Silent Stan speaks - a lot! (full transcript)
Published 23:01 31/10/11 By John Cross
'Silent' Stan Kroenke has given his first in-depth insight into his vision as Arsenal's majority shareholder.
The US tycoon, who has splurged £400million on buying into Arsenal, outlined his views on Robin van Persie, Arsene Wenger, Manchester United American owners the Glazers and why he chose to buy the club.
Kroenke also told how he nearly became a journalist, reveals he mixed with Chelsea fans on Saturday and explained that he got his love of football from his son.
It was a 40-minute interview, held at the club's at the training ground on Monday after Kroenke had addressed the players.
Here is a full transcript:
You went to Chelsea on Saturday, had a great weekend and addressed the players [on Monday]. Tell us about it...
"It has been very enjoyable. I think the experience of being able to go to the game at Chelsea was great - I had a great time the whole day. I got out and walked as it was such a nice day. I walked to the stadium and the fans were having as good a day as I was. I spoke with a few of them along the way. Of course, the game was spectacular. It was a beautiful afternoon and nice to be there. I thought our team responded well and I am certainly proud of them because they have had their share of challenges and it's a huge win. I don't know - it's fun. We are involved in a lot of sports [Kroenke's company also owns US major-league American Football, basketball, ice hockey and football teams], as you guys know, so you are involved for a lot of different reasons, and I was out there on Saturday afternoon when I could have been anywhere in the world. I wanted to be there and it was a great place to be. I was proud to be involved in our team and the sport. Sports are a very important part of our modern society, and I think particularly the Premier League and the visibility they have around the world. It does a lot of good in a lot of ways that often aren't pointed out so I was happy to be there."
How did Chelsea fans react to you?
"They were fine. They were very good. They were talking to me a little bit about the stadium. They care about it. It is interesting that they can see with our stadium... that, as a fan, they like seeing things like that. It has been developed, we have a strong economic model - something they don't have - and it is something they are interested in."
How do you define success here and how long can you wait for a trophy?
"The other day somebody pointed it out that I said I wasn't so sure why everybody was so interested in me speaking. Maybe it's because I look at the club differently. These clubs are bigger than one person. They are a lot more about a lot of things than just one person, one fan, one manager, one anything. This club has been here for 125 years, It has had its periods when it was up and long periods when it wasn't so up. But I am proud of the club. We have been around the club for four years at one stage or another and you always like to win trophies. We were very close last year but didn't get there. You are not going to win trophies every year. I am smart enough to know that. I think it is fair to say we have a broader experience than anybody in sports, because we are involved in so many different teams. You don't win trophies every year - you'd like to. I have friends who are owners in the leagues in the US who have never won a trophy and they have been in it for 30 or 40 years. We have been fortunate to win a few. I am very proud of our management and I am certainly extremely proud of our manager and I am very proud of the way the club has been run. I said it the other day, for us to be involved in a club - and we had lots of chances here in England and elsewhere - but to be involved with Arsenal was something different to look at and this is a place where we are glad we are involved here."
Which other clubs did you look at before Arsenal?
"I don't really want to go into that. Suffice to say it was more than eight and less than 15. How's that?"
What drew you to Arsenal?
"First of all, I love London. We deal with this in the States. When you look long term, and that is us - if you look at our history we are long-term investors - we don't get involved just to be here, be gone tomorrow, flip and make a profit, do whatever. That's not us. We like to get involved in things that we like to get involved in and think we can help develop over time. London is a great place and a great market. So, comparably in the US, you would talk about Los Angeles and New York. There was a study done in the States and if you ask any 20- to 30-year-old person where they would most like to live if they didn't live where they presently lived, they will tell you LA and New York. It's interesting because players are a lot of times 20-30 years old, so where are they most likely to gravitate? If you ask players in the US, they'll say being in LA or New York is a pretty good place to be for 20-30 year olds. So those markets to me have an inherent advantage as far as recruiting. Maybe that's just me, but I think London is a great place to be. I think, long-term, if you want to attract players, it is a great place to me. If you are in London, Arsenal football club. 'Wow. 125 years, great tradition, great manager, great model but lots of opportunity.'"
