Thanks to our friends over at The Short Fuse, the SBNation blog for everything Arsenal for answering a few of our questions about Ivan Gazidis, his time at Arsenal, and what AC Milan fans should expect from him at Casa Milan.
What was his role at Arsenal? Was he the one responsible for just the business side of the club, or was he also involved in the player acquisition and contract side as well?
His title was Chief Executive Officer, which obviously means something different for a sports team than it does, say, a car company. Unlike a non-sports CEO, Gazidis had a boss - he reported to Stan Kroenke, then-board chair and now sole owner of the club. As far as his day-to-day, he mostly oversaw the business side. Arsene Wenger was, until the last Wenger season of Gazidis’ tenure, solely responsible for sourcing and recruiting talent, and thus Gazidis didn’t really involve himself on the playing side until it came time to finalize contract negotiations with new signings.
Just how much influence did Gazidis have in the departure of Arsene Wenger?
Either total influence or near-total, depending on how you look at it. A couple seasons back, Gazidis recognized that Wenger couldn’t, or more crucially shouldn’t, go on forever as the sole operator of Arsenal’s football universe (that’s not an exaggeration - Arsene was, by his design, responsible for everything from training ground cafeteria menus to fitness staff to player recruitment to coaching, and was very active in designing and running first-team training on a daily basis), and started to take steps to lessen Wenger’s workload. It should be noted that Arsene was not happy about this. A couple seasons ago, Gazidis brought in Sven Mislintat from Dortmund as head of recruitment and Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona as “Director of Football Relations”, both in November of 2017, with the idea that Sanllehi would build a vision for what Arsenal would be like as a playing force and Mislintat would go out and find the players to execute that vision.
The name missing from that Premier League Arsenal 2.0 roadmap? Arsene Wenger. Unsurprisingly, Wenger did not like this plan, and Wenger generally tried to ignore what Sanllehi was doing as far as player recruitment and carried on with his running the club as he saw fit. This would have been fine, or even a good idea, if Arsenal were playing well and making progress, but in the last four seasons Arsenal have completely stagnated, to the point where everyone but Wenger saw that change of some sort was absolutely necessary if the club were to keep moving forward and not just treading water. When 2017/18 continued playing out exactly as the seasons previous to it had, the situation became somewhat untenable - supporters were baying for blood, the club was going nowhere, and finally, a month before the end of the season, Wenger announced that the end of the season would be the end of his time at Arsenal.
You’ll notice I haven’t directly answered the question yet. That’s because we’ll never know if Arsene left of his own accord because he saw the writing on the wall, or if he left after a conversation that went “So, Arsene, would you like to resign now and bathe in the month-long lovefest that 22 years of stellar work has earned you, or would you like to see what happens at the end of the season?”. Either way it went down, it’s undoubtedly because of Gazidis that Arsene is gone.
Why was Gazidis brought to London from MLS?
It’s hard to know the whole answer, but in my opinion, a lot of it is because of Gazidis’ experience with not just MLS, but with Soccer United Marketing (SUM). That’s the marketing arm of MLS and the “exclusive marketing partner” of US Soccer, and Gazidis was its president for four years. SUM would have given Gazidis tremendous experience in marketing a brand (sorry for the corporate buzzword) to both a national and an international market, because growing the profile of MLS was and is SUM’s reason for existence, and his success at that job (MLS added two clubs and started laying down the foundations for another wave of expansion in those four years, and started becoming more of a part of the US sports conversation at the same time) was probably fairly attractive to an Arsenal board who, prior to 2008, didn’t really put a lot of work into growing Arsenal internationally at all.
Arsenal have done great on the business side of the game since he came to Arsenal, but seemed to not be able to win trophies while he was there. How much blame, if any, does he deserve for the perceived dip in ambition by the Arsenal board?
I don’t think Arsenal’s failure to win trophies - because apparently we’re not counting three FA Cup wins in four years between 2013-2017 as trophies? - can be laid solely at the feet of Ivan Gazidis. Wenger, as mentioned, was almost solely responsible for player sourcing and recruitment until his last season or so, so if you need to blame someone, I’d put most of the blame there. I will say that Gazidis could have forced himself into a more active role in player recruitment, but I don’t think that was his primary focus. The Arsenal board are, and have been for years, fairly content to sit back and let things just happen - and now that Stan Kroenke is sole owner of the club, the board may or may not have a function in a season or two anyway.
So if we’re going to do this numbers-style, I’d break it down like this, as far as percentage of blame for a lack of Premier League and European success:
Arsene Wenger: 70%. He had all the power, and he was very good at identifying and signing players, until he wasn’t.
Stan Kroenke: 10%. He does not have an active role in the club at all - he just owns it. Doesn’t ever put pressure on the club to spend more/do more (that we can see, anyway).
Ivan Gazidis: 10%. Again, not really his job, but he could, as CEO, have made it his job.
Arsenal’s board: 10%. Content to just let the profits - and Arsenal are quite profitable - roll in.