BILLIONAIRE Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov has reignited the battle for the club with under-fire owner Stan Kroenke by lining up Gunners hero Thierry Henry for a return in a key boardroom role.
Usmanov wants record goalscorer Henry to return to Emirates Stadium and take up an off-field role similar to that of former team-mate Patrick Vieira, who is football development executive at Manchester City.
The Russian tycoon, who is worth an estimated £11.2bn and controls 29.9 per cent of Arsenal stock, discussed his plans with Henry, now of New York Red Bulls, over dinner in Moscow on Monday, according to reports in France.
“Henry should already be a member of the club but not as a player – there is another, more important role to play,” Usmanov said.
“Take the example of Vieira at Manchester City – he is also a symbol, but helps a rival club. This must be avoided with Henry.”
Kroenke, who owns 66.8 per cent of the club, saw off Usmanov to complete a £731m takeover in April last year and has repeatedly refused his rival a seat on the board.
The American, worth an estimated £2.5bn, is thought keen to keep Arsenal, but has come in for fierce criticism from fans and former directors, including honorary vice-president Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith.
Usmanov’s best hope of a buyout would appear to be getting fans to back his plans for change – Henry’s endorsement would be a major boost – and hoping disgruntled supporters persuade Kroenke to sell.
Henry, who is expected to return to Arsenal on loan for a third playing stint in January, is represented by Darren Dein, the son of ex-Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, who helped Usmanov buy into the club after his own acrimonious exit.
“The presence of a champion can radically change the soul of a team,” he added. “This is what Henry has demonstrated last year by returning to Arsenal. But I think a comeback succeeds only once. That’s why the decision to return belongs to Thierry.”
Bracewell-Smith, who sold her 16.8 per cent to Kroenke, joined criticism of him yesterday, after Arsenal’s worst start to a Premier League season was compounded by Tuesday’s Capital One Cup loss at lowly Bradford.
“Disappointed would be an understatement! Shows he cares very little,” she wrote on Twitter. “If making money was the motivating factor, surely there are better ways. Football is a business of passion and SK [Kroenke] has no passion for AFC.”