Where did your love of football start?
"Well, my son played the game from the time he was very small. When he got to be 14 or 15 he was so tall, and he was a very good basketball player, [so] the coaches at that level, when you start moving to the elite level in these sports - I'm sure you see it over here in European football - they really want you to focus on their sport and spend all your time on it. So he had some choices to make and since he was into that elite group in basketball, they were wanting him to spend a lot of time there. At one stage, he was chosen for what they call the Olympic development programme in the States for soccer. He had a huge interest in it and I used to go to all his games and it was a game I didn't get to play when I was young. We played baseball, a lot of basketball, ran track and all this. But we didn't have European football, so it's a sport that has grown in the States and the interest level is certainly at an all-time high in the States and the interest level in the States has a lot to do with football over here. I mean, I'm not saying that in a bad way, because the MLS has grown. We are involved in that. It has grown substantially in the States but there is a huge interest. Our game [against Chelsea] on Saturday was on one of the main national-TV channels and a lot of people watched it. People were texting some of the guys [who were] with me. It wasn't because we told them, they were just interested."
Arsenal have a business model. But how do you compete with a team at the top of the league, Manchester City, that's fuelled by billions?
"We have done that in the States, too. We compete with people in our league in the States who have the same resources as anyone in the world. You can check it out. The NFL restricts spending, so it's a bit different. In the NBA, they sort of restrict spending but not really, so if you want to spend you can spend, you just have to pay a penalty for it. I think what you have to focus on... I understand it in the short-term...your business is to write articles... short-term... the long-term good of the club is not always in the short-term interest of the next thing you want to write about... I don't think you can... and I am proud of the fact that Arsenal has had this sustainable business model. I think you can have people, and we have had them in the States, where they will spend a lot and they will do it for a little while and they might have some success. And then the person everyone is relying on maybe gets tired of it or has a financial reversal, but what you are doing is that you are putting the focus on one person, one resource. Is that really in the interests of a long-term situation for a great club that many people identify with and rely on? I would much rather, and I would be much more proud, if all our leagues were developed with the idea that you are competing on the basis of intellect and work and effort instead of just simply, 'I am going to throw dollars against the wall.' That's one side of it. Another side of it is that, in the States, it doesn't always work. It does work sometimes, so I understand what you are getting at. If you look at Arsene, as a good example. He has been here 15 years and you look at what the club had as assets and revenues, it's fantastic the growth that has occurred within the club. It has been done very responsibility and they have the record for participating in the Champions League for the most consecutive years. For the long-term stability and an approach to excellence, I think that's unsurpassed, really. That's my view."
Are you worried, as Arsene Wenger is, whether the Financial Fair Play rules being introduced can work?
"I think Arsene or Ivan (Gazidis) are better people perhaps to chat about that.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis: "I would be happy to, but I don't want to waste your time with Stan."
Is there anything you've seen from the US sports leagues you would like to see here?
"The greatest league in the US, on the basis of most things, is the National Football League. The National Football League's revenues are far greater than any other league's. The fan following is huge in the States. They implement and have restrictions on spending and what that does is restrict people. Now, it's all about, 'How smart are you in selecting personnel' - utilising these resources so you don't go signing a player to a long-term deal and the guy is over the hill, for example. What really happens in our system is that, if you do that, it will penalise you greatly, because you will have less resources to spend everywhere else - and it will show up, believe me. I've watched the teams that have done that. They will make a big run, then say, 'We will spend on everybody' and they bring in a lot of free agents, [but] the free agents don't work out because they're too old. They have a thing called cash-over-cap and what happens is you then have less to spend on other things and invariably those teams are among the worst in the league. Anybody who is a sportsman would rather compete on the basis of intellect, cleverness than they would at being able to throw money against the wall. Anyone can go and buy a player, but it takes a lot more to identify that player, develop that player and position him. I'm not going to start throwing out that there's a direction that the Premier League should take. It's a tremendously successful league. It's a little presumptous of me to start dictating rules."
