LONDON - Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov said Tuesday he is selling his 30 percent stake in Arsenal to Stan Kroenke in a deal that values the club at £1.8 billion ($2.3 billion).
"I have decided to sell my shares in Arsenal Football Club, which could be the best football club in the world," he said. "I wish all the best and great success to this wonderful football club and to all those whose lives and careers are entwined in it."
American majority shareholder Kroenke earlier Tuesday announced a bid to take full ownership of the club, aiming to turn Unai Emery's side into serial Premier League challengers after years of under-achievement.
The American's company, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, currently owns 67 per cent of the Gunners and had offered to purchase the 30 per cent held by Usmanov's Red and White Securities firm.
KSE says it has received an "irrevocable undertaking" from Red and White Securities to accept the offer -- which would value the Gunners at £1.8 billion ($2.3 billion) -- as soon as possible, and in any event by 1400 GMT on Tuesday. Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL, said having a single owner would benefit the club but fans said it was a "dreadful" day.
Despite cup successes in recent years, Arsenal have slipped behind their rivals in the Premier League and have consistently failed to reach the latter stages of the Champions League. They have not won the title since 2004 and last year finished sixth, 37 points behind champions Manchester City.
Arsenal, who play City in their season opener on Sunday, are also adjusting to life after Arsene Wenger, who left the club in May after 22 years at the helm, replaced by former Paris Saint-Germain boss Emery.
Incredibly sad day for so many of our fan shareholders that that no longer own a part of this club 💔 Imagine if this wasn't only about 💰 but about the club, the community & the fans - all this new enthusiasm we are witnessing with Unai wouldn't feel like such a waste. #Arsenal
"We at KSE are moving forward with this offer leading to 100 percent ownership of the club," Kroenke said in a statement published on the London Stock Exchange. "We appreciate Mr Usmanov's dedication to the Arsenal Football Club and the storied ethos and history the club represents."
The deal brings to an end a battle between billionaires Kroenke and Usmanov for control of the club. In October last year, KSE offered around £525 million to buy the 18,695 shares held by Usmanov, the Russian businessman who himself attempted to buy out Kroenke in May 2017.
"The successful implementation of the offer will result in the opening of a new chapter in the history of the club in bringing 100 per cent private ownership by KSE," the statement said. "KSE believes moving to private ownership will bring the benefits of a single owner better able to move quickly in furtherance of the club's strategy and ambitions. KSE is a committed, long-term owner of the club."
Kroenke has been a part-owner of Arsenal since 2007, gradually increasing his stake. Under Stock Exchange rules, Kroenke would have to make an offer for the remaining minority shares in Arsenal, most of which are small numbers held largely by supporters of the club.
It is not currently mandatory for those shareholders to accept but after his purchas of Usmanov's percentage is complete, Kroenke can then push through a compulsory acquisition. This would see KSE take those final shares to complete a 100 percent takeover of the club.
The Arsenal Supporters' Trust issued a strongly worded statement opposing the move. "Stan Kroenke taking the club private will see the end of supporters owning shares in Arsenal and their role upholding custodianship values," it said in a statement.
"The AST is also extremely concerned to note that this purchase is being funded by a loan. The most dreadful part of this announcement is the news that Kroenke plans to forcibly purchase the shares held by Arsenal fans. Many of these fans are AST members and hold their shares not for value but as custodians who care for the future of the club."