Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Arsene Wenger "Interested" in Real Madrid, Ireland's NAMA Look on

As Arsenal and Arsene Wenger celebrate 13 years together as a happily married couple, it finally appears as if Le Prof is ready to enter divorce proceedings and leave for Real Madrid.

Meanwhile in Ireland, the National Assets Management Agency, could be heading for a showdown with the Arsenal board...

On Sunday night, Arsene Wenger gave an interview to Telefoot, which is broadcast by the TF1 channel. The Arsenal manager is their resident football pundit, and when he was pushed on the rumours linking him with a move to Real Madrid, once Florentino Perez takes over as President, he had this to say:

"With Florentino Perez in charge, the project he has put forward would be interesting to any coach, but I would prefer not to comment on this."

He was then asked about whether he intends to honour his current contract with Arsenal, which runs out in June 2011, and he gave this reply:

"In general, I usually stay until the end of my contract."

These three lines speak volumes. Especially when you consider the fact that Wenger has always distanced himself from any speculation during his time with the Gunners. His answers to questions such as these as usually terse, and give no room for speculation.

But theses quotes, leave the door wide open.

The comments will come as quite worrying for the board, especially as they failed to back their manager in what turned out to be a very angry meeting with shareholders and fans last week.

Wenger is known to have been quite unhappy at how the meeting went, and at how certain sections of the Emirates ground have begun to call for "his" head with "Wenger Out" chants.

This new development could make the board and the fans jump to attention, as the prospect of their talismanic manager leaving actually looks a real possibility this time.

Early reports in France have indicated that Wenger or his advisers even met with Perez last week in Paris in a formal meeting that was brokered by none other than Zinedine Zidane.

Perez sees the duo as part of a "spectacular project" that he hopes will take the La Liga trophy from the firm grip of Barcelona.

And it is believed that Perez has given Wenger his full backing in the Frenchman taking full control on how the club is run from top to bottom.

Wenger has only ever broken his contract once before. That was in 1987, when Monaco whisked him away from the clutches of Nancy-Lorraine.

The move to the Bernabeau would possibly be his last foray in club management. And as Arsenal have slipped further behind Manchester United and Liverpool.

Bookmakers have even gone as far as to place Arsenal as fourth favorites for next season, behind Chelsea who are expecting a mass clear-out, and Liverpool and United, who both expect to strengthen this summer.

Wenger has even signified this by saying "You sit here, you are in the last four in Europe, and everyday they make you feel as if you've killed someone."

"It is unbelievable. We lose against Manchester United, who have 10 times more resources. It's not a shame. They are the best in the world, congratulations to them."

The move to Real Madrid could be highly tempting to the Arsenal boss. He would be given free reign on transfers and he would also be given complete control on the structure of the club.

Four years ago, Perez offered Wenger the Real Madrid post and he turned it down flatly. Now the Spaniard has cleverly moved the goal-posts, and Wenger may be tempted.

While the Arsenal board deal with that issue, they are also heading for a collision course with the Irish Government.

Following the collapse of the Irish Banking System, the Government moved to prop it up by giving the two largest banks in the country, Bank of Ireland, and Anglo Irish Bank, £7.5 billion between them.

The Government then set up a "bad bank" called the National Asset Management Agency. NAMA's job would be to go to the banks and take their "toxic" loans and then chase the developers or whoever they may be and sieve their assets if the loan could not be paid off.

Arsenal fall into this category.

A group led by Royal Bank of Scotland, gave Arsenal two loans of £357m and £400m respectively. The latter loan to Arsenal Holdings was to be paid off by January 2010.

During the London property boom of the recent decade, Arsenal decided to set up Arsenal Holdings and build apartments on what was Highbury. Initially, the sales went well. But following the massive downturn in the British economy, the Holding company can no longer sell the apartments.

Banks are refusing to give loans on apartments that will go into negative equity quite quickly, and as a result Arsenal Holdings can't sell the apartments.

With no money coming in, Arsenal, the Parent company can't meet their loan repayments. And so the loan to Arsenal has become a toxic loan for the banks.

Only last week, Alisher Usmanov, met with Bank of Ireland to come to agreement on their part of the loan, some £157m.

The two entities came to an agreement that BoI would have claim to a "rights issue" with Arsenal in the future and so the loan is now out of NAMA's sights.

Not so the section of the AIB loan.

Arsenal have begun negotiations with RBS, about re-structuring the loan payments on the remainder of the loans, £550m.

As the Irish Government are only putting NAMA together and are building the legislation so it can carry out it's work without being hampered, the Gunners have time.

And even if NAMA does not sieve any monies or property from Arsenal, they are still lumbered with a growing debt. Economic analysts are predicting that the economies of Britain and Ireland won't turn upwards for at least two to three more years, so Arsenal have that long to hold the loan off before sales once again pick up.

Add the current debt and their manager possibly leaving and then trying to take some star players and Arsenal could be in a lot of trouble.

Gunners fans hope that the current board room struggles don't have a negative effect, on or off the pitch.

twitter / WillieGannon