Arsenal managing director Keith Edelman believes today’s announcement of a new five-year lock-down agreement by directors not to sell any more shares “kills” any takeover speculation.
This morning’s annual general meeting of Arsenal Holdings plc at Emirates Stadium was opened by chairman Peter Hill-Wood, who used his speech to reveal the initiative.
Under the new terms, directors will only sell their stake to ’permitted persons’ before April 2009 and have to give fellow board members ’first option’ until October 2012.
However, there is a termination clause in the agreement in October 2010.
The original lock-down had came in the wake of vice-chairman David Dein’s departure from the board due to “irreconcilable differences”, understood to be over the involvement of American businessman Stan Kroenke, who has since acquired a 12.2% stake in the club and is now, somewhat ironically, considered a strong ally of the board.
Neither American Kroenke or Russian Alisher Usmanov – who via his investment company Red and White Holdings now owns around 23% and is the second-largest shareholder behind director Danny Fiszman – appeared in person at today’s meeting, but were represented by proxy.
The Arsenal board of directors own some 45% of the shares between them, and maintain they can count on the unequivocal backing of many smaller stakeholders such as the Arsenal Supporters Trust as well as those with family ties to the club.
Like Hill-Wood, managing director Edelman believes this latest move by the board will now end all talk of a hostile takeover and help stabilise the club off the pitch.
“In my view, and the board’s view, it kills any talk or speculation of a takeover, so I think it is finished,” Edelman declared.
“The board feel there has been uncertainty which the media have talked about so much that we wanted to put a line under it and end it now, to say ’finish’, and that is what we have done.
“As of today, I am not prepared to talk about this stuff anymore.
“It is irrelevant what people are doing on the side with our shares. This ends it.
“When we look through the shareholder register, there are a number of people who we believe would support the board, come hell or high water.
“So when we add that together with what we have announced, we are pretty secure.”
Edelman maintained: “With the way the shareholdings are, we are bullet-proof.”
The position of the board would clearly be strengthened should American billionaire Kroenke also pledge his support to the ’concert party agreement’.
“Stan Kroenke has seen this agreement and we would welcome him signing this agreement as well,” said Edelman.
“He has got it at present and his advisors are looking at it.
“We would welcome him signing it because it would make us stronger.”
Edelman maintains talk of the American taking a seat on the Arsenal board were “not discussed at this juncture”.
However, the club’s managing director revealed: “Stan has indicated he would like to get closer to the club and form a closer relationship, which we think would be positive.
“What he has said to us is his intentions are to support the board – his proxies were supporting the board, as were Red and White’s proxies supporting the board.
“We have got all of our shareholders supporting us at present.”
Arsenal’s recently-published impressive financial results show the club are clearly self-sufficient following their move to the 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium.
Edelman insisted: “We do not need Kroenke’s cash – we do not need anybody’s money. We have got sufficient money.
“People who put money in for the long term are very few and far between – even with [Chelsea owner Roman] Abramovich, you are seeing now a slightly tighter regime.
“What we are saying to people is you can buy success for one year, but we are looking at three years, five years, 10 years.
“The reason we are doing that is because our fans, who are the bedrock of our business, want to support the club for a long period of time.
“They do not want one moment of glory and then 25 years of being in the mid-table.
“Our whole strategy is around sustainable growth and sustainable expenditure of both transfers and wages.
“We can afford this level of investment forever, and hope to be able to increase it.”
Dein now fronts up RAWHL in a non-executive role, having sold his 14.5% share to Usmanov’s group for £75m in August.
Arsenal have as yet to meet directly with Usmanov, but did hold discussions with his London-based business partner Farhad Moshiri.
Given RAWHL have now seemed to offer an olive branch of support to the current board, further dialogue could yet develop.
“Our initial reaction with any investor is to sit down and talk to them, when they want to do that,” said Edelman.
“We have had a number of meetings and discussions with Kroenke’s people and one meeting with Moshiri, so we will have to wait and see on that.”