Arsenal: Is Usmanov Right About Arsenal's Ambitions?
No sooner had Robin Van Persie refused to sign a new contract than one of Arsenal's biggest shareholders weighed in with a statement criticising the running of the club. His thesis is that on the level of investment currently, Arsenal are losing their best players and effectively limiting their ambition to qualification for the Champions League.
Alisher Usmanov has a 29 per cent stake in Arsenal but the majority interest is owned by the American Stan Kroenke who would have liked to take total control but finds his way blocked by Usmanov. Even allowing for the fact that billionaires rarely work well together and tend to want to be the main man, Usmanov has raised concerns that are shared by many Gunner supporters.
If Van Persie does leave the Emirates - and that seems a likely outcome - it would follow hard on the heels of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy. Some fans would also point to the loss of Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure and even Alexandr Hleb as other examples of a general decline.
Everyone wants to put this right - seven years is a long time without a trophy - but what should it cost? The situation at Arsenal raises crucial questions about what football clubs are about. Simply, should they operate by the normal standards of businesses or can they behave in a way that ordinary companies can't?
Two Premier League clubs operate a model that would be unsustainable under normal business conditions. Manchester City and Chelsea routinely pay out far more than they earn and look to the largesse of men with huge private fortunes to cover the difference. They also happen to be champions of the Premier League and Europe.
In Europe, Real Madrid and Barcelona have engineered a situation where a disproportionate amount of television revenue comes to them and effectively locks out every other club in Spain. They can plan squad acquisitions based on a perpetual hold on Champions League places.
To take on these rivals Arsenal would need to break their current business model that keeps the club within its means. Either the club has to find billionaires prepared to invest hugely, or take the risk of paying higher wages and transfer fees and gambling on future Champions League participation to pay for them.
The example of Rangers in Scotland and Portsmouth closer to home are warnings of what happens when football clubs choose to ignore business reality and put winning assets on to the pitch come what may. Both clubs paid more than they could afford to put winning teams on the park - great for the fans while it lasted but no good for their many creditors.
The point of a football club is to win football matches but to land the Premiership title again Arsenal have to either take risks financially or become beholden to the whims of a powerful individual - or go the Wenger method of trying patiently to build a side gradually that can challenge the best.
Alisher Usmanov articulates the feelings of many fans who desperately want to compete for the main prize again but the question is where does the money come from? In the current climate, lending by banks and financiers is at a premium and the Arsenal board clearly believe their ambitions - even though they may be limited - protect the club's future.
And over the horizon there are UEFA's financial fair play regulations which can level out the playing field in the upper reaches of the top divisions in Europe. Arsene Wenger has always stated his antipathy to running a club beyond its means and he may find that UEFA's initiative brings the field back to him.
The question is can the Arsenal fans put up with this? Is it acceptable to them to go into a season virtually knowing that the title is out of their grasp? Fans of most clubs have to accept this reality but it remains to be seen whether Arsenal fans used to glory can bite the bullet or, like Alisher Usmanov, demand that more money is pumped in despite the possible risks.
Calling all Arsenal fans: Do you share the views raised by Alisher Usmanov? Should Arsenal show more ambition in the transfer market? Can Arsenal still have a say in the destination of the Premier League title if RVP does leave? How concerned are you about the future of your club? Whatever your views we'd love to hear from you.