Can Alisher Usmanov join the board?
"I think the view - it's a board matter - has been outlined and I don't think I should get into it."
Gazidis: "It's a board issue. As Stan has said, it's not about one individual, not Stan, not Usmanov. The board is running well, aligned on direction and very happy with the way it's running."
Kroenke: "I think the board should be given a lot of credit. I've been around this thing for three or four years now and it goes back to what I said earlier - If you go back to where this club was, revenue-wise, in the early to mid-1990s, in terms of assets and things, then it's dramatically different. That didn't just happen by itself, it's not easy to do the things that they have accomplished. The board should be given credit for that. A lot of people are happy that the board is still around."
Does it taste sweeter when you win things because you don't spend so much?
"I think there are a good few people who would argue that - a few people from other clubs who would argue that. Would I rather be successful spending less or spending more? What a question! If you run responsibly and do it well... if you look at our manager, he's a great example. I said recently that there's a film out in the US called Moneyball. Moneyball is all about being smart in sports, specifically baseball. There's a wave in the US now of statistical evaluation - this whole science of sport goes a long way. There's some very smart people - we employ some of them - who are analysing every stat and who are connecting every bit of data and trying to make sense of it. But that really started with Billy Beane, who is the guy in Moneyball. And Billy Beane's hero truly is Arsene Wenger. He loves Arsene. There's a reason and maybe the reason goes directly to what you are talking about. He's proud and is a fan of Arsenal because he realises what it takes to succeed and be responsible and that is different."
Can you compete on player contracts?
"That is a loaded question."
Can Arsenal compete on the money?
"Here's the thing. Could you? Yeah. You could. Do you want to? Maybe you don't. See what I mean? What I told you earlier - sometimes you can overspend for the wrong assets and you end up shorter in the long run. Or you could say, and you might, 'Well, just buy him anyway. The whole has unlimited resources, go out there and spend anything, stockpile everyone and maybe you'll win. You buy to win.' But you might not. There's examples where you haven't. Now I think that you want to be sure that you want to spend the money and I think that's what our manager does. He makes that evaluation. That's his job. It wasn't because the money wasn't there. We have money. And it wasn't because, Ivan can tell you, anybody sitting here ever said, ' Don't spend it.' Now, if you spend it all and there is no more money, you guys come and say, 'Well, Stan, we're short now, you need to spend some more money.' Well then you could blame me, maybe, but I don't think you can blame me now, because I think it's a philosophy. I think this club is run a certain way and I think people are proud of the way it's run. And I think our fans are proud of the way it's run. Now, does that mean there are people who wouldn't like to see you spend more? I think there is a natural tension there. I think maybe they would want you just to make the biggest offer out there. A club could go into a bunch of debt again, spending debt - there was various proposals, we should do different things, I didn't think we should do them and it's turned out fairly well. The club has no debt now, because the cash resources exceed the amount of debt that's on the team."
How confident are you that Fabregas and Nasri transfer situations won't happen again?
"Well, here's the thing. I think you know that one of the players who departed had nothing to do with money. I think our manager would tell you that. There was a specific personal circumstance that happened. Maybe I am saying too much. That has nothing to do with money. So we say, 'Well, we've seen players depart.' Well, then you could say, 'Well, the other player departed for money.' Well then, you get into an evaluation. That's where being smart and not being smart comes in. You've got one year left on a player's contract. You've got a large sum of money being offered. Can you employ those resources better than you could had you not taken the money, taken a chance on losing the guy for nothing in a year or perhaps overpaying for him now and having less resources later? I don't know. That's how I would see the evaluation."
There have been some tough times for your fellow American owners, Hicks/Gillett and the Glazers, recently...
"What was so tough about the Glazers' situation?"
Lot of fan protests?
"Okay, guys, let's talk about it. But they won. And they have increased revenues by a huge amount. If I was a fan of that club, I would still go there and go, 'Wow', because how could you do it any better? That's what I would say."
