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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 October 2007, 20:53 GMT 21:53 UK
Aiming for Arsenal

By Richard Galpin
BBC News in Moscow

Alisher Usmanov at his press briefing in Moscow
I don't want comparison with Abramovich

Alisher Usmanov

For a man used to opulent, luxurious surroundings, Alisher Usmanov was clearly unhappy about the small room allocated for his press briefing at his company's headquarters.

The home of Metalloinvest, a Russian mining and metallurgy company specialising in the manufacture of steel, is a gleaming, hi-tech building situated in the heart of Moscow.

It's the kind of place you would expect to have grand conference halls for equally grand announcements.

The majority of those gathered in the cramped conference room were British newspaper journalists intrigued to discover more about Russia's 18th richest man and his intentions to expand upon his 23% holding in Arsenal.

And the Uzbek, whose fortune is estimated about 2.75bn, did not disappoint.

"I really fell in love with Arsenal when Arsene Wenger took over," he said. "The main reason I decided to buy Arsenal shares is because Wenger is manager - I consider him the best manager in the world.

"We want to be part of team where Wenger has the possibility to create as an artist."

Although he dismissed plans of an immediate takeover, Usmanov instead offered outlines for a long-term plan once he had the full confidence of Arsenal's reticent shareholders.

Arsene Wenger
Wenger's tenure at the Emirates is key to Usmanov's plans

Usmanov, who has purchased his Arsenal shares through a company called Red and White Holdings Limited (RAWHL), is now the Premier League club's second largest shareholder behind Danny Fiszman, who owns just over 24%.

"I have nothing but greatest respect for the current shareholders," said Usmanov. "I can appreciate their nervousness, though the nature of their nervousness was at the time immoderate.

"But it is not a problem, they will get to know us and we will get to know them and everything will be OK."

Usmanov is a larger-than-life character - both in physical stature and his presence.

He has his own army of 'helpers' running around on his behalf ensuring everything is to his liking. One particular employee was on hand for a high-priority jacket-moving task.

The 54-year-old likes to dominate and in return expects to be listened to, although he was very open to questions and even cracked the odd joke.

He suggested his audience should move into his more spacious office upstairs should the air supply in the conference room diminish to life-threatening levels.

However, there was plenty of atmosphere in the room when Usmanov revealed his first proposal to invest in English football was with Arsenal's north London rivals Tottenham.

606: DEBATE

"(I) First started with proposal to invest in Spurs and then partner (Farhad Moshiri) had talks with Liverpool," he said. "But I am Arsenal fan and why not be investor in club you really love?

"I could see that on top of intense pleasure of watching Arsenal play, it is also a good portfolio investment."

Inevitably he was asked about comparisons with another Russian billionaire owner of another London club not a million miles away from the Emirates Stadium.

But Usmanov's reply was typically forthright: "I don't want comparison with Abramovich."

End of.

But expect to hear more about Usmanov in the coming weeks.



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