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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 October 2007, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
I want to buy Arsenal - Usmanov
Alisher Usmanov
Usmanov initially said he wanted to increase his stake to 25%
Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov has revealed for the first time that he has long-term ambitions to buy Arsenal.

Usmanov recently raised his stake in Arsenal to 23% but indicated that he had no plans for a takeover.

The 54-year-old has now changed his tune but added that nothing would happen in the immediate future.

"We don't have the capacity today, but this is business and life is changing," he said. "Something that you can't do today, maybe you can do tomorrow."

Arsenal chief executive Keith Edelman told BBC 5live on Sunday that after discussions with Usmanov, he did not expect the Russian to launch a takeover bid.

But in a press briefing on Tuesday, Usmanov said if other major shareholders agreed to sell, he would buy their shares if the price was right.

If a significant shareholder sells, the whole dynamic changes

Farhad Moshiri, Usmanov's business partner

Usmanov's stake, held in company Red and White Holdings Limited (RAWHL), makes him the club's second largest shareholder behind Danny Fiszman, who owns just over 24%.

However, Fiszman and fellow board members Peter Hill-Wood, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith and Richard Carr have a so-called "lockdown agreement" not to sell their shares until April 2008 at the earliest.

The quartet currently account for 45% of the club's shares, so their agreement is key to any takeover bid Usmanov might make.

Usmanov and business partner Farhad Moshiri are hopeful their stance will change at some point.

"If a significant shareholder sells, the whole dynamic changes," said Moshiri, who co-owns RAWHL with Usmanov.

606: DEBATE
"But it depends on the price. If the lock-down agreement is not renewed, then it is a new environment."

BBC sports editor Mihir Bose believes Usmanov is trying to test the Arsenal shareholders' resolve.

"At this point, Usmanov's game is clear: he wants to get up to a 25% share, which would mean the current board cannot change the way the club is run without his say-so," he said.

"But in the long term, he is hoping that he will offer enough money that somebody on that board will think it's not a bad idea to sell.

"From Arsenal's point of view, they feel Usmanov is giving rather contradictory statements. One minute he's saying he's happy with the current board, the next he's saying maybe he'd bid if the situation opens up.

"Clearly the Arsenal board are looking at what the Russian is up to. It's also very clear that they don't want to sell at the moment.

We will try to convince David [Dein] to be less hostile to the board. I don't want to be hostile

Alisher Usmanov
"And as long as the board members are united and don't sell, they've got over 50% and nobody can take over Arsenal."

Last week, Arsenal published their annual financial results to 31 May 2007, which showed income had soared 46% to 200.8m, up from 137.2m a year before.

Usmanov said he would not allow the strained relationship between the Arsenal board and former vice-chairman David Dein to affect his bid for the club.

Dein sold his 14.5% share to Usmanov in August in a 75m deal that saw Dein made chairman of the Russian's holding company Red and White Holdings.

And Dein's strained relationship with Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood and largest shareholder Danny Fiszman has led to Usmanov's bid being treated with suspicion.

Usmanov said: "I don't want the personal relationship with the current board to affect in any way my personal relationship.

"I want to establish my own personal relationship with the board. From our side, we will try to convince David to be less hostile to the board. I don't want to be hostile.

"What we heard about David Dein and the board at the outset of our Arsenal adventure, and what we see now are two different pictures.

"We are now thinking about how not to end up between a rock and a hard place."

SEE ALSO
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New stadium boosts Arsenal income
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Usmanov increases Arsenal stake
18 Sep 07 |  Arsenal
Usmanov ups the ante at Arsenal
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Arsenal not for sale - Hill-Wood
10 Sep 07 |  Arsenal
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