Arsenal’s Only Hope Lies in Russian Oligarch Alisher Usmanov

Arsenal Football Club is not doing well on the soccer pitch. Having failed to qualify this time around for the Champions League, Europe’s top tier football league, the club had to settle for the second tier Europa Cup instead. At the home front in England, Arsenal’s fans are scratching their heads due to the poor performance of the team they fondly refer to as the ‘Gunners”. At the time of publishing this piece, the club was 6th place on the English Premiership League, behind long time rivals Chelsea.   However, it is the club’s troubles in the boardroom that is more worrying to many.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the team’s majority shareholder, American Stan Korenke who owns 67% of the club was making a bid to buy off the 30.4% shares belonging to the second biggest shareholder, Russian Oligarch Alisher Usmanov for 697.5 million dollars. However, the Oligarch is holding off and is equally showing interest to buy out the stakes of his rival. Usmanov who has been an Arsenal fan since 2001 and admittedly “having great love for Arsenal,” seem to have the backing of the club’s fans.

Fans are afraid that Usmanov caving into the overtures from the majority shareholder will give the American 97% stake in the club. With such huge stakes, it is feared that he will have the leverage to turn the club to a privately own business. Fans are worried that Stan Korenke is more interested in the finances of the company than in winning silverware. If he succeeds in resting control of the club, he will be able to do anything with it as a private company. For fans, that would halt their hopes of reversing their bad fortunes on the pitch.

Who is Alisher Usmanov?

He is a 64 year old Russian business tycoon with Uzbek origins. According to Forbes magazine, his net worth is $15.9 billion (USD). His wealth comes for the most part from his stake in Metalloinvest-the Russian iron ore and steel giant. A serial investor, Usmanov once owned stakes in Facebook and currently has investments in JD.com and Xiaomi, a low-cost Chinese start-up that he feels good about due to his belief that the company will become “a future technology giant.” He also has investments in telecoms, mining and media.

Usmanov is also co-owner of Mail.ru, the largest internet company in the Russian speaking world. It was his partly owned Mail.ru that bought a $200 million stake in Facebook in May 2009. Four years later Mail.ru sold its interest in the social media giant making a profit of $325 million dollars.

Usmanov who himself is Muslim and married to a Jewish woman, plans next to move into Asia’s online retail sector, particularly in India. In a carrier that spans 41 years and even saw him wrongfully imprisoned to a 6 year prison term for corruption in the 1980’s USSR, Mr. Usmanov has had a lot of business successes. But perhaps his most difficult challenge yet would be holding off American Stan Korenke’s overtures to takeover Arsenal and turning the club’s poor showing on the pitch. Arsenal’s hopes rest on Alisher Usmanov. Can Usmanov pull this one off?

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