LONDON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Arsenal can challenge for the Premier League title again after being hamstrung for a decade by repaying the debt on their Emirates Stadium, according to Alisher Usmanov, the club's second largest shareholder.
"I think we begin a new era for Arsenal where we win trophies," the Russian billionaire, who owns 30 percent of the club's shares and has invested 200 million pounds ($337.70 million), said in a Daily Telegraph interview on Tuesday.
Arsenal ended a nine-year trophy drought when they lifted the FA Cup last season, a barren spell Usmanov believes was caused by loading the club with debt to finance a move from the old Highbury site to the 390 million pounds Emirates Stadium in 2006.
"The acquisition was financed with debt, which would be repaid through match-day revenues among other sources," Usmanov said. "There is another way of doing it: when shareholders buy all of the assets and contribute them to the club.
"As a result, these debt-free assets may generate income for the club. The board and the main shareholders chose the debt option at the time, which led to Arsenal going almost 10 years without winning a domestic title or the Champions League.
"As a result of this choice, they were selling player and were unable to buy top players. These difficulties have now been overcome and the team is in a good state."
The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Thierry Henry have all been sold by Arsenal since the move to the Emirates although annual qualification for the Champions League and 60,000 home crowds have helped the club wipe off a huge chunk of the stadium debt.
Manager Arsene Wenger has already been active in the transfer market this summer, with Chile's Alexis Sanchez the biggest name signing from Barcelona.
More players could arrive before the end of the transfer window and Usmanov believes Arsenal are now in a position to compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
"In my opinion, in line with existing rules, the club has the best decision-making process in place, including their selection policy, especially now, when they have the means to buy the best players," Usmanov, said.
"The club's finances are in order and I believe that Arsene Wenger and the club's CEO (Ivan Gazidis) will manage them correctly."
Usmanov was involved in a battle with Stan Kroenke for a controlling stake in the club right up until 2011 when the American upped his shareholding to 62.89 percent after diamond dealer Danny Fiszman sold his shares shortly before his death.
He admits he has never had any contact with Kroenke but while he is not on the club's board and is therefore excluded from decision-making, Usmanov said he would not be selling his stake in the club any time soon.
"I have no plans to exit," he said. "I wish Arsenal success and hope they win trophies."
($1 = 0.5922 pounds) (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O'Brien)
- Sports & Recreation
- Alisher Usmanov
- Emirates Stadium