Sir Chips Keswick and Lord Harris of Peckham. Oh, and American “sports tycoon” Stan Kroenke, South African-born chief executive Ivan Gazidis, a very old double-barrelled Etonian chairman Peter Hill-Wood and his right-handman Ken Friar.
These are the men who will decide, over the next fortnight, whether a 24-year-old called Francesc "Cesc" Fàbregas i Soler will return to his Catalan roots at the Nou Camp in Barcelona this summer. The European champions have offered £27m, apparently Arsenal want something closer to £35m.
According to the BBC tonight, a “senior Arsenal official” says: "The offer was made formally in writing to our chief executive [Ivan Gazidis], and we said no straight away."
Asked if an improved offer might be successful, the BBC source said: "Possibly yes, and if it's enough then I expect we'll have to sell."
And long-suffering Arsenal fans, trophyless since Patrick Vieira’s shoot-out FA Cup final winner against Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium on May 21 2005, are powerless to do anything barring a Syrian/Egyptian/Libyan/Bahraini/Yemeni etc etc style uprising against the lack of democracy in football.
Even Arsene Wenger, ailing spiritual leader of the largely peaceful Gooner Popular Front, appears powerless to stop the sale of the lad eased out of the Barca camp as a 16-year-old.
Instead he will have to rely on the precocious but precarious talents of Jack Wilshere, the 19-year-old who is as quick with his tantrums and new contract demands (he was offered a new five-year deal yesterday) as he is with his defence-splitting passes.
Look, £35m for Fabregas is good business. But will Arsenal truly benefit from his long-mooted departure? Chief Executive Gazidis, born in Johannesburg on September 13, 1964, told Arsenal’s Supporters Trust earlier this month that failing on four fronts again this season (let’s not mention the Carling Cup final defeat against Birmingham City) was “not a disaster” and insisted: “I know how you feel.”
Yeah. Sure. Gazidis. Born in Joburg. Left for England aged four. An Oxford blue. Worked in the USA. As north London true Gooner as Sir Chips and his pal Lord Harris of Peckham. Or the toff Hill-Wood. They know how Arsenal fans feel, paying out of their noses for a seat in the plush but pricey Emirates Stadium, eating expensive plastic hot dogs with memories of trophy-winning winters at Highbury long forgotten. George Graham, Bertie Mee? Where are you now?
Watching Arsenal play the best football in the country but failing – largely due to a significant lack of spending – to compete with Manchester United or Chelsea year after bloody year. Last I saw, Arsenal were the 32nd biggest spenders in England since the Premier League kicked off in 1992. The top-four finishing Gunners are regularly in the relegation zone on spending. Economics suggest they should be languishing mid-table in the Championship.
But now, finally, it seems Fabregas will go. Samir Nasri is being courted by Manchester United, Gael Clichy could go to Liverpool. With those big-name departures, Wenger SHOULD get a £50m summer sale bonus to add to the alleged £60m Gazidis and his junta have set aside for new players.
So perhaps this year, Wenger won’t have to unretire 41-year-old goalkeeper Jens Lehmann after meeting him while commentating on German television. Sir Chips and his pals should make the move for Shay Given, the former Newcastle goalkeeper currently kicking his heels behind Joe Hart at Manchester City. Three years after Wenger first talked about a £12m bid for the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper.
And what about those centre-backs? Johann Djourou improved markedly last season after the departures of Sol Campbell and William Gallas, but with Laurent Koscielny failing to fill in for the long-term injury to Thomas Vermaelen, £12m Chris Samba of Blackburn might be just the tonic. Or Gary Cahill, the no-nonsense defender Bolton seem so eager to sell. Mind you, spending £17m on an England international has never been one of Arsenal’s strongpoints.
Wenger said on July 29 (that’s LAST YEAR): “I believe we need to sign at least four centre backs because we have some other players who can fill in this position but overall we are still on the search." Instead, he got hold of Sebastien Squillaci – yet another less-than-intimidating central defender - and hoped for the best.
In the midfield, the pathetic Brazilian Denilson is making wantaway noises and offering himself for sale on auction site eBay. Alex Song, ever-effective as a defender but questionable as a play-maker, must soldier on. Like captain Fabregas, Nasri’s departure appears imminent too.
There is talk of Barca’s 20-year-old Italian born dynamo Thiago Alcantara coming the other way in the Fab deal, or Ricardo Alvarez, the Argentinian from Velez Sarsfield, coming soon. But they’re only rumours.
Up front, Wenger perseveres with not-so-great Dane Nicklas Bendtner and the disappointing 2010 signing Marouane Chamakh next to Dutchman Robin van Persie, who finished last season with a flourish, while Theo Walcott continues to frighten defences with his searing burst of pace and sorry lack of product.
There’s talk of Lille’s Gervinho arriving for £10million. The dread-locked Ivory Coast striker is making all the right noises – just as Chamakh did last summer – but is he really better than Togo’s Emmanuel Adebayor, released so easily to Manchester City two seasons ago?
Michel Seydoux, president of the French double-winners, said yesterday: “We know that Gervinho is keen on Arsenal. There has been simple contact, but we have not received a concrete offer yet."
So hey, long-suffering Gooners, let’s not hold our breath. We’ve talked this summer about Gervinho, Alvarez, Alcantara, Karim Benzema, Cahill, Douglas Costa, Juan Mata, West Brom’s sharp-shooter Peter Odemwingie, Samba, Arturo Vidal.
But so far, Arsenal’s summer spending consists of Finland’s English-born Carl Jenkinson from Charlton Athletic. He’s 19 and played just nine times for the Addicks. The fee? Around £1m, “paid in stages”. Now that’s big spending!
Oh, and three youngsters called Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke and Oguzhan Ozyakup have pledged their long-term futures to Arsenal according to the club website. Woohoo.
Gazidis again: “It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players. Some new signings will be coming in and some of our existing squad will be going out. As Arsene has said, it will be a busy close season for the club.”
Tellingly though, he added: “We have a young squad and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Chances are Arsenal’s board, that cunning blend of foreign financiers and toffs, will spend as little as they can and hope for another year of big profit, presumably to pay off the Emirates Stadium. But that’s a tired excuse. If Fabregas goes, it’s time to spend big. Everyone knows it. Except Sir Chips and his fishy friends.
Who the hell is Neal Collins (nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk.