Arsenal’s billionaire shareholder Alisher Usmanov has urged the club to give Arsene Wenger the chance to help “prepare a successor” when he finally ends his tenure as manager.
Usmanov, who lost out to Stan Kroenke in a battle for control of Arsenal in 2011, owns just over 30 per cent of the shares but has no day-to-day influence on the club’s direction and only very limited contact with any of the directors.
There has been an intense debate all season over whether Wenger should continue once his contract expires this summer, but Usmanov is adamant that blame for the club’s nightmare run of results in February and March should rest beyond just the manager.
“I do not think that the coach alone is to be blamed for what is happening,” Usmanov said. “Some continuity is needed. 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.”
Arsenal say that a “mutual” decision will be made on Wenger’s future in the coming weeks and, while the 67 year-old wants to stay, the plan would be for him to leave the club completely when he does eventually step down.
Usmanov said that his limited boardroom communication was with chairman Sir Chips Keswick and, having previously had his proposal to pay off the club’s stadium debt with a right issue rejected, took aim at Kroenke, who owns just over two thirds of the share.
“I personally, unfortunately, am fully isolated from decision-making in the club,” said Usmanov. “All the responsibility for the fate of the club rests with the main shareholder.”
Kroenke has not commented publicly on Wenger’s contract in recent months but, as in interviews with The Telegraph in 2011 and 2013, he was emphatic at last October’s AGM with his support of the Frenchman.
“We are all very high on Arsene,” he said. “He's a great manager. He's been a wonderful influence on the club. I know a number of (sports team) owners who are very successful who say the same thing; the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league. Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.”
Usmanov now solely owns his stake in Arsenal but is adamant that he will not sell his shares, even allowing for his current lack of influence and the decision of Farhad Moshiri – his former investment partner - to instead take control at Everton.
In January, USM Holdings, which Usmanov founded in 2012 alongside Moshiri, announced its sponsorship of the Everton training ground. The collaboration was part of a package of commercial deals worth up to £75 million.