Arsene Wenger Backed by Arsenal Shareholder Alisher Usmanov

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2016

Uzbek-born Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov attends a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow September 12, 2013.  AFP PHOTO / POOL / MAXIM SHEMETOV        (Photo credit should read MAXIM SHEMETOV/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

Alisher Usmanov, Arsenal’s second largest shareholder, has encouraged the club to keep faith with manager Arsene Wenger despite a disappointing campaign.

Usmanov was asked about the Gunners in an interview with Russian TV station Rossiya24 (h/t John Cross of the Daily Mirror) and hailed the "stable" performances under the French coach, insisting Wenger remains a critical cog in the setup.

"I believe that Arsene Wenger is a great coach, and Arsenal has to give him the opportunity to plan the succession process and leave his legacy when he deems it necessary," said the Russian. "It is very important for the football club to maintain the principles that were established by those people who created its victories. Arsenal needs Arsene Wenger."

Usmanov added the club "must retain" Wenger, who he feels is "its major symbol and main asset."

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 19:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park on March 19, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The steel and telecommunications tycoon is the 73rd richest person in the world according to Forbes, with a net worth estimated at $13.3 billion. His holding is currently 30.05 per cent in the Gunners, with American Stan Kroenke’s 66.64 per cent stake making him the majority shareholder.

The comments are at odds with previous ones made by the 62-year-old. In 2014, Usmanov seemed to hint he was losing patience with Wenger, claiming he wasn’t learning from mistakes previously made, per CNBC (h/t the Guardian). "He can make mistakes and I know as you age it is more difficult, more challenging to accept one’s mistakes," he said.

Those Arsenal fans hoping for a change in management will be disappointed by the remarks made as they continue to digest what’s been another underwhelming campaign.

Arsenal seem set to end the season empty-handed.
Arsenal seem set to end the season empty-handed.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Having been eliminated from the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, any slender hopes of silverware currently rest with a strong finish in the Premier League. At the moment, the Gunners are in third position, trailing surprise leaders Leicester City by 11 points and local rivals Tottenham Hotspur by six points; they have a game in hand on both.

Banners have been in view in the stands calling for the Frenchman’s head lately, but as we can see here courtesy of BT Sport Football, Arsenal goalscoring icon Ian Wright thinks Kroenke should be the source of the fans’ ire, not Wenger:

As noted by Cross, some fans who want the club to cast their longstanding manager aside have viewed Usmanov as the man to facilitate such a significant move, as previously he has been "demanding more trophies" and has been "critical of the club’s recent lack of success." But it seems he’s as happy with Wenger as Kroenke is.

The illustrious coach has become part of the furniture at the football club, and as these figures from CIES (h/t Het Laatse Nieuws’ Kristof Terreur) illustrate, managers holding positions for so long is a rarity in modern football:

The discussion is a difficult one for Arsenal supporters to have. Wenger will always be a legend at the club for the manner in which he revolutionised the team, brought such wonderful football to north London and won trophies with a swagger. But their last league title came over a decade ago, and for some supporters, that’s simply not good enough.

If he is to leave, either he’ll walk away or he’ll be ushered out. But at the moment, with Kroenke content and Usmanov also behind Wenger, it seems unlikely the latter is an option.

The manager’s current contract expires in the summer of 2017, and given there is still seemingly confidence in him from key members at the club, it wouldn’t be a great surprise if a new one was agreed soon.