Manchester United fans would say the Glazers are taking money out of the club...
"But they still won. We don't need to get into an exchange here but I don't know, as a fan, how could you do it much better? They have increased massively. Some of their players have taken money out, and maybe they haven't performed. We have a whole different philosophy I think in the States, maybe, but I think it's time maybe for everybody to think a little bit. Maybe I am saying too much, but I think they ought to think a little bit about who invests in these clubs. What do you want for the long-term? Because, in the States, you would never get this dialogue that you and I are having. [The Glazers] took money out of the club. So what? Jerry Buss [owner of basketball's LA Lakers] takes money out of the club. A lot of owners in the US do. No-one ever says anything about it. What's it about, in fairness - did the Lakers win anything? Well, yeah. They did. How big's their revenue? Pretty darn good."
How do you propose making money for yourself?
"I don't know the specific situations [about Liverpool] and I don't think it's fair for me to comment because I'm not that close to them. George Gillett and Tom Hicks, they had that situation and I really don't know too much about it."
But how do you propose to make money?
"Well, we'll see. That's the risk. There's no guarantee I'll make any money. As a matter of fact, believe it or not, you can actually lose money in sports! I know you'll find that shocking."
There was a lot criticism after the 8-2 loss at Manchester United in August. But it seems to have got better since then. How much faith does that give you in Wenger?
"I think I've said all I want to. I've never departed from that. Arsene Wenger is an unbelievable manager. I think he's a tremendous person, I just think he is as good as there is. Now, do you lose some games? Do you have tough losses? It happens. You cant judge a manager on one game or on one stretch of games. You judge him over time. That's how the really good ones are judged."
The Silent Stan label - how do you feel about that?
"Perhaps bemused? We are busy. We do have a lot of obligations. Sometimes I think if we engage too much, it's a matter of who did you engage with?, were you fair to people?, how much time do you have to give to them? We have very capable people, like Ivan and Arsene. We have lots of very capable people - they wouldn't be involved if I didn't have lots of confidence in them. I think it's more about that. The gentlemen who created it said, 'Well, I'm creating a character.'"
Did keeping a low profile breed suspicion? Should have put yourself out there more at the start?
"Perhaps. I have a lot of friends in the press. Some of them laugh because I tell them that journalism was my love early in my life and that I almost went to study journalism at the University of Missouri. At the time, that was the number one journalism school in America. I chose not to, but they all think that's quite funny now."
It was said recently that there are overseas owners who want to scrap relegation from the Premier League. What do you think?
"It would be presumptuous of me to comment. The history of the league is a great history. I think that is for people who have studied that and understand it. We don't have a point of view on that. Ivan and Arsene might have - and, by the way, none of the American owners that I know have a point of view on that."
What about Robin van Persie and his current contract situation? Do you have a message to the fans?
"I think Robin van Persie is a great player. I think he's doing a great job. He's captain of the club. Arsene said the other day, 'Can we succeed if we are not together? Absolutely not.' If we are together, we have a chance. I thought it was extremely important that Arsene said that. I think that everybody needs to think about that. I think that Robin van Persie gets that, and I think he has shown real leadership. I have watched him and had a chance to chat with him. I think he has done a great job of that. But I think asking me to talk about Robin van Persie at this stage is not fair to Robin van Persie and is not fair to Arsene and Ivan. They are the guys who know the particulars of that situation.
But Nasri had 12 months left, as Van Persie will have next summer, and you made a business decision [Nasri was sold to Manchester City]?
" Arsene made a business decision. I understand why you guys want to do this, but I don't think it is fair on any of the parties for me to start talking about this."
What was your message when you met the players this week?
"That I'm proud of them. That they have faced adversity and have shown a real class and spirit in fighting through it. By the way, it was a lot of fun to watch that game Saturday. Great game. Great win. It was hard early, maybe gave up some things you shouldn't have done, went in at half-time, they scored right before half-time and then you come out. Tremendous spirit and fight."