Alisher Usmanov, Russian billionaire and owner of USM Holdings Ltd. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg
Arsenal’s second-biggest shareholder Alisher Usmanov said the London soccer team’s embattled coach should help pick his eventual successor and the board and main investor are also responsible for a recent lack of success.
Arsene Wenger, who has led Arsenal since 1996, has faced increasingly vocal calls to quit from fans this season as the team failed to challenge for the domestic league title it last won in 2004. The club is currently outside the qualification places for Europe’s Champions League, a competition it has played in for the past two decades and which brings in millions of pounds a season.
“I do not think that the coach alone is to be blamed for what is happening,” Usmanov, whose efforts to become majority shareholder were rebuffed in the past, said in an interview last week. The board — which the billionaire isn’t part of — and main investor Stan Kroenke “bear huge responsibility,” he said.
While Arsenal’s full-year revenue of about 350 million pounds ($434 million) is the third-highest in the Premier League, it’s about 30 percent less than rival Manchester United, which generates more commercial income from jersey-sponsorship rights and its branding. Usmanov called for an overhaul of Arsenal’s commercial operations.
Wenger’s future has proved a divisive issue among fans, leading to chants, banners and infighting at matches. During a game last month, rival groups chartered planes to fly banners expressing support for and calling for the Frenchman to depart. Wenger has a contract until the end of the season.
Arsenal Chairman Chips Keswick told reporters in March the decision over Wenger’s future would be “mutual,” without elaborating. Wenger is now English soccer’s longest serving coach after Alex Ferguson retired from rival Manchester United in 2013. Ferguson’s chosen successor, David Moyes, was fired after less than a year.
“Some continuity is needed,” said Usmanov, who owns more than 30 percent of the club. “This includes the need to prepare a successor for Wenger, but in a very respectful way. I can suggest that Wenger himself can prepare a successor.” As well as Wenger’s future, media reports in the U.K. have suggested Arsenal is preparing to offload several members of its squad and that star player Alexis Sanchez may quit.
Usmanov, whose assets include miner Metalloinvest Holding Co. and Russian telecommunications operator MegaFon PJSC, has a strained relationship with Arsenal’s board. His pledge to underwrite a rights offer to boost the club’s firepower in attracting players was also rejected, with shareholders instead opting to sell their majority stake to American sports team owner Kroenke.
“I personally, unfortunately, am fully isolated from decision making in the club,” Usmanov said, adding that Keswick is the only board member that he speaks to. “All the responsibility for the fate of the club rests with the main shareholder.”
An Arsenal spokesman declined to comment.