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Usmanov Gunning for Bigger Arsenal Share

Published: September 4, 2007 (Issue # 1303)


MOSCOW — Billionaire Alisher Usmanov said Friday that he wanted to increase his stake in Arsenal Football Club to 25 percent and that although he was eager to play an active role in the London club, he was not seeking to buy it outright.

Usmanov’s purchase of nearly 15 percent in the club Thursday — the second investment by a Kremlin-friendly oligarch in a leading English Premier League team after Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 — received a mixed reaction from the club’s fans and the British media, with some fearing a Russian takeover.

“I would increase my share to a blocking stake — 25 percent — if such an opportunity presents itself,” Usmanov said. “Regardless of the size of my stake, I am ready to play an active role in the life of the club,” he said in e-mailed comments through his spokeswoman.

Usmanov’s Red and White Holdings on Thursday said it had paid $151 million for a 14.58 percent stake in the club from former Arsenal chairman David Dein. Asked why he bought into Arsenal, Usmanov said he loved English football and had been a fan of the team, whose nickname is the Gunners, for eight years.

“In the case of Arsenal, my love for the club and a successful business opportunity coincided,” he said. “This is perhaps an opportunity of a lifetime.”

The Arsenal purchase is the latest in a series of diverse investments by the Uzbek-born Usmanov, who ranked 18th in Forbes Russia’s 2007 rich list with an estimated fortune of $5.6 billion.

Usmanov is majority owner of the Metalloinvest mining and metals group, and runs Gazprom’s investment arm, Gazprominvestholding.

Last year, Usmanov bought business newspaper Kommersant from Badri Patarkatsishvili, a longtime associate of exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. This summer, Usmanov bought into the country’s third-biggest mobile phone company, MegaFon. Both deals were widely seen as having the implicit backing of the Kremlin. Usmanov joins a growing list of Russian tycoons buying into and bidding for British football clubs. Since Abramovich bought Chelsea, Alexandre Gaidamak, the son of Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkady Gaidamak, has bought Portsmouth.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov has bought control of Scottish club Heart of Midlothian, and a bid for West Ham fronted by Kia Joorabchian, a former business associate of Berezovsky, was rejected by the East London club in September.

Buying into Arsenal could be a smart investment for Usmanov. In a recent report, Deloitte ranked Arsenal as the world’s ninth-highest earning football club in the 2005-06 season, with total revenues rising 12 percent to 192.4 million euros ($263 million). The figures were buoyed by the club’s August 2006 move to the new 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium, which could bring in an estimated extra 58 million euros per season, the report said.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Nov. 28


Join table-top game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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