Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis has spoken to Arsenal Media. In this revealing interview Gazidis, who is approaching six years with the club, has given an insight into his role, the club’s ambitions and some of the plans for the future.
Ivan, you’re coming up to six years as CEO. Would it be fair to say that it’s been an era of patience for yourself, your executive team and for the fans?
Nobody’s patient in football, so I’m not sure I really like the term ‘patience’. I don’t think this is a patient club, I don’t think we have patient people - we certainly don’t have complacent people. You’re never in an environment where there’s patience. I think what you have to do though, is have a very clear understanding of where we’re going and how you plan to get there. It’s very important that you don’t get knocked off that path easily because, if you do, bad mistakes happen.
A good deal of the time fans won’t see the passion that you have. Does that frustrate you?
As chief executive, you’re feeling the ups and downs the same way as the fans are, believe me. I’ve got two kids at home who are big Arsenal fans. We come home after a loss and it’s difficult to take. Fundamentally, I believe in this football club. I think it represents something really special in football. It’s not my job to be screaming on Mondays and be feeling up and down - it’s my job to go home quietly, scream and shout at home, have a sleepless night, come in in the morning and say, ‘Remember where we’re going, remember how we’re getting there’.
How important is the manager in all of this?
So much of the attention on a football club is around an individual and that’s very understandable at Arsenal because we have a giant who’s managing us. Arsene has been a fantastic driver and has put the club in a great, great position. The biggest challenge we’re going to face as a club is that, when that transition from Arsene to the next manager of our football club happens - and I don’t know when that’s going to be - that we come through that strongly.
In the course of the last two seasons, the criticism of a lack of trophies and ability to spend the cash in the bank have been labelled at you, but you’ve turned those both around. Is there any satisfaction in that?
I’m not satisfied. You need that constant pressure, that