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Eight super-rich investors look to buy stake in Arsenal FC

Mon 24th May 2010 | Clubs Ownership

Eight super-rich investors, including one of Africa’s wealthiest men, are vying to buy Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith’s stake in Arsenal in a sale that could radically transform the balance of power in the club’s boardroom according to a report in The Times.

Bracewell-Smith, a former board member and the fourth-largest shareholder, whose relations with Arsenal have soured in recent years, appointed the London office of Blackstone, the American finance house, to sell her 15.9 per cent stake last month.

It is reported that Blackstone are in talks with eight potential buyers, including Aliko Dangote (pictured), the Nigerian tycoon who is a friend of Olusegun Obasanjo, the country’s former president. The bank is also in talks with seven other bidders, including potential investors from China, Singapore and India.

A sale of the shares, which is expected to go through within the next month, could upset the delicate balance of power between the club’s largest shareholders, Stan Kroenke, the owner of several sports franchises in the United States, and Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born mining billionaire.

Kroenke, who has a seat on the Arsenal board, owns 29.9 per cent of the club, the maximum he can hold under City rules without launching a takeover bid, and Usmanov, the second-biggest shareholder with a stake of nearly 27 per cent, has been locked out by the club’s board and has never been offered a directorship. Bracewell-Smith’s stake could now end up in the hands of someone willing to work with the Uzbek.

Arsenal’s shares are changing hands on the open market for about £10 a share, but it is believed that Bracewell-Smith was initially trying to hold out for about £13 a share because of the strategic importance of her stake. But interest at that level has been muted and Bracewell-Smith is thought to have cut her asking price in exchange for a quick sale. The impetus for a rapid sale is being driven by a potential change to capital gains tax that the Government is expected to make in its emergency budget on June 22.

It is believed that some of the potential buyers are attracted by the opportunity to play the role of kingmaker at the North London club.

Bracewell-Smith’s holding alone would not hand control to Kroenke or Usmanov. The American — who is also trying to gain control of the St Louis Rams, the American football club — wields the power at present because he has the support of Danny Fiszman, a director who owns 16 per cent. By buying that stake and those of small shareholders, Kroenke could call on more than 50 per cent of a vote. A combination of Fiszman and Bracewell-Smith’s holdings would give Kroenke or Usmanov control.

Dangote is a football fanatic and, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.5 billion (about £1.7 billion), has the wealth to compete with Kroenke and Usmanov. He has helped to bankroll the Nigeria team and stood for the post of president of the Nigerian FA. The Nigerian founded the Dangote Group in the late 1970s as a cement importer but it is now a multinational conglomerate with interests ranging from sugar and flour to telecommunications and oil. Bracewell-Smith and Blackstone declined to comment.

If you have any football business related news stories you’d like to share then please contact us – agourley@fcbusiness.co.uk or ryan@fcbusiness.co.uk

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