Arsenal’s board went into yesterday’s AGM determined to make one key point, but in the end they made two.
They confronted the first head-on, insisting they were entirely justified in paying €3.77m to Kroenke Sports Enterprises, the company owned by their majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, for “strategic and advisory” work.
They did little to dismiss the fears of some that the American is now using the club solely as an investment vehicle, admitting that future fees could be paid if work (however vague) is done.
Yet as the hour-long meeting continued, it was clear a second issue was being addressed: that of the manager, Arsene Wenger.
It began with Kroenke praising the Frenchman, was continued by chief executive Ivan Gazidis and was — perhaps unintentionally — underlined by the chairman, Chips Keswick. “If he has a plan, we back it,” said Keswick of Wenger. “If he doesn’t, we keep quiet.”
That much has been plain at the Emirates for some time but to hear it explained in such black-and-white terms was still startling. This is a company who operates at the top end of their field but whose chief employee is almost above accountability. Who manages the manager?
Kroenke backs his man. The American made his annual speech in which he focused on the positives. He was effusive in his praise for Wenger — “we were long acquainted with his success and excited to be involved with him (when we bought the club)” — and skimmed past the issue of that one-off payment to KSE.
The fear among supporters is this payment is the tip of the iceberg, a testing of the water before Kroenke decides whether to regularly take money out of the club. It is the way the Glazers have behaved at Manchester United and common in US sports.
In truth, we were none the wiser after Keswick’s scripted answer than before.
So in short, future fees are very possible indeed. There then followed the election of Josh Kroenke, the 34-year-old owner’s son, to the club’s board. It seemed , symbolic of the fact that the Kroenke family are in it for the long haul and more of less have free rein.
Wenger will be a part of that for at least three years. He seems reinvigorated by last season’s FA Cup win, even though the club are nine points behind a hugely impressive Chelsea side.
But with the ink barely dry on the contract he signed over the summer, Wenger is well aware he has a job for life if he wants it.
On a day dominated by events off the field, Wenger conceded he may switch to 4-4-2 when Olivier Giroud returns from injury, but by the end there was relative harmony. Wenger posed for photographs with supporters and the FA Cup, and at one point was even asked to hold a baby. Like a politician who has just won an election, he knows he is there to stay — as are the Kroenkes.
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