of the changes, has received an offer to take over at A.C. Milan.

Usmanov is a close associate of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a relationship that has come into greater focus in Britain as the countries’ ties have deteriorated in the aftermath the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England in March.

The British prime minister, Theresa May, has blamed Moscow for the attack and threatened to take action against wealthy Russians with ties to the president.

Roman A. Abramovich, the Russian co-owner of Chelsea, who also has a close relationship with Putin, was forced to miss his team’s victory in the F.A. Cup final in May, after the British authorities delayed the renewal of his investor visa.

The sale of Usmanov’s stake in Arsenal also raises speculation about another English Premier League team with which he has connections. His longtime business partner Farhad Moshiri, whose wealth stems largely from his involvement in Usmanov’s business empire, took control of the Liverpool club Everton in 2016.

Usmanov’s holding company, USM, quickly became a major sponsor of the team, which has been among the biggest spenders in the Premier League during the current player-transfer window. Everton also has plans to build a new stadium.

Premier League rules forbid dual ownership, so Usmanov was unable to invest in Everton while he retained his stake in Arsenal. Moshiri and Usmanov co-owned the 30 percent stake in Arsenal at one point, before Moshiri sold his share to clear his investment in Everton.

(Original source)

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