I don’t have much time for Arsenal Football Club. My life-long loyalties are with the other, less successful but more authentic north London club, Tottenham Hotspur. But I can see why some in the UAE are watching the coming and goings at Arsenal with increasing interest.
Alisher Usmanov, the Russian industrialist who has been buying shares in Arsenal, recently paid £1.7 million (Dh12.5m) to top up his holding in the club by an extra one per cent. He now speaks for 24 per cent – about the same as the other big shareholder, Daniel Fiszman.
The Russian is not in favour with the Arsenal establishment. They see him as hostile, and have put tough restrictions in place to ensure he cannot buy a controlling stake.
Much more acceptable to Arsenal would be a link up with Dubai’s Emirates Group, which sponsors, and helped finance, the club’s swanky stadium. Emirates has so far said it is happy with the level of its involvement in Arsenal, but that could change if the current directors were to seek a “white knight” to help them get rid of Usmanov.
The Mexican stand-off on the share register will last until next year, when the blocking rules have to be revised. But with other big shareholders sitting on the sidelines, there is plenty of opportunity for Emirates to make its involvement more substantial. It would be entirely in keeping with the UAE’s leisure-focused approach, which is central to its diversification strategy. The only objection from a personal point of view would be even more planeloads of Arsenal fans heading to Dubai as a result.
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