October 26, 2017 / 2:58 PM / 24 days ago

Soccer: Boos and protest votes at stormy Arsenal AGM

LONDON (Reuters) - Disgruntled Arsenal supporters opposed the re-election of chairman Chips Keswick and director Josh Kroenke amid rowdy scenes at the club’s annual general meeting on Thursday.

Chief executive Ivan Gazidis was also heckled as he defended the way the club was run and outlined why Arsenal had reappointed manager Arsene Wenger on a two-year deal this year despite unrest among fans.

Around 200 individual shareholders attended the meeting at Emirates Stadium after Arsenal Supporters Trust announced its intention to oppose resolutions because of “dissatisfaction at the current ownership and governance arrangements”.

Votes to reappoint Keswick and director Josh Kroenke were rejected on a show of hands, forcing a formal vote via distributed cards, with both men eventually winning re-election following support from Arsenal’s two major shareholders.

Significantly, Alisher Usmanov, the club’s second largest shareholder, decided against joining what Arsenal Supporters Trust said on Twitter was an unprecedented protest at an AGM.

At the meeting, Gazidis came under scrutiny with the board asked to justify his 2.6 million pound ($3.4 million) salary, including a 1 million-pound bonus.

“Ivan is doing a fantastic and first-class job leading the development of this club across every aspect of its operations,” Keswick said.

“It is important the remuneration of all the club’s management remains competitive in order to attract and retain talent. In this regard, our CEO’s pay is comparable to clubs of a similar stature.”

HUGE RESOURCES

Gazidis defended the club’s approach in allowing the contracts of leading players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to run down and said the board had made huge resources available for transfers.

“All resources are made available for investment. We’ve broken the club transfer record multiple times and did it again with (Alexandre) Lacazette,” who cost 42.5 million pounds from Olympique Lyonnais.

”We’ve made over 200 million pounds of transfer investments in the last three years. Approximately 40 million pounds in our facilities at London Colney, Hale End and Borehamwood and further investment in staff.

”Every club has successes and failures and we want to do better. Arsenal, of the big clubs, have been the most over-performing club over time.

“On an objective basis we perform very well. However, I agree we have to find ways to perform better.”

But he was interrupted by one shareholder who asked whether a 10-2 (aggregate) defeat by Bayern Munich (in the Champions League) represented success.

Gazidis also defended the decision this year to renew the contract of Frenchman Wenger who has managed the club since 1996. Arsenal won the last of their 13 English top-flight titles in 2004.

“Arsene has new two-year deal in the belief that he has the experience, values and quality,” Gazidis said. He refused to set a “public, pre-existing schedule” around the Frenchman’s eventual successor.

Wenger also addressed the meeting, giving an eloquent depiction of why the club means so much to him.

“We represent something that is exceptional. It’s a tradition of class,” he said.

”My hunger, my commitment is bigger than ever. I question myself a lot, don’t worry, I will sit down every year to see where I go.

“No matter what happens one day I will always love this club forever and be an eternal fan.”

The meeting closed amid stormy scenes when Keswick declined to answer some questions and announced that chief shareholder Stan Kroenke would not be speaking “as it is not on the agenda”.

“I think you are getting very angry so there is no point continuing,” he said.

($1 = 0.7566 pounds)

Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Ed Osmond

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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