The Chief Executives of Premier League football clubs are often subjected to much discussion within the media. How much influence do they have at the club? Does their transfer policy match that of the head coach/manager? One of most well-known amongst them is Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s now ex-Chief Executive who joined the club in 2009 and famously led the interview process which resulted in Unai Emery being appointed as the club’s Head Coach in the Summer. AC Milan have now secured the services of Gazidis and the Rossoneri are probably hoping that he can revive the past glories of the seven time European champions. But who exactly is Ivan Gazidis and why have AC Milan reportedly given him a contract worth £3.6m per annum?
Gazidis moved from Johannesburg to Manchester when he was four years old and subsequently took to supporting Manchester City. He attended Manchester Grammar School before graduating from the University of Oxford in Law. It was in 1992 that his professional career started when he took a role at the World’s second largest law firm, Latham and Watkins. Two years later, he entered football and became one of the founding fathers of the MLS, eventually becoming a key player in the business strategy and marketing of the American premier division. He also had a large hand in promoting Mexico and its football federation, and also the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In 2009, he left his Deputy Commissioner’s role with the MLS and moved to North London to replace Keith Edelman and take charge of the business-related arm of Arsenal Football Club.
Gazidis often performed his role at Arsenal under the radar, but it was one which he fulfilled to supreme effect. Upon arriving at the Emirates in January 2009, he was charged with the development of the Highbury Square flats on the site of Arsenal’s old Highbury stadium during the financial crisis and maintaining Arsenal as an English powerhouse in spite of their $530m stadium debts. He successfully negotiated his way through those issues. However, he also modernised the club financially. In his first few years at Arsenal, he extended the club’s outreach to the US, the Far East and the Middle East through soccer schools and retail outlets and has boosted the club’s commercial revenue through various sponsorship deals from £48.1m in 2009 to £117.3m in 2017. He negotiated the Puma kit deal which raked in £30m per year in a deal that was the largest in British footballing history at the time. And to top all of that off, Gazidis has been most acclaimed by many for establishing a sustainable and progressive business model at the club, largely based on the back of long-term marketing deals with the likes of Emirates Airlines.
All this makes Ivan Gazidis an Executive of the highest pedigree and someone who is perfectly suited for a club like AC Milan. The financial development of Italian teams, except Juventus, has very much been stunted in comparison with the English, German and Spanish leagues due to massive debts accumulated by clubs after Italia 1990. These debts have stagnated the commercial progression of Serie A, which is precisely why Ivan Gazidis has been brought to the San Siro. He is a man who has unparalleled business links worldwide, both in the USA and the Eastern Hemisphere, and who has proven that he can progress a club as a brand. These skills will be absolutely pivotal for the future of a club like AC Milan, who have seriously fallen behind other Italian clubs like Juventus and Roma economically and on the pitch. It will undoubtedly be a long-term project for Gazidis, but it is a project in which he will excel. It would be no surprise if within 5 years the sleeping giants of AC Milan are alive and kicking again and competing for both domestic and continental silverware.
He also leaves Arsenal in a healthy state. He has successfully revolutionised the clubs commercial system and has more recently overseen a revolution on the pitch. He engineered the change in footballing structure at the club, signing Sven Mislintat as Head of Recruitment from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 and Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona in 2018 as Head of Football Relations. This signalled a huge change in emphasis at Arsenal as it took power away from Arsene Wenger who had effectively controlled everything at the football club since joining in 1996. This paved the way for Unai Emery to be hired as Head Coach in the summer of 2018, and will hopefully bring about a more successful period for the club. It will now be over to Vinal Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehi to further progress the strong foundations laid by Gazidis over the past 10 years.