I never expected to like Stan Kroenke or KSE. I never expected to warm to him. Aggressive venture capitalists don’t tend to be my kind of people. Were he to sell the club tomorrow, I am pretty certain that I wouldn’t like to go for a beer and a sing song with the next owner of Arsenal either. I expected KSE to make unpopular decisions that would test my relationship with my club.
A Super League has very clearly been Kroenke’s end-game from day number one. It’s why he hired Ivan Gazidis, now the red-faced CEO of AC Milan and one of the other hapless engineers of this week’s Grade A clusterfuck. It is also why Kroenke hired Raul Sanllehi to his executive team, he wanted Raul’s rippling rolodex.
The Sanllehi hire is illustrative of KSE’s reign at Arsenal, because instead of using his extensive network of contacts to press the flesh and position the club for the brave new future of football, he actually used it to *sentence redacted* while the Kroenkes scarcely noticed on their ranch. On the most recent episode of the Tifo podcast the panel spoke to James Montague, author of ‘The Billionaire’s Club’.
James was asked who was his “favourite” of the 12 club owners who had “masterminded” the recently announced breakaway league, which was a tongue-in-cheek way of asking who he thought the biggest bastard was, “Probably Stan Kroenke,” James responded. “I visited St. Louis shortly before he moved the Rams to LA and anyone that can make an entire American city hate the NFL is impressive, in a way.”
I expected many things from the ownership of KSE but here is what I didn’t expect- total incompetence. My first concern, ironically enough, was that Stan would interfere with the work of Arsene Wenger, whose stock was a little higher when KSE came onto the scene. I hoped he would not prove to be an obstacle to Wenger’s work. Talk about being careful what you wish for!
I was soon assured by American Arsenal fans that Stan Kroenke interfering with the manager was the least of our worries and how right they proved to be. However, I still expected a kind of efficient ruthlessness from him. I thought they would make decisions that would test me but I thought they would do so in a remorseless and secretly kind of impressive manner.
I was told that they ran a series of average, underachieving sports clubs in the US. Quickly it became apparent that they had no interest in really trying to push Arsenal beyond their fourth / third placed perch. Even then, I thought the future under KSE represented staying in that bracket, mired in the kind of luxurious hopelessness of being in a nice position without ever pushing for excellence.
What I was summarily unprepared for was…..how bad they are at this. How bad they are at making decisions and running a football club. I allowed myself to be fooled that their extensive sporting portfolio meant that they would be smart, if difficult to like. Stan Kroenke’s tenure at Arsenal has been a calamity. I will just allow you to sit silently for a second and try to think of one impressive or far-sighted decision that has been made during KSE’s ownership.
Difficult, isn’t it? I suppose purchasing StatDNA seemed like a sound enough idea on the face of it and in the interests of being polite we’ll call the results of that project “mixed.” I never held an enormous objection to Kroenke’s silence. As I have said many times before, I am not particularly interested in being lied to. Nor do I even think it’s a terrible idea to entrust the running of the club to appointed ‘experts’ while keeping a cool distance. The issue is just how terrible they have been at hiring those experts.
Nearly every appointment on their watch has been a failure to date. The super charged executive team they put in place to prepare for the post Wenger era lasted marginally longer than the Super League Ponzi scheme they were duped into. Quickfire resignations and shame faced sackings have been the order of the day for everything they have touched. (The jury is still out on Edu Gaspar and Mikel Arteta). They have been either inactive or, at best, reactive. I can’t think of a single proactive thing they have done- even commercial revenue has tumbled on their watch.
We see the results of that on the pitch too. Just look at the team’s league position during KSE’s tenure. The issue is compounded by their distance and disengagement. It simply takes them too long to understand that the house is catching fire because their heads are firmly turned in the other direction, allowing incompetence to fester and decline to further set in.
Now we come to their latest denouement- the Super League shambles that is surely one of the most sorry and embarrassing episodes in football history. Make no mistake, KSE were not bystanders clinging to the Super League lifeboat out of opportunism, they were one of the architects of this farce- which has been the rough equivalent of 12 rich men accidentally hitting the “reply all” button when emailing a picture of their bare arses.
This fantastic Super League idea, rushed into the public domain with no sponsorship, no broadcast tie-ins, no agreement from the players who were supposed to participate in it, no organised press lines about the benefits of such an idea- in fact, all they had was a fucking wordpress blog and a clipart logo. Stan was one of the progenitors of this absolute catastrophe. Doesn’t it make you proud?
The fact that these 12 rich men just allowed their daring land grab to dissipate like a fart in the wind inside less than two days hardly speaks to their competence for organising a piss up in a brewery, let alone a breakaway football league. Ultimately, Arsenal needed the Super League because they have been run so poorly that they needed to remove the jeopardy of competition as a necessity.
In 2019, Josh Kroenke looked earnestly into the Arsenal media cameras and declared, “we are maintaining a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget.” And whose fucking fault is that? This is the sort of thing that only a person with a lifetime of protection from consequence would say with a straight face. “Yes, well, this pub is proving quite expensive to run actually, because we keep pissing in the barrels and setting fire to everything.”
I fully understand the way that Stan Kroenke has run his series of by-the-numbers sports franchises in the states, I understand that the systems in the US allow him to do so too. I also understand that his plan was always to help turn English football into something akin to the US model so that he could do the same with this “franchise.” You don’t need go, go gadget eyes to see how long this situation has been developing for.
What has honestly taken me aback, is just how poor his judgement has been at pretty much every turn. His avarice is no surprise to me but his incompetence is. The relationship with the fans is damaged beyond repair, the relationship with other Premier League and European clubs lay in tatters.
A penny for the thoughts of the players who agreed to a wage cut while their boss was plotting this supposedly lucrative breakaway. I have been annoyed at Arsenal before and I know I will be annoyed at Arsenal again. I have never been ashamed to be an Arsenal fan until this week. It’s an absolute clusterfuck and all of the blame points in one direction and one direction only.