If you had told American Football fans that there was a ghost in the Arsenal owners’ box at the FA Cup final, they probably would’ve believe you.
The silver-haired Stan Kroenke made the trip to Wembley to witness his Arsenal shock Chelsea and lift the FA Cup. American Football fans in Saint Louis, Missouri, know how rare a sight that is. As owner of the then-Saint Louis, now Los Angeles, Rams, Kroenke made very few public or sporting appearances during his six year-tenure as majority owner — the Missouri-native becoming more myth than man in the final years before moving the franchise back to Los Angeles. And that move signifies Kroenke’s sporting intentions: it’s all about the money.
The Rams have been the punch-line organisation of the NFL for the past 14 years. They haven’t finished with a winning record since 2003, so fan attendance decreased to the point that the Rams have finished in the bottom three for attendance every year Kroenke has been majority owner. But fans still managed to fill about 85% of the stadium. The fan support was one of the reasons Kroenke cited in his decision to move the Rams back to LA, the team’s home from 1946-94, but attendances didn’t rise in Hollywood. The LA Rams’ 57,024 average attendance — generally equal with the average St. Louis attendance — in an 80,000 seat stadium (71.3%), was the league’s second worst. They haven’t come close to winning a title since the 2002 Super Bowl loss to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
While Arsenal fans will take some pride in the FA Cup, fans across the globe know that the club’s Premier League title drought lingers like a dark cloud. Arsene Wenger just completed his 13th season in a row without finishing top of the table. During that time, Wenger’s only trophy has been the FA Cup, which he has now lifted four times since 2004. How many other top-tier coaches could survive a title drought that long? Many big club coaches rarely survive two years without a major title nowadays. The Gunners’ fifth-place finish means they won’t play Champions League football for the first time in 20 years next season either. And Wenger’s reward is a two-year contract extension.
That’s because Stan Kroenke teams have never really cared about winning. As long as the team turns Kroenke a profit, he sees no reason to make major improvements. The St. Louis/LA Rams are 41-70-1 (36.6%) under his ownership and while coaches and players have changed multiple times, the owner remains constant. His NBA team, the Denver Nuggets, haven’t made it past the first round of the play-offs since he purchased them in 2000 and haven’t had an all-star calibre player since Carmelo Anthony left six-and-a-half-years ago. Kroenke’s Colorado Avalanche of the NHL won the Stanley Cup in his first season in 2001 but has since made the play-offs only seven times, including only twice in the past nine years.
Goals win games in football, and therefore they cost money. The purchases of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil represent the only major attacking investment by Kroenke’s Arsenal, while Manchester City, United and Chelsea consistently make big-money attacking signings. Now, money can’t directly buy you the title — just ask either Manchester club — but a team as big and historic as Arsenal should be rivalling those clubs for the world’s top players and at least giving Europe’s elite a run for their money. Instead, the club’s best player is yet to sign a new contract as the Gunners continue to fall short against the continent’s best, being knocked out in the Champions League’s Round of 16 in each of the past seven seasons.
Arsenal, as assembled, are a good team certainly, but not one that can realistically win the title or compete against Europe’s top clubs. If Sanchez and Ozil miss significant time through injury, hit a run of poor form or even leave, who becomes the offensive focal point? Giroud? Walcott? Both good players but not world-class like their two teammates.
But Kroenke doesn’t care. The club is competitive for most of the year and turns a profit. Trying to buy smart is respectable but a sure-fire way to be left behind in today’s Premier League. The price of players has certainly inflated to an alarming degree, which continues to stop Kroenke from serious spending. Granit Xhaka’s cost was practically equal to Alexis Sanchez’s two years earlier, and Xhaka’s never going to score 20+ goals. He might pick up 20 yellow cards in a season, though. Overpaying for players is the price of winning titles and winning more than the FA Cup in modern football. There is no doubt every Arsenal player and fan would happily trade places with Chelsea and celebrate a title instead of a cup.
Kroenke probably would like to trade places, too. After all, winning the title is worth more money – currently, however, not enough for him to dip his hands into his pockets.