By Oliver Platt
There is unrest at Arsenal, and Alisher Usmanov is ready to take advantage of it.
For Gunners fans, Robin van Persie's decision not to renew his contract might prove the last straw. It is understandable that many of them have had enough. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri are already gone and Van Persie is set to follow, whether this summer or next. They spend more than ever supporting their club, as ticket prices climb, and are not repaid in kind by investment in players put on the field in front of them.
Some supporters, of course, would welcome the arrival of a sugar daddy of the Sheikh Mansour variety but many simply wish to see the money made from the sale of players, ones Arsenal have usually developed themselves, put back in to the first team squad.
Since 2003, when Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea and triggered a new era of foreign ownership and investment, only one current Premier League team - Newcastle United - have a lower net spend than Arsenal, according to the Transfer League website.
The Gunners, in fact, have made a profit of £21.3 million on transfers in those nine years. Manchester City, in contrast, have shelled out a mammoth £382.2m net, while even the likes of Fulham, Sunderland and QPR have a net spend of at least £20m.
Usmanov, along with his business partner Farhad Moshiri, makes some valid points in his staggering letter, the likes of which is rarely aired publically. He accuses the club's former shareholders of selling their shares for "vast profits" having benefitted from the increased revenue streams generated by the Emirates Stadium, which was paid for by burdening the club with debt. Rising short-term costs were covered by "increasing ticket prices and squeezing the fans".
It is a criticism that will resonate with Gunners supporters. So will Usmanov's apparent frustration at the continued exits of the club's best players. Arsenal's "self-financing" policy, he says, "causes the players themselves to question their future at the club and the club's ambitions... Yet again we are faced with losing our true marquee player at the club because we cannot assure him of the future direction and give confidence that we can win trophies".
The "vision for the club" that Usmanov outlines is attractive. "A debt free club," is the target, "with a big enough war chest to buy top players who can hit the ground running and who can complement the club's long tradition of developing young players and homegrown talent".
The problem, of course, is that this is all very easy for Usmanov to say. It is simple populism, and many of the Uzbek's stated intentions are contradicted by the very release of the letter. "We are part of this club and naturally want the best for it, but our investment is less important than the fact we are loyal supporters and will never do anything that would destabilise or 'create conflict' at the club."
Writing a simple letter, though, is hardly likely to persuade Stan Kroenke and the Arsenal board to change direction. All it serves to achieve is to incite a media frenzy and threaten to plunge Arsenal into internal meltdown.
Van Persie's decision increased tensions around the club and Usmanov snatched at the opportunity to pit the two sets of Arsenal stakeholders against each other while attempting to win the backing of the club's supporters in that battle.
"The real conflict," the letter says, "seems to be between the supporters' expectations and your vision for the club." We all know that this is true to an extent but Usmanov seems intent on harnessing that conflict for his own benefit.
No one involved in the running of Arsenal in recent years is faultless. That includes Arsene Wenger, a genius when it comes to identifying young talent and responsible for a style of play, admired worldwide, that has shaped the Gunners' identity since the last years of the 20th century, but guilty, in the past few years, of holding the club back at times because of his insistence that they must stick to a strict philosophy on and off the field.
Usmanov talks a good game, identifying many real problems - as we all could have done - that have ground the club's progress to a halt. That does not make him the right owner for Arsenal. In fact, the very public way in which he has aired his grievances should create only a wariness of his opportunism.
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