Arsenal takeover war won't ensure signings

LONDON - Two billionaires are battling for control of Arsenal, pouring money into the Premier League club, but fans hoping some of the cash will be spent on new players are likely to be disappointed, at least in the short term.

The English club's young team have been hit by an injury crisis over the last two months, have won no major honours for five years, and their French coach, Arsene Wenger, has pledged to reinforce his squad with new signings in January.

Just a fraction of the fortune being invested by American real estate and sports entrepreneur Stan Kroenke and Uzbek-born metals oligarch Alisher Usmanov would allow the club to outbid almost all their rivals in the Premier League for new talent.

But the capital locked into north London's football cold war cannot be spent until one party gains a decisive advantage or decides to sell, and there is no sign that either is imminent.

"The battle for control at Arsenal looks like a standoff, with neither side able to land a knockout blow or apparently willing to withdraw," said Keith Harris, head of investment bank Seymour Pierce and former chairman of England's Football League.

"There might well be no resolution for some time to come."

The battle has been under way since August 2007 when former vice-chairman David Dein sold his shares to Usmanov. The Russian has gradually increased his stake and his investment vehicle, Red & White Holdings, said last week it owned over 26 percent of the club worth around 146 million pounds.

Kroenke, known as "Silent Stan", became the biggest shareholder in Arsenal in May and now has 29.9 percent of the 123-year-old club, worth 168 million pounds.

POLE POSITION

That is just shy of the 30 percent threshold at which Kroenke would be forced to make a mandatory takeover offer.

With his substantial stake, Kroenke is in pole position to make a takeover bid, but bankers and analysts say he is unlikely to launch one for several months and may, in fact, never do so.

"I can't believe a takeover will come within 18 months - and certainly not before May," said Tom Cannon, professor of Strategic Development at Liverpool University Management School.

Whatever his long-term plans for the club, Kroenke is unlikely to want to make any move above 30 percent before May because UK rules say mandatory takeover offers must be at the highest price paid in the previous 12 months.

Kroenke, 62, announced in May he had paid 10,500 pounds each for shares - 1,500 pounds above the current market.

Glyn Taylor, chairman of the Arsenal Supporters Trust, whose members control several dozen small shareholdings totalling 2-3 percent of Arsenal, said Kroenke had little reason to bid.

"We don't see why Kroenke would make a takeover at this juncture because he is quite comfortable where he is already."

When Kroenke first appeared at what has been one of the most traditional and conservative of English clubs, chairman Peter Hill-Wood declared that he "didn't want his sort" in football.

But Hill-Wood changed his tune last year and has since suggested he would favour Kroenke as an owner. With his support, and the backing of diamond trader Danny Fiszman,