Paris – Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov is concerned that the team is turning into a feeder club by selling players in their prime, and claims that Thierry Henry has urged him to take over to stop the trophy drought.
Arsenal have not won anything since the FA Cup in 2005, and in recent years have sold striker Robin van Persie, midfielders Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Alexandre Song, and left back Gael Clichy. Manchester United signed Van Persie; Fabregas and Song went to Barcelona; and Nasri and Clichy won the Premier League with Manchester City last season.
Arsenal have lost some of their players in their prime. Credit: Getty Images
“The greatest achievement of Arsene Wenger, over the past 10 years, is to have created two teams: the one that now plays for our rivals and the one that is trying to be among the best in the Premier League,” Usmanov said Monday in an interview with sports daily L'Equipe. “That's why I say it's not enough to merely flatter the coach, but to give him the possibility to buy the best players, superstars.”
Henry was part of Arsenal's title-winning teams in 1998, 2002 and 2004 – the season Arsenal finished unbeaten and earned the nickname “The Invincibles.” The Frenchman left in 2007 to join Barcelona – the year after Arsenal lost the Champions League final to the Catalan club – and is the club's all-time leading scorer with 228 goals.
“I like many footballers, and I'm in contact with some of them. Perhaps my favorite of the last 10 or 15 years is Thierry Henry,” Usmanov said Monday. “He's pushing me to buy all of Arsenal's shares, but I cannot predict the future.”
Usmanov owns just under 30 percent of Arsenal, less than American businessman Stan Kroenke.
Usmanov's comments are likely to reignite a simmering feud between the Russian and the American. It erupted in July when Kroenke was accused of selling the club's best players and replacing them with cheaper ones.
“It's unthinkable that the shareholders get crazy salaries while, for small clauses in contracts, we lose key players, symbols like Robin van Persie, Mathieu Flamini or Patrick Vieira,” Usmanov said in Monday's interview. “We should have increased their salaries when they started to be courted, started to look elsewhere. I don't know why that wasn't offered to them.”
Van Persie – who scored 37 goals in all competitions for the Gunners last season – declined to sign a new contract before joining United.
“For the time being, Arsenal don't seem to need me. But I remain convinced that Arsenal should only have one goal in every competition: first place,” Usmanov said. “All other theories are merely hypocrisy to cover up the weakness. I'm a strong man. If someone needs my help, my money, my contacts, everything I have, then I'm always ready.”
Arsenal recently tied midfielder Jack Wilshere and forward Theo Walcott to long-term contracts, but they have lost other stars in recent years amid dissatisfaction about the lack of success and lack of funds for transfers. City also recruited forward Emmanuel Adebayor and center back Kolo Toure from Arsenal.
“I think (Wenger) deserves to be able to recruit, when needed, the best players and not to be satisfied with selling our best players to our rivals,” Usmanov said. “But he's sacrificed today. Because of (club) politics, and we're all guilty. Everything is in the hands of Kroenke, and I wish him success, but he doesn't go along with my ideas.”
Usmanov, whose personal fortune totals about $18 million says he has “no relations” with Kroenke at the moment.
“I don't have enough shares to decide matters,” Usmanov said. “I don't have total control.”
Usmanov claims he was ready to take over the club when he became a shareholder in September 2007.
“It wasn't possible because certain people preferred to profit from the business and to turn me into the outside enemy,” he said. “I was portrayed as a pirate, an enemy. They won that game. They found a buyer (Kroenke) and they sold the majority of the shares to him.” – Sapa-AP