Stan Kroenke’s play for sole ownership of Arsenal FC last week marks an end to true fan accountability and lumps the Gunners into a group of 18 Premier League clubs solely owned by one man. This is a look at some of those Premier League owners and what their ownership means for the people whose happiness is so often based on the success of the club they support.
When you think of important goals for Chelsea you may think of Lampard’s double against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium to clinch their first Premier League title, or Drogba’s penalty to win the Champions League in 2012. But without a Jesper Gronkjaer strike on the last day of the 2003 season, none of the success that Chelsea have experienced in the last 15 years would have been possible. The Danish winger’s goal beat Liverpool to clinch Champions League qualification for the first time and persuaded Roman Abramovich to buy Chelsea over Tottenham, resulting in a seismic shift in the way a football club could be run. The business magnate with bottomless pockets suddenly took the West London club from the stylish also-rans that flattered to deceive, to European powerhouses that everybody loved to hate. The Chelsea fans have experienced an unprecedented run of success since Abramovich took charge in 2003. 15 of Chelsea’s 26 major trophies have come in that time. Although Chelsea’s success seems to fluctuate year on year, with an endless stream of managers at the helm, in reality, the fans have very little to complain about.
In a similar mould to Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour has turned Manchester City from their rivals’ ‘noisy neighbours’ into comfortably the best team in the Premier League. They have the best manager in the world, and a squad studded with multi-million-pound megastars. With a net worth of over £40 billion, four times that of Abramovich, he is another example of an owner who loves his club and is willing to do anything to win trophies and please the fans.
Spurs became the first Premier League club not to add to their squad in a summer transfer window in 15 years. Whilst manager Pochettino maintained the party line that he has the squad to be successful this season, fans again pointed to Daniel Levy for a lack of investment. In fact, it is Joe Lewis, currency trading giant and 70% shareholder, that holds the purse strings but hides behind the miserly Levy, who shoulders the blame. You could argue that Spurs achieved their primary aim in the transfer window in keeping their top talent and homegrown stars Dele Alli and Harry Kane penning new deals. With a new 62,000 seater stadium on the horizon and the best homegrown talent the league has to offer, for now, the fans will be happy with the contribution of the owner, on the proviso that trophies materialise in the next couple of seasons.
Stan Kroenke agreed on a deal with Alisher Usmanov to buy his 30% stake in Arsenal FC for £600 million, making the North London club private for the first time. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment own 6 other professional sports teams, including the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. But it was his takeover of the St. Louis Rams and subsequent relocation to Los Angeles that should send the alarm bells ringing in the ears of the Arsenal faithful.
In April 2010, in a bid for full ownership of the franchise, he promised fans: “I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis.” Instead, he found a place that would offer a better deal for a greater profit and relocated the team to a suburb of Los Angeles. You might say that’s just good business, but not when that business etiquette leads to the alienation of a fanbase. Whilst the relocation of Arsenal is out of the question, his ownership of other sporting franchises in America has not lead to any real success in terms of silverware. With the huge rebuilding job facing new manager Unai Emery, Arsenal fans should be worried about a man who sees his sporting ventures as a means to make money, rather than having a genuine passion for the club and an aim to entertain the people that pay over the odds to watch their team week in, week out.
As news broke on the last day of the transfer window that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley had spent £90 million, toon fans must have been getting dizzy with the thought that the record £16 million transfer fee they paid for Michael Owen in 2005 had finally been broken. To no avail. The £90 million was for high street chain House of Fraser. The timing of the announcement, on a day when Rafa and all of Newcastle were hoping for some last minute signings to bolster a pretty average squad, tells you all you need to know about Mike Ashley. He is a businessman. Rafa Benitez is one of the most decorated managers in European football and Ashley knows that with him in charge Newcastle will remain in the Premier League and reap the rewards of the ever more lucrative television deals that make owning a football club worth the hassle. It is a horrible situation for Newcastle fans. With a massive fan base, a sell out crowd every week and a world-class manager, everything is in place for them to become a real force in the Premier League. But with Ashley in charge, they have a man who is actively preventing them from being successful.
Commercialism is rife in football. With huge television deals at home and abroad, owning a Premier League team has never been so lucrative and the money in the game ultimately improves the quality of the players and the football that we see. We can only hope that these Premier League owners are reminded that it is an entertainment industry, and without the fans, there would be nothing. To run a football club purely as a money making machine is to the detriment of the game and if unnecessarily high ticket prices continue to rise, those fans will vote with their feet and leave owners wishing they had done more to appease those who often spend all of their expendable cash on watching their beloved teams.