Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday May 1 2008
Before I begin this article, I have to confess that I am no expert on the inner workings of an organisation. Due to my cynical nature, and as a consequence of working where I do, my only real knowledge of corporate affairs is limited to corporate crime. So much of the information/ theory I present are likely to be largely gleaned from others more knowledgeable than I on such matters. That`s not to say I don`t have my own suspicions of course. But the sudden departure of Managing Director and most dissenting voice at the prospect of a takeover, Keith Edelman has set the cat amongst the pigeons. Almost exactly a year to the day that David Dein slithered unctuously from the boardroom. As with last summer, this will now ensure an uncomfortable off season as speculation will mount, with soothsayers and naysayers forming a union of gossip. But what prompted Edelman`s sudden departure?
The dreaded return of Dein could be afoot. Edelman and Dein endured a troubled working relationship when Dein was Vice Chairman. The pair had differing visions as to how to propel the club to the upper register of European Football`s elite. Dein favoured investment on the pitch; Edelman wanted to provide a solid infrastructure off it. Dein vehemently opposed the move to Emirates; he wanted the money to be placed firmly into the hands of the manager to spend on players. Edelman, backed by the majority of the current board, won out that little grudge match and Dein had to swallow his pride. Dein is also a fierce proponent of outside investment and the pair`s working relationship became untenable when Dein went behind the board`s back to avariciously court the fat dollar bills of one Stan Kroenke. A move that understandably infuriated the board, prompting the vice chairman`s exit. It`s more than likely Edelman would have been the one shouting "don`t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out." Of course Dein is a man with ruthless business acumen and a fierce pride to match. He returned fronting a takeover consortium with controversial Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, transparently named 'Red & White.` Dein and Usmanov spent much of last summer on a charm offensive with the press (cuddly Alisher went as far as threatening legal action against Arsenal blogs that reported his controversial business dealings). Dein would tell anybody who would listen that his friendship with Wenger caused Arsene to sign his new contract. Photos circulated in the press of Wenger and Dein leaving a restaurant together, sparking speculation that Wenger backed Red & White. Funnily enough, Dein didn`t look as surprised to see a press entourage outside the restaurant as Wenger did. With the manager constantly being used as a pawn for Dein`s pretensions, many questioned what kind of a 'friend` Mr. Dein actually is.
The board later bit back though, commissioning a bronze bust of Arsene to sit alongside Jacob Epstein`s legendary Chapman statue as both parties pulled longingly on Arsene`s sleeves. As Dein told all who would listen that Arsenal desperately needed Usmanov`s fortune to compete, the players would provide the biggest flagship for the current board, starting the season in exceptional form, making light of Dein`s claims. The board were swift to follow up with a 'lockdown` agreement` ensuring they could only sell their shares to approved parties for the next three years, appearing to have signalled the end of Dein and Usmanov`s advances. With Usmanov paying well over the odds for shares, he looked to have been gazumped. Rumours circulated that he and Kroenke were angry with Dein for being duplicitous and dishonest about his strained relationship with the board.
But sure enough, as the season began to unravel, it would appear Dein has surfaced again, playing on the whims of the microwave culture as "supporters" demand silverware and big money signings. Parasites often operate this way, they wait until the victim is in the grip of rigor mortis before feeding on the corpse. A possible scenario is that, with Arsenal`s season promising much but delivering little and with the prospect of a summer of again being majorly outspent by our rivals, perhaps a trusted board member has cracked in the wake of Chelsea`s resurgence and United`s strength and backs Usmanov? Perhaps Edelman is unwilling to be party to an impending investment that would put the club in the hands of an oligarch? Red and White last month increased their share in the club to 23%, putting them as only second to Danny Fiszman as majority shareholders. Perhaps Kroenke, who is ironically now being courted by the board, with his 12% holding being so valuable, has decided to back Usmanov? Edelman only has a nominal shareholding and is part of the lockdown anyway, so the prospect of his shares making a huge difference is unlikely. But his departure raises serious questions.
I would say the latter seems unlikely; Kroenke has just signed a lucrative deal with the club for TV rights and the rights to arsenal.com, suggesting that relations between him and the board are satisfactory. With new investment seemingly on the horizon, any new consortium is likely to want its own man in place. If Dein were to get a hold of Arsenal, it goes without saying that he would not want Edelman on board. The current board might also have ousted Edelman, as the board are responsible for appointing a Managing Director. While in some cases it is necessary for the board to have support from the majority of shareholders, it is possible for them to be more autocratic and not involve shareholders at all. The board can simply vote amongst themselves. Either way it appears as if Edelman has been ousted. The question is, by whom? Is the imminent arrival of Dein behind Edelman`s decision to swan off into the sunset? Has Fiszman decided to back the bid for Red & White as he enviously watches Chelsea and Manchester United battle out a Champions` League Final? Has Edelman`s boasting about a £70m war chest which does not exist caused the board to consider his position untenable? Did Edelman oppose a significant looming investment? The board`s lockdown agreement, in legal terms, does not amount to much; there are no recriminations for breaking it beyond breaking a promise and upsetting your brethren. It is unclear at the moment what exactly is going on, but one thing you can be sure of, Dein is lurking somewhere.LD.
Date:Thursday May 1 2008
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