If Wednesday 4th July was a dark day for Arsenal fans with the announcement that their captain, star player and goal machine Robin van Persie will not be renewing his contract, then today has created turbulent times for the Emirates Stadium.
Alisher Usmanov’s Red & White Holdings, who own just under 30 percent shares in Arsenal, have authored a letter to the Arsenal board members, including Ivan Gazidis and Peter Hill-Wood, addressing their concerns over the management of the club.
There was a fair amount of optimism for fans that at last Arsenal would see a summer transfer window go by without much drama. The early signings of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud indicated that the board had finally woken up and intended for Arsenal to become a force to be reckoned with.
While most had dreamily envisaged a three-pronged attack of Podolski, Giroud and van Persie, the Dutchman’s statement yesterday seemed to suggest this was never going to be in the cards, and that the signings were simply to plug the hole which would be left by van Persie.
The statement (via van Persie's website) confirmed that van Persie had discussions with Mr Gazidis and "the boss" regarding the "club's future strategy and their policy" just after the close of the season, and that "financial terms or a contract have not been discussed as that is not my priority at all."
Van Persie later goes on to say that he won’t be signing a new contract based on the initial discussions, and that leads many to ponder: why release such a statement?
It is rare to see these types of player statements regarding their future, as they respect the business aspect of their clubs. A club like Arsenal pride themselves on an undisclosed nature to their dealings with players, player transfers and commercial negotiations, so van Persie’s statement undercuts Arsenal’s credibility.
Van Persie addressed this in the first paragraph:
This is an update for the fans about my current situation. I have kept quiet all this time out of respect and loyalty for the club and as agreed with the Mr. Gazidis and Mr. Wenger, but since there is so much speculation in the media, I think it is fair for you guys to know what’s really going on at the moment.
Cesc Fabregas never felt the need to release a statement like this and the speculation surrounding him was far more furious than what we have seen around van Persie. He says he has kept quiet all this time out of respect and loyalty towards Gazidis and Arsene Wenger; does that mean that that respect and loyalty is now no longer present?
Van Persie reiterates that his decision is based on football and not a lucrative contract. Are we to assume then that he, the captain of the club, doesn’t believe the squad, the manager, the coaches and the boardroom are good enough in order to win trophies? This is a rather damning verdict to all his friends at the club.
It would be a bitter blow for Arsenal fans across the world if van Persie chose Manchester City and follow in the footsteps of Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy and Emanuel Adebayor.
In less than 24 hours, Alisher Usmanov wrote a letter to the Arsenal board, which happened to have been leaked across the web. You can access the full document here (via news.arseblog.com).
In the letter, Red & White Holdings expressed their concern over how the Arsenal board were dealing with running of the club and how their direction isn’t leading them to where the fans want to be.
Usmanov and Farhad Moshiri, who front the company, quickly sought to distance themselves from the apparent animosity felt by Gazidis and co. towards Red & White Holdings by simply stating that they have never interfered in club affairs, nor do they intend to, and that they want what is right for the club as a whole.
Ivan Gazidis has said before (via metro.co.uk) that any position for Usmanov on the board would be destabilizing for the club; however, the letter suggests this was said as a way of turning the fans against Usmanov.
Finally, the letter concludes with a resolute assurance that they will continue to purchase shares from anyone who is willing to sell to them and signs off with:
We want the absolute best for the Club and will do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of the Club we all love.
The passion filled defiance in this last line is representative of the entire letter, but the question that must be asked is: who is the letter really addressed to?
It is highly likely that Usmanov saw van Persie’s statement as an opportunity to capitalize on his own PR needs for the company, for it has been no secret that for over a year, Red & White Holdings has been marginally close to the 30 percent threshold needed to be granted a seat on the board.
It makes business sense for Red & White Holdings to intentionally leak the letter as they could gain more followers by discrediting the people who are responsible for the failure to persuade van Persie to stay, allowing them to strike while the iron is hot.
That being said, it makes it very difficult for fans to know who to really trust. Van Persie’s statement was clumsily put together by his agent no doubt, Gazidis failed to persuade Arsenal’s star man to the board’s ideology and Usmanov has fed the fire with this letter.
Furthermore, the letter has only served to destabilize Arsenal further; something which Gazidis warned would happen if Usmanov were allowed onto the board in the first place.
Looks like Arsenal fans won’t be getting a quiet summer after all.