Don't know what you expected him to say TPB. Here is the whole interview:Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke: Arsène Wenger is one of the greats – he will be in charge for as long as he wantsIf popular myth were to be believed, the owner’s box at the St Louis Rams’ vast 67,000-seat indoor arena would be a fairly quiet place to be. Silent, even.By Jeremy Wilson, 30 Sep 2011http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/footba ... wants.html
Yet there is nothing remotely muted about the imposing and charismatic 6ft 2in billionaire businessman standing immediately to my left. “There it is, there it is... WOW!” shouts Stan Kroenke as he exchanges a high five with his wife, Ann. “Now that was an unbelievable play!” The Rams have scored what turns out to be a consolation touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens and Kroenke has his arm around me. “Do you want to know why that was a great play?” he says. “I’ll tell you why. For the quarterback to have that kind of arm strength, on the run, was unbelievable. Watch the replay... on the run. BOOM! That’s really strong. That’s a big-time play right there.”
In between frustrated sighs and excited applause, Kroenke has been talking with similar enthusiasm about Arsenal, and especially Arsène Wenger, who today reaches the milestone of 15 years as the club’s manager. It is the only in-depth interview Kroenke has given about Arsenal since a share-buying spree that began in 2007 and culminated this year with him becoming majority owner in a deal that valued the club at £731 million. Added to a portfolio that already includes leading American football, basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse and Major League Soccer teams, Kroenke has emerged as the most powerful and prolific owner in world sport.
“You know something,” he says. “Arsène is one of my favourite people I have met in the last 20 years. He is a great person and I love the way he handles himself. I love his focus. He is a very intelligent guy. You can talk to him about anything and, when he starts talking to people, I really love to listen to him. He should hold seminars he is so good at it. I have tremendous confidence in him. He is one of the great managers in the world.”
So could Wenger, under such scrutiny of late, go on to match Sir Alex Ferguson and potentially manage at Arsenal for another decade? Kroenke’s endorsement could hardly be more emphatic. “With Arsène, it’s his decision and only he will know that,” he says. “He still maintains himself in tremendous physical shape. You have to have stamina and energy. It’s an energy business. You are coaching, training, travelling and in stadiums packed with pressure. It’s almost like you are training like an athlete. Arsène has great energy and that will always be his decision.” Kroenke then reveals that he has been admiring Arsenal from afar for more than a decade.
“I have always been aware of Arsenal,” he says. “I would say it was about 10 or 12 years ago that I really started following Arsenal. I followed very closely the season when Arsenal went unbeaten. It was unbelievable. I went over to see several games when Thierry Henry was still there.”
Kroenke also discloses a conversation involving Billy Beane, the famous baseball coach whose life story is the subject of bestselling book Moneyball and a new Hollywood film in which Brad Pitt plays the lead role. “Billy Beane is a very famous guy in America,” Kroenke says. “And do you know who his idol is? Arsène Wenger. No kidding. You know why? His ability to spend money and extract value. That is what it is all about to be successful in pro sports. If you can do that better than other people, you are always going to be pretty good. Billy Beane’s idol is Arsène Wenger. Check it out.”
Yet nobody at Arsenal, least of all Wenger, has been feeling particularly idolised recently. Defeat earlier this month against Blackburn made it the club’s worst start to a season for more than 50 years, while the 8-2 loss against Manchester United was their heaviest in the Premier League. Kroenke’s response is to note last Saturday’s “big win” against Bolton and apply a wider perspective.
“There are always going to be people with a point of view, particularly in this internet-laden 24-hour news cycle with the ability for anyone to say anything,” he says. “That’s just part of the game. Sure it is a challenging start to the season. I know everyone thinks it is always going to be like that [pointing upwards], but it’s not. We would all love it if it did. If you look at the Arsenal’s history, it has not always been that way. To finish in the top four 14 times in a row is just unbelievable.”
If there is alarm at the possibility of slipping from the top four this season – and losing about £25 million of Champions League money – Kroenke is not showing it. “A wise man was asked, ‘If you had your life to live over what would you do differently?’ He said, ‘The thing I look back on that robbed my life of the joy I had was worrying about things that never happened’. I try not to worry too much because I think that is good advice. Having said that, you are always concerned. You want to see people you care about achieve their potential. It’s a rocky start but what do people really expect? Cesc Fabregas is a great player whom Arsène developed from the age of 16. He decided last year that he wanted to leave. Maybe it is one of those times when we have to work our way through, maybe with some young players. Arsène has been really good at developing these guys, people like Alex Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere.There are some really good players that Arsène thinks can be special. Sometimes you go through periods like that. Arsène’s our man. As an owner, that’s who we put our confidence in.”
That confidence was also evident during the summer, when Kroenke liaised with Wenger but did not interfere in huge decisions over the futures of Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Fabregas fulfilled an ambition to return home to Barcelona while Nasri, who would not sign a new contract, was sold to Manchester City rather than risk losing him for nothing. It has led to fears of a repeat next summer if the contracts of Robin van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen and Theo Walcott, which all expire in 2013, are not extended during this season. So, is Kroenke confident of keeping his star players? “Yes,” he says. “They [Fabregas and Nasri] were unique situations. Arsenal is a great club. London is a great place to live. Why would you want to throw that away? I think we have a great organisation and we have Arsène there, the ultimate evaluator.”
Of the sale of Fabregas, he says: “That was between Arsène and him. I like the kid but I’m not going to change his mind. Arsène made the decision. If we wanted to be really hard about it, we could have done but Arsène believed that it was the right way to do it. We talked about it when we were in London. I also get it on Nasri. If we didn’t do something on Nasri people would be looking at us next summer and saying, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’ We bought in a lot of resources that we can use on other players. I honestly didn’t make the decision on Nasri. Of course the board talks about these things but, at the end of the day, that’s for Arsène.”
