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Ivan Gazidis to join Milan: Arsenal chief executive will not be forgotten for all the wrong reasons

Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis

Despite all the huffing and puffing from Arsenal football club to dispel rumours of CEO’s departure to AC Milan, it has now been confirmed. The worst kept secret in football circles is now out in the open and the club have restructured accordingly. From December 1st, the clubs Head of football relations Raul Sanllehi will take up his new role as head of football whilst Vinai Venkatesham will become the clubs managing director.

Venkatesham is another relatively fresh name to the majority of Arsenal fans but he has been with the club since 2014. He was one of the London 2012 Organising Committee which raised 2 billion of private finance to fund the Games via a series of lucrative sponsorship deals. AC Milan’s pursuit of Gazidis was first discussed back in July 2018 but suggestions were met with straight denials, yet it seemed to many, that it was just a matter of time before he booked the flight.

Quite why Gazidis has chosen to go is the subject of conjecture because he appeared to in the position he had long craved. Speaking to Arsenal’s official website, Gazidis said of his departure:

“Although it is very hard to do – the hardest decision of my life – I believe that, after 10 years, it is the right time for me to step aside to allow new leadership, energy and ideas to take the club forward into this exciting new era. I believe in the positive force of change, both for me and for the club. I am excited to see what the future holds for this great club and I am energised by a new personal challenge with AC Milan.”

Arsenal fans won’t exactly be left weeping at the decision and must be praying now that Stan Kroenke follows suit. Gazidis never really established an affinity with the fans at any level and appeared like a cross between an authoritarian headmaster and a chief accountant.  When he spoke, it was passionless and matter of fact but he was the ideal man to translate Stan Kroenke’s plans and push Arsenal into their new financial blueprint of lucrative opportunity and sponsorship.

Kroenke’s son Josh was left to heap the praise on Gazidis, which is a bit like Jesus letting a disciple give a sermon. Quite why Stan decided not to praise his poodle is a mystery.
In place of the absent owner, Josh said:

“It is has been a pleasure working with Ivan. We will miss his wisdom, insight and energy he bought to our club on a daily basis over the past decade.”

The deal which takes Gazidis to Milan is said to eclipse his current income of £2.6 Million with the added incentive of an equity share. The man tasked with bringing in a new manager and leading Arsenal forward into a new era has upped anchor and set sail for money, which isn’t exactly a major shock. The circumstances behind the decision are intriguing and it appears to be more than a coincidence since the American owner recently gobbled up the shares of Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov.

In July Arsenal insisted that their chief executive was “fully committed” to the club and “working hard in Singapore”, yet the rumours wouldn’t go away with fans labeling him ‘ A coward’ for even contemplating leaving the club whilst in its transitional state.

After Wenger departed after 22 years, Gazidis basked in the limelight, indicating that he was now the public face of Arsenal and was there for the long haul. When he arrived at Arsenal in 2009, his role was to secure sponsorship. Since then he has occasionally been used as a fire blanket by the club in troubled times and if anything he will be remembered as the man in charge of the post-Wenger period.

He has overseen the move from the Highbury to the Emirates, a number of high profile signings, the departures of Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas and the end of any realistic chances of winning the premiership. Unfair? Not at all. He was a phantom in a suit, someone adept at balancing the accounts but alien to the desires of the fans. He was the epitome of a new breed inhabiting a number of high profile clubs. He has the business acumen but displays no passion.

His best achievement was securing the services of Sven Mislintat and his worst was presiding over the club without being able to make it a credible challenger for the top prizes. Contract fiasco ’s, indecisive management and the inability to display sound judgment made him a joke figure to supporters but there’s no denying that he helped to make Arsenal financially sound. His most embarrassing period was issuing Arsene Wenger with a new contract only to terminate it one season in.

Yet, no one should really be surprised Gazidis has decided to go. For all his faults, he is astute enough to know that the structure of the personal empire he was building for himself inside Arsenal was vulnerable once Kroenke’s son became more involved. One can only surmise that the parameters of his role would either become significantly reduced or obsolete and that he jumped before being pushed. It’s almost poetic justice and a perfect way for him to leave the club almost entirely as he found it with its future still uncertain and its direction unclear. Milan offered a lucrative deal and Gazidis took about thirty seconds to mull it over before saying yes. Judas Iscariot has nothing on this guy. He’s gone and will not be forgotten for all the wrong reasons.

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