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Why Arsenal fans should be protesting against Kroenke - not Wenger

Goal.com logo Goal.com 10-03-2017

SPECIAL REPORT

Talk around Arsene Wenger’s future won't stop until he or the club publicly announce a decision on where the Arsenal boss will manage next season.

The Frenchman is currently in an understandably sensitive position due to the amount of supporter discontent floating around Emirates Stadium, but the feeling remains that he could stay on, if Arsenal finish the season strongly.

“Arsene Wenger, you’re killing the club” sang around 150 supporters on a march towards the Emirates, which was ironically built to Wenger’s demands, before Tuesday night's capitulation against Bayern Munich. While Arsenal’s stadium debt is now manageable, the fans' disenchantment shows no sign of stopping as the Gunners have nose-dived out of the Premier League title race and UEFA Champions League once again.

But is Wenger the main man to blame? Are Arsenal fans focusing their vitriol on the wrong guy?

Stan Kroenke became majority shareholder of Arsenal in April 2011 when he bought the shareholdings of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith and the late Danny Fiszman. It was a controversial takeover at the time and prompted then Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood to claim ‘his sort’ were ‘not welcome’ at the club. That stance unsurprisingly changed soon after, at least to the public eye, before Hill-Wood stepped down and was replaced by Sir Chips Keswick - another former Etonian banker - in the summer of 2013. 'Time for Change' was a protest organised towards the back end of last season which didn't specify what exactly needed changing at Arsenal. There were murmurings that 'Kroenke should go' but, in general, the protests and tone have always focused on the manager, as they did before the second consecutive 5-1 crushing by Bayern Munich.

Kroenke has only given one media interview throughout his tenure as majority shareholder and he is nicknamed ‘Silent Stan’ for that very reason. In 2011, the American billionaire praised Manchester United’s owners and, more relevantly, an under-fire Wenger.

"Arsene Wenger is just an unbelievable manager,” said Kroenke.

“I think he's a tremendous person and he is just as good as there is. You can't judge a manager on one game or on one stretch of games. You judge him over time."

The words ‘judge him over time’ are poignant for the proud Missourian. Since Kroenke’s takeover Arsenal have won the FA Cup twice and two Community Shields. They have failed to go beyond the Champions League last 16 for seven consecutive seasons and the 10-2 aggregate defeat against Bayern Munich represents an unwelcome record in the competition.

Kroenke has never put debt on Arsenal but did court controversy after receiving a £3million ‘strategic and advisory fee’ which was eventually ended after its legality was called into question. Teams overseen by the billionaire include Denver Nuggets (NBA), LA Rams (NFL), Colorado Avalanche (NHL) and Colorado Rapids (MLS). But perhaps the most interesting case in question right now is that of the Rams, formerly the ‘St Louis Rams’.

Andrew Grant, a supporter of the Rams, told Goal that Kroenke’s motivations behind owning his sports franchises should be questioned. He believes that the ‘lies’ which saw the Rams move from St. Louis to LA provide enough evidence to show that Kroenke doesn’t care for the team’s supporters either.

“I don’t know about much of the rest of the country but in St. Louis, we hate him,” Grant told Goal.

“Right after he moved the Rams to LA people were chanting “Kroenke sucks” when the owners of our other sports franchises made a public appearance together.

“The Rams are really, really bad. Their last few years in St. Louis were better but they only won four games this season, they had a really good run from 1999-2003 but that was before Kroenke was majority owner. When they moved to LA, they were coming off the worst six or seven-year run in the history of the NFL.”

‘Silent Stan’ has been criticised in the UK for not talking to the media. He rarely speaks at the Annual General Meeting when he attends and Grant suggests that this is almost certainly a tactic to avoid having the spotlight shone on him.

“Kroenke never talking to the media isn’t necessarily bad, but to not talk to the local media [in St. Louis] for four years and then move our team kind of sucks. I don’t think many fans actually care about seeing their team’s owner on TV. I think he knows that by being less visible, people end up blaming the managers and coaches for losing instead of him.”

The main point of contention among Arsenal supporters right now is that the club are ‘stale’. Huge numbers of fans believe that Wenger has taken the team as far as they can go and that the board should show enough courage to make a decision at the end of the season. Billionaire owners rarely take over a team because they’re a fan and there has gradually been an understanding of this in English football and beyond, but Grant suggests Kroenke’s motivations are structured in such a way they make it hugely difficult for his franchises to breed success.

“I think it’s pretty clear to see that Kroenke doesn’t care about winning,” said Grant.

“The Avalanche are having the worst season in NHL history, the Nuggets are consistently below .500, and the Rams are a model franchise for futility.

“All of his teams have been bad for the last five+ years and I don’t think that’s going to change. His only motive is profit, and the way he moved the Rams out of St. Louis shows that he is willing to go through the fans to get what he wants.”

Former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins told NBC Sports Radio that he was always discouraged from speaking to Kroenke and suggests that it’s one aspect which affected his motivation. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known to take a keen interest in his club's fortunes on and off the pitch, regularly making congratulatory trips to the dressing room after games and sometimes being spotted at youth team matches. Kroenke, however, is quite the opposite.

“It was always the coaches not the owners coming around to see the players,” said Jenkins, who is now with the New York Giants.

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“It was always, ‘Don’t speak to Stan Kroenke’ when I was in St. Louis to here in New York, everybody is everybody, everybody is treated the same, the owner just walks around and communicates with you and gives you a reason to play football to know that you’re playing for someone that is always around and always cares and that you can communicate with.

“I felt I was just playing for my team-mates and my coaches, I had never seen the owner, once again, they told us not to speak to him when he come around and I just felt like I wasn’t comfortable there.

“They said, 'if you ever see Stan come around the facility don’t speak to him', once I heard that my rookie year I just knew I wasn’t going to be comfortable, because when he came around it was like everybody better be straightforward, nobody better look at him, it was like kind of crazy.”

If Kroenke has no desire to interact with the players or be around the team, then why own it? The bizarre silent ownership at Arsenal maintains a level of focus and pressure on Wenger.

Indeed, the Frenchman warrants criticism for certain decisions and a degree of tactical naivety in certain games, but should Kroenke’s input at the club match that of Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City and Abramovich at Chelsea? There are questions over their own motivations but no-one can question that they have converted themselves into supporters of those respective clubs. The same can’t be said for Kroenke. In Kroenke's 71 seasons combined as a majority owner of a professional sports franchise he has won five titles, including the two FA Cup triumphs at Arsenal.

Grant said: “At his first press conference after he became the majority owner of the Rams, he vowed to keep them in St. Louis, even though his plan to move them to LA was already in action.

“He lied to his hometown for years to make some extra money which is pretty terrible, especially when you’re already a billionaire.

“My advice to Arsenal fans: hold on tight. I know he doesn’t talk to the public a lot, but whenever he does remember his long history of lying to local markets.

“With his legendary mismanagement of on-field products, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arsenal near the bottom of the table in a few years. At least he can’t threaten to move them to California.”

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