Stan Kroenke is going to have to think about changing his nickname. He has been blabbing so much lately that the ‘Silent’ tag is starting to feel a tad ironic, a bit like ‘Little’ John (Robin Hood’s giant buddy) or ‘Curly’ from the Three Stooges (he was bald) or John ‘Not At All Racist’ Terry. After talking to the media in the States, then speaking at the Arsenal AGM, our majority shareholder spilled his guts again to a group of reporters recently.
It was a long interiew, filled with interesting observations about all sorts of things – from the way the Glazers run Manchester United (just fine and dandy according to Stan) to the astonishing fact that it is possible to have interesting discourse with Chelsea fans.But when I read the transcript of the interview, I noticed that a certain motif cropped up repeatedly. It gave me an insight into what Stan thinks about himself and, by extension, what he values in others.
The key concept is ‘intelligence’ (or ‘smartness’, in more colloquial terms).
Look at the examples:
Asked about how he defined success (and how long he felt it was reasonable to wait for trophies) our yakety Yank said: “We (meaning him and his team) have a broader experience than anybody in sports,” adding that he was “smart enough” to know that you can’t win silverware every year.
He was emphasising that the ‘smart’ approach was in taking the long view and not being a slave to instant gratification.
When the questions inevitably led on to whether Arsenal could compete financially with the likes of Manchester City, with their bottomless well of murky oil money, Stan was clear about the way he would like to achieve success: “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.’ Anybody who is a sportsman would rather compete on the basis of intellect, cleverness.”
On one level, the subtext here is that none of us should expect Stan to start splashing money like a chav in a chip shop. But also that he is ambitious – it’s just that his ambition is to win clever, not win broke. And when waxing lyrical about the success of the NFL (the professional organisation for American Football in the States) he pointed out that success was “all about how smart are you in selecting personnel.”
Moving on to baseball, he mentioned the new Brad Pitt movie Moneyball, which tells the story of Billy Beane, a baseball coach for an unfashionable and relatively poor team who achieved success through outsmarting his richer opponents: “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.”
Even on the subject of Samir Na$ri’s controversial move to Man City in the summer, Stan was at pains to focus on intelligence: “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?”
And on Manchester United under the Glazers: “I think it’s time maybe for everybody to think a little bit. They ought to think a little bit about who invests in these clubs.” In summary, in the course of just one interview, there are more than 10 examples of words like “smart”, “clever” and “intellect”. This is a man speaking off the cuff to journalists, not reading a prepared speech. A psychologist would suggest that these key words, used so liberally, are evidence of what’s really at the forefront of the speaker’s mind.
To me that means that Stan Kroenke is a man who values intelligence above all other qualities. Yes he likes courage and he likes the idea of making money and not spending it unnecessarily and he likes learning about football (there are references to all these in the interview), but his overriding obsession comes through loud and clear.
He sees himself, above all, as a SMART sports business owner. One who is not swayed by the daily rise and fall of fan disgruntlement or media muck-stirring, but who has a long-term vision and strategy. In that case it’s hardly surprising that he seems so comfortable with Arsene Wenger – the thinking man’s football coach if ever there was one. He clearly values Arsene’s analytical and professorial approach to the job over, say, the passion of a Ferguson or the duck-and-dive slipperyness of a Redknapp. I think it’s a good thing.
It should mean he will empower and enable Arsene to do his thing as well as he possibly can do it. And at a time when Arsene and Arsenal get far too little credit for the “smart” way in which the club has been run in recent years, it’s a refreshing vote of support for values that we supporters can also all be proud of. Man City may well win the league this year, but ask yourself: would you rather be a City fan or an Arsenal fan? You know the answer, and so do I.
Keep the faith Gunners: what we have is worth more than anything anyone else can possibly offer, however endless their supply of petro-dollars.