Kroenke won't mess with Wenger vision

LONDON - While Arsene Wenger's young Arsenal team are playing some stunning football on the pitch, the men in suits who run the club are playing an intriguing game behind the scenes at the Emirates Stadium.

This week American billionaire Stan Kroenke upped his stake in the north London club to 29.9 percent, the threshold beyond which he will have to make an offer for the remaining shares.

The financial wheeling and dealing for control of the club has been going on since August 2007 when former vice-chairman David Dein sold his shares to Alisher Usmanov for 75 million pounds.

Even though Arsenal have not won a major honour since 2005, the boardroom manouevres do not appear to have had any detrimental affect on the pitch.

Despite their recent lack of silverware, Wenger has been allowed to develop a new exciting team whose recent form in the Premier League and their 4-1 demolition of AZ Alkmaar in the Champions League on Wednesday suggest new honours are not far away.

Arsenal were one of England's most traditional, conservative clubs with strong links to London's banking professions and public schools.

The club's current chairman Peter Hill-Wood is the latest incumbent of his upper-class family to head the club, while the family of director Lady Bracewell-Smith, who owns 15.9 percent of the club, has been associated with Arsenal for more than 70 years.

Hill-Wood though is now central to how the boardroom game will play out, as he is known to favour Kroenke becoming the club's new owner, rather than Uzbek-born Usmanov, who owns 25.5 per cent of the shares through his Red & White Holdings company.


Kroenke's background could hardly be more different to that of Hill-Wood, but the 62-year-old tycoon, known as "Silent Stan" is unlikely to want to bring in sweeping changes if he does assume ultimate control.

He owns, among other interests, the St. Louis Rams American Football team, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and the Colorado Rapids soccer club who play in the MLS.

Kroenke may well become the latest American to take control of a Premier League club, but he seems to have little in common with the Glazer family who now own Manchester United, or Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the Americans who own Liverpool.

Instead he is likely to play a similar role to that of American Randy Lerner, who now owns Aston Villa and has allowed Martin O'Neill to run the playing side of the club without too much obvious upheaval.

Ellis Short, who now has a majority shareholding at Sunderland, also appears to be allowing Steve Bruce to run matters with a real improvement obvious on the field.


Clearly, if he did take control of Arsenal and did start to interfere with manager Wenger's authority, he would immediately be cast into the wilderness by Arsenal's fans.

Apart from a few unhappy weeks last season when Arsenal's form faltered from its usual high standards, Wenger has had the undying devotion of the club's faithful since becoming manager in 1996.

Wenger is Arsenal's most successful manager and th