By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - Stan Kroenke has no plans to sell his majority stake in Arsenal, a spokesman for the Premier League soccer club said on Sunday, responding to a report that a Middle East consortium planned a 1.5-billion-pound ($2.25-billion) bid.
The Sunday Telegraph said the consortium, backed by funds from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, had already requested a meeting with the American billionaire Kroenke, who owns a two-thirds stake in the famous north London club ahead of what would be a record takeover bid for a soccer club.
"Stan Kroenke is committed to Arsenal for the long term and has no intention of selling his stake," Arsenal communications director Mark Gonnella told Reuters.
"There has been no contact from any potential investors," he added.
Gonnella noted that Kroenke, who also owns the St Louis Rams in the NFL, had never sold any of his sports investments.
Many Arsenal fans are unhappy with the way Kroenke - nicknamed "Silent Stan" for his low profile - is running the club, arguing he is putting profit before success on the field.
Arsenal has not won a trophy since 2005 and is facing another barren season. Supporters are angry at paying the highest ticket prices in the country at their 60,000-seater Emirates stadium and criticize Kroenke for selling the team's best players to rival clubs.
Chelsea, owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, and Manchester City, supported by cash from Abu Dhabi have spent heavily in recent seasons and outperformed Arsenal.
The report comes on the day Arsenal, struggling to qualify for the lucrative Champions League, faces a crucial match against bitter local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham are fourth in the Premier League, while Arsenal lie fifth and out of the Champions League places.
COURTING THE FANS
The group, whose members have not yet been named, would make available transfer funds "to transform the club into a major force in European and world football", the newspaper quoted an unnamed source familiar with the plan as saying.
"The bid team regard Arsenal as one of the great clubs of European football but also one that is no longer punching its weight and is in danger of falling behind," it said.
The newspaper added that the group would pledge to reduce ticket prices at the Emirates and aim to recreate there some of the atmosphere of Highbury, Arsenal's historic former stadium.
However, new financial curbs being introduced in the Premier League and for top European clubs will make it harder for wealthy owners to run up big losses chasing sporting success.
Arsenal says its sound finances will make it more competitive in this era of "Financial Fair Play".
Kroenke acquired a majority stake in Arsenal two years ago in a deal valuing the club at 731 million pounds.
Arsenal's other main shareholder is Uzbek-born businessman Alisher Usmanov who has a stake of almost 30 percent but does not sit on the board and criticized the club for allowing striker Robin van Persie to join Manchester United last year.
Any takeover would raise questions over the future of Arsenal's long-serving manager, Frenchman Arsene Wenger, although the group values his football knowledge and wants him to remain at the club, The Telegraph said.
An acquisition would add to a string of investments in European soccer teams by Middle Eastern interests.
Manchester City, the current English Premier League champions, were bought by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family in 2008, while Kuwait's al-Hasawi family bought twice European Cup winners Nottingham Forest in July last year. France's Paris St Germain and Spain's Malaga are owned by Qatari investors.
($1 = 0.6662 British pounds)
(Additional reporting by Andrew Torchin in Dubai; writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Toby Davis) ( 刀ގ淨ޖ