MOSCOW (Reuters) - England premier league side Arsenal will not win trophies if they keep selling their best players although manager Arsene Wenger has maintained an attractive style with a changing squad, Uzbek-born shareholder Alisher Usmanov said.
Arsenal, who have not won any silverware since 2005, lost Dutch striker Robin van Persie to Manchester United (MANU.N) last month for a reported 24 million pounds after Cameroon midfielder Alex Song left for Barcelona in August.
“Nobody can convince fans that the club is doing fine if for the past three or four years the club has been selling its best players,” Usmanov told Reuters in an interview. “It doesn’t matter who our extremely talented coach, Arsene Wenger, buys to plug these holes if we want to win trophies.”
Usmanov, whose Red and White Holdings vehicle holds just under 30 percent of the club, has criticised Arsenal’s board for selling leading players. But he backed the French coach, who has been at the club since 1996.
”I‘m an absolute fan of Arsene Wenger,“ Usmanov said. ”I support him and I‘m confident in him. We think he’s a hero.
“Despite changes in the playing lineup, he keeps the variations of the same beautiful game”.
“FOOTBALL AND BEAUTY”
Usmanov, is one of a handful of foreign tycoons who own or hold stakes in English club sides, including Russian Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.
He also has a box at Chelsea and said he and Abramovich talk about “football and beauty” - but not their multi-billion-dollar business interests - on match days.
Chelsea and Arsenal will face off on Saturday at Arsenal’s 60,000-seater Emirates stadium, where tickets were changing hands for 100-300 pounds ($160-490)on ticketing websites.
Usmanov enjoyed Arsenal’s recent Champions League victory at French club Montpellier. He cares about fans’ views, and enjoys having an incognito drink in a Holloway pub near Arsenal’s new stadium where “no one recognises me”.
He and partner Farhad Moshiri, who have built their position in Arsenal since 2007, are at odds with U.S. billionaire Stanley Kroenke who owns just over two-thirds of the club.
Usmanov recently criticised Arsenal’s board in an open letter for failing to hold on to van Persie. He called for Arsenal’s finances to be strengthened through an injection of non-dividend-paying equity into the club.
“Arsenal received our letter,” said Usmanov. “We didn’t mean it as a hostile message or a declaration of war.”
However, Usmanov does not want to be on the board himself.
“We are tired of being accused of fighting for a place on the board,” he said. “We have never in our lives asked for this place.”
Usmanov does not plan to write another letter at this point as it would be a distraction while the club tries to win games.
“The season is beginning - we must close this discussion and support the club, coach and players,” he said.
Arsenal’s third-place finish in the Premier League last season was enough to guarantee them a place in the lucrative European Champions League for the 15th successive season.
“I never say we need to spend enormous money for any players but we must have capacity,” said Usmanov, when asked whether UEFA’s planned Financial Fair Play measures mean that teams must cut losses or face exclusion from European competition.
Usmanov said he loves the club and holds his investment as ”a fan...who has participation as a shareholder.“ He has no plans to sell, declaring ”if you sell what you love you lose yourself“.”
“For now, we stay in Arsenal as shareholders as long as we don’t lose our love for this club. Now we wish it support and great victory.”
($1 = 0.6176 British pounds)
Additional reporting by Keith Weir in London; Editing by John Mehaffey