While we are talking, the Rams are succumbing to a crushing 37-7 loss and it is fascinating to observe at first-hand Kroenke’s body language. He is fiercely competitive and defeat clearly hurts immensely, yet there are no individual recriminations or sweeping judgments. Kroenke’s wife, an heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune, also remains unerringly friendly and down-to-earth despite the on-field disappointment. The Rams’ head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, later tells me that he would not want any other owner during this difficult patch.
It is obvious that there is a particular focus on the longer-term picture with all of Kroenke’s sports teams. He cites the stadium, the academy, the opportunities for commercial growth and the introduction of financial fair play as reasons that Arsenal will compete with any club in the world. He also explains how his involvement with Arsenal began simply with a desire to help the Colorado Rapids, his ‘soccer’ team who are the reigning MLS champions.
“We didn’t invest to come in and control the club,” Kroenke says. “I thought that we needed a strategic alliance with one of the big clubs. We did have lots of different opportunities presented to us to invest in European football. I didn’t have the motivation to do it until Arsenal. It is such a great club, such an interesting club. If we are going to invest in a European football club, I wouldn’t really want to invest in any other one. I know I’m supposed to say that, but it’s the truth. I like the tradition of Arsenal. I love London. I have a lot of friends in the UK. I like the fact that we have such a following internationally. Arsenal helps me learn over here and I think what we have learned over here helps Arsenal. That’s what motivates me. I like that part, to think we are all growing and learning.”
What Arsenal can most obviously grow is their commercial revenues and, with the main sponsorship deals due to expire in 2014, Manchester United are the target off the pitch as well as on it. “I've known Ivan [Gazidis] on the business side for a long time," Kroenke says. "We have definite plans for what we want to do on the business side and hopefully we will be able to do as well as Man U. The ownership there was the most controversial but I don’t know how you can do it much better. They have built the commercial side. What the Glazers have shown is that it was way under-marketed. The revenue of the club now is huge. That gives you lots of options. I think Arsène historically has been able to build players better than almost anybody. If we can do that and can grow the revenue, I don’t see why the club can’t be great. I wouldn’t want to be involved if I thought we would struggle. Remember, five months ago, we were in a position to win everything. Everybody doesn’t need to panic. I have a lot of confidence Arsenal can compete, stay very competitive and hopefully win championships.”
Kroenke’s respect for Manchester United prompts a discussion of various ownership models. Mindful of the deep unpopularity of United’s leveraged takeover, Kroenke has promised that his purchase will not place any debt or interest liability on the club. His company, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, entered into a finance facility with Deutsche Bank and it is understood that the decisive share purchases this year, from the late Danny Fiszman and Lady Bracewell-Smith, are structured with payments to be spread over five years.
There have been calls for other guarantees, such as never to award dividends to shareholders. Kroenke believes that his long background in sports ownership should provide reassurance. “We have a lot invested over there,” he says. “We are going to engage with our fans’ groups. We are always going to try to protect the club, develop the club and make it a viable competitor. We are going to try to retain our flexibility just like anybody would do.”
He also points to the fact that he has been on the Arsenal board now for three years and has supported significant investment in the squad. “We are not only developing talent, we are also spending money on players,” he says. “If you look at the total wage spend, we are up there. We have never told anyone not to spend one dime. Not here and not in London. They have been free. Denver have been one of the top spending sides on the NBA side and in hockey. Not always, because it isn’t always there that you can get players who will truly make a difference. Arsène is big on the chemistry of the club and the best people I have met are really big on that. It’s not just about throwing money at it. You bring these guys in sometimes and the locker-room gets weird.”
Arsenal, of course, have another billionaire shareholder in Alisher Usmanov, who, despite owning almost 30 per cent of the club, is not on the board. Usmanov reacted to Kroenke’s Arsenal takeover with a higher offer to shareholders and still appears to be a willing buyer. Kroenke simply stresses that he has never sold a share in any of his teams. “We are long term,” he says. “Look at everything we have done. There were a lot of shareholders who loved Arsenal for half a century or more, who wanted us to step up and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep this thing stable and protected. We did that and we did that honestly. Some people want their private benefactor. I don’t think it is sustainable. Maybe it is, maybe it [football] will always be the one place where there will be guys coming who are willing to pour money in. I don’t know. We have a self-sustaining model. We are committed to that model.”
Kroenke has been talking non-stop for the best part of an hour, firmly contradicting his ‘Silent Stan’ moniker. He shrugs when his reputation as some sort of recluse is mentioned, but it is clearly a source both of irritation and bemusement. “Someone will take a point of view, someone else will emphasise it,” Kroenke says. “I haven’t said a lot, I don’t know that I need to. We have really good guys out there in London. Sure, people want to know what we are doing but we are not going to do anything differently than we have ever done. There is no owner with as many years or as many hours in sports as we do. I don’t think so. We have had a good amount of success. I have a lot of respect for all of the other owners. I’m not decrying their way. What I am saying is that if you look year after year at sustaining it, Arsenal have done a pretty good job. Arsène Wenger has been the real reason for that and I like our future.”
As the conversation eventually drifts away from Arsenal and back to his teams in America, Kroenke makes a point of introducing Mike Jones, a Rams legend for a match-saving tackle in the final seconds of the Super Bowl in 2000. Kroenke recounts an incident that has gone down in American folklore as simply ‘The Tackle’ and is savouring the memory. He clearly also believes that Arsenal can experience moments of equivalent glory. “It’s much more fun when you win,” he says, “and, you know what, it’s really fun when you win the whole thing.”Very positive throughout, and that's really what was to be expected. I would be glad if he (and Gazidis) addressed our commercial revenues, because that has been a major weakness in the past years. I think his words are promising in this regard.