Usmanov hints at £700m Arsenal offer

ARSENAL’S second largest shareholder Alisher Usmanov has reignited the battle for ownership at Emirates Stadium by declaring his intention to move to the brink of launching a formal £700m takeover offer.

Russian billionaire Usmanov already owns almost 27 per cent of the Premier League outfit, but wants to increase that to 29.9 per cent – the maximum he can own before being obliged to bid for all shares.

The move would intensify the stand-off between Usmanov, who has been slowly growing his stake, and Stan Kroenke, the American sports tycoon who already owns 29.9 per cent and has been welcomed onto the Arsenal board.

“The goal is to increase the holding up to a blocking stake, 29.9 per cent,” Usmanov said. “Afterwards, we’ll see what to do further. If all the shareholders are united by then like they are now, we’ll keep it as that level.”

Usmanov’s reference to a blocking stake is, in fact, misleading as he has technically enjoyed the power to veto major board decisions since passing 25 per cent. However, moving to 29.9 per cent would increase his voting rights and make him better positioned to make a takeover offer.

The metals mogul has been prevented from mounting a formal bid by the so-called lockdown agreement among Arsenal’s hierarchy, which means any shares sold by directors must be offered first to fellow board members. Kroenke, by contrast, took advantage of his preferential status by snapping up eight per cent from Danny Fiszman in March 2009.

“I chose to invest significant money in Arsenal because I consider it to be one the world’s most well-structured football clubs, with one of the best stadiums and led by a genius coach, Arsene Wenger,” Usmanov added. “I don’t regret this investment. It’s not dropping in value, it’s rising only.”

A 15.9 per cent shareholding remains on the market after former director Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith put her stake up for sale in April.

Despite a five-year trophy drought, the Gunners posted record pre-tax profits of £56m in September.

The latest shares traded changed hands last week for £11,200, making the club worth £692m.