Alan Smith has labelled Arsenal’s owners “ignorant” following their involvement in the doomed European Super League proposals, but insists he is not surprised by a decision indicative of Stan Kroenke’s distant ownership of the club.
Arsenal, along with five other Premier League clubs, announced on Sunday evening their plans to be founder members of a new European Super League.
The proposals drew widespread and unanimous condemnation from supporters and the wider footballing community to the extent that, by Tuesday evening, the Gunners – as well as Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham – withdrew from the process.
Although Arsenal apologised to their supporters in a statement confirming they had quit the project, the wedge between fans and the club’s owners has already grown larger, with protests against Stan Kroenke planned outside the Emirates Stadium ahead of Friday’s visit of Everton.
We agree the ownership of Arsenal needs to change. This week again demonstrated that Kroenke does not act in best interests of our club or its fans. We support efforts being made by many to make the build up to the Everton game one of protest by our fans across the world.
— AST (@AST_arsenal) April 22, 2021
The fact Arsenal were involved came as no surprise to former Gunners striker Smith, who accused Kroenke – majority shareholder since April 2011 – of failing to grasp the European sporting mindset and focusing on figures rather than forging a relationship with supporters.
‘No emotion with absent Kroenke’
“I wasn’t surprised Arsenal were involved, given they have an American owner, an absent owner, who rarely says anything regarding the football club,” Smith told Sky Sports.
“There is very little bond between Stan Kroenke and the club. He rarely comes over. His son has a more hands-on connection with the club, but Josh is new to the game, he’s not been brought up around football.
“Kroenke obviously has seen that model work in the States with the NFL, NBA, and along with the Liverpool and Manchester United owners, they have seen how profitable it could be. I don’t think they understand how the European mind thinks about our sporting culture. It was ignorant not to appreciate there would be such a backlash. It beggars belief.
“For Stan, it’s about figures on the page and profits and losses. There is no emotion there. Myself and the majority of Arsenal fans are not surprised he jumped into it, but so did some other clubs. Maybe they had some misgivings and had to be persuaded, but they were persuaded and that’s the damning thing.”
I was depressed about the whole situation. I was scared stiff about the fact these institutions of English football could abandon the structure in this country and go their own way.
Arsenal traditions live on – but not at the top
From Herbert Chapman and the Marble Halls at Highbury, to the late David Rocastle’s poignant quotation, ‘Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent’, few clubs ooze class and tradition as much as the Arsenal.
Sunday’s confirmation of the Gunners’ involvement in breakaway plans for a new European Super League was an assailment on the very values upon which the club is built and, according to Smith, symptomatic of the disconnect between the club and its owners.
“Arsenal is a different football club now, there is no question about that,” added Smith, who won two League titles, the FA Cup, League Cup, and Cup Winners’ Cup during his eight-year stay in north London.
“The make-up of the boardroom has changed radically. It was under the chairmanship of the Hill-Wood family for many decades, but, as with a lot of clubs, things have changed at boardroom level.
“There are obviously people at the club still trying to uphold those traditions, but I don’t think the people at the top pay much regard to that.
“They [the Kroenke’s] probably looked at Arsenal’s reputation [when buying the club] as a good one, and that appealed to them as something to have in their portfolio. I don’t think it goes much beyond that.”
‘Arsenal fans want answers and accountability’
Kroenke’s reluctance to engage with supporters has earned him the nickname ‘Silent Stan’ during his time in charge of Arsenal, and his chequered relationship has deteriorated further following the Super League debacle.
With owner-manager relations at an all-time low, Smith has called for Kroenke to communicate with fans and reinstall some accountability after his compulsory purchase of shares in 2018.
“The Kroenkes could take a more active role and be more engaged with the day-to-day workings of the club,” he said. “People say Kroenke hasn’t invested any of his own money, that would have been nice. But it goes further than that.
“The fact he bought everybody’s shares out when he already had 90 per cent, he could have left them alone but he compulsory purchased the rest and that was such a shame because it was a chance for some of the fans to have their say at the AGMs and have a bit of accountability on the top.
“But he hoovered those up, so he didn’t really have to be accountable or answer any difficult questions. You just want to see that distance closed and for there to be a greater connection, but I cannot see that happening.”
Smith added: “J W Henry [Liverpool’s owner] gave a video apology, it was received in different ways, with some saying it wasn’t sincere and that it was something he had to do. But you just never hear Stanley Kroenke address the Arsenal fans.
“Let’s hear why he felt the Super League was a good idea, let’s hear him talk about his future plans for the club, where he sees it heading. Arsenal fans are in the dark about all these things, they just don’t know how he feels and what he wants to happen with Arsenal.”