Ivan Gazidis is the chief executive of Arsenal FC, which will take on the best of MLS in the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game Thursday in Avaya Stadium in San Jose (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, UniMas, TSN, RDS). But Gazidis also was one of the founding executives of MLS and served as the league's deputy commissioner before taking the job at Arsenal.
Gazidis spoke with MLSsoccer.com Senior Editor Andrew Wiebe and David Gass on ExtraTime Radio about a number of subjects, in an interview that you can listen to above. This is Part 2 of the transcript of that interview, focusing on what goes into running such a big club like Arsenal. Part 1 focuses on his tenure in MLS and the league's development since he left for the English Premier League in 2009.
What’s on your plate as the CEO of Arsenal?
One of the things when you come to a club like Arsenal is to appreciate the scale of the responsibly that you have. It’s not just a football club. It’s really a social and cultural institution. It represents a community of people that are not just based here in Islington or in London or even in the United Kingdom. It’s a worldwide audience. The people who follow this club are deeply, deeply connected with the club’s values. It’s an incredible group, right across the world.
To give you some sense of the scale, we have 36 million Facebook followers, closing in on eight million following us on Twitter. The Yankees by comparison – and the Yankees are a wonderful institution in their own right – have eight-and-a-half million on Facebook and 1.7 million on Twitter, so it just gives you a sense of the scale of the Premier League and Arsenal’s place within it. We are representing a set of values – in the way we run our club, the way we play football, the way we conduct ourselves – that are shared by this global community.
What’s the biggest difference between working for a league, as you did with MLS, and working for a club? How does the need to win change your role and how you work?
It’s a very different environment. When you’re working for a league, you’re always focused on long-term growth. You can watch the games as a neutral without that passion and emotional ups and downs of the day to day. [At a club] you are experiencing the emotions that the fans are experiencing. Dramatic ups and downs based on whether the ball hits the post and goes in or hits the post and goes out. Dramatic conclusions and emotions follow from those events. I think the one thing that’s important is that you – in the same way you do with the league, particularly in my position as chief executive – focus on the long-term growth of the club, the progress that the club is making. Because if you get caught up too much in the day-to-day ups and downs, you’ll end up making some bad decisions. Bad decisions have no place in this game.
It’s so competitive that the wheels come off the wagon quite quickly. You can look at many examples of football clubs where decisions have been made for the short term or based on an emotional environment that ended up backfiring. For us at the club, we’re focused very much on progressing in what is an increasingly competitive environment. We’re in a really good place as a club. In all aspects of what we’re doing we’re making dramatic progress. I think, of course, ultimately what we all want is to see that progress reflected on the pitch. That’s a very, very strong directive from our owner, from our board, from me and certainly with our manager. We want more. The long-term journey that the club is on is to establish itself as one of the leading clubs, one of the handful of leading clubs, in the world of football.
That is easy to say, and many clubs might espouse that goal, but we are very consistent and firm in our club philosophy. We are devoted to the club. We do think long-term about it. We’re very very engaged with not just what we do, but how we do it. We believe in youth. We believe in progressive, attractive football. We believe in constant development, never resting on laurels, and also we are resistant to crosswinds that come and try to blow you off course. There is a tremendous strength in this club in terms of the way that we operate. I know that there’s a huge admiration for the club all around the world that I sense because of the values that we hold dear. It’s those values that don’t inhibit us from being successful. They’re the values that will enable us to be successful. We are seeing progress. There’s no question in my mind that the squad that we have is stronger than it was five years ago in a very, very competitive marketplace.
There’s no question in my mind that we’re making progress as a club. We’ve won the FA Cup twice in the last three years. That’s a record-breaking FA Cup run for us. I know we fell short and we’re all disappointed in that last season, but our last three league finishes have been fourth, third and second so we’re moving in the right direction. We’re very focused on taking it one step further in this upcoming season.
As always, rumors rule the day during the transfer window. Are there any updates as to what’s coming and what fans should expect when it comes to new signings?
We’ve been really consistent and disciplined over the last three or four years in being very selective about the players that we bring in and not making too many compromises along the way. That has meant both developing young players – we’ve got some fantastic young talent that has come through like Hector Bellerin or Francis Coquelin, Alex Iwobi broke into the first team this year and we’ve got a number of young players that we feel very strongly about behind them – but it also has involved spending big money at times on talented players where we believe they’ll add real value. Players like Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez or this season Granit Xhaka.
But again we don’t sign players in response to public pressure. We sign players because we believe they will progress us as a club. We’re really disciplined about that. We have to be. We don’t have the financial resources of some of the other clubs. If we went out and just tried to compete only on the basis of spending more than others in transfer windows, that wouldn’t be a successful strategy for us. We have to be very disciplined about staying true to our values, staying true to the foundations of the club and making sure that we make smart decisions.
Looking ahead in this transfer window, we’re going to retain that discipline. We will certainly add players if we think and our manager thinks they add value to our squad. We’re actively in the market, as is every other club. We won’t do it if we don’t see the value that’s added to our squad. That’s the reason why our squad has developed over the last few years. That’s the reason it is stronger today than it was five years ago. I think anybody paying attention to what we’ve actually done with our squad will recognize that philosophy and that approach has given us a squad that is capable of competing to win the Premier League and we’re very hopeful about the direction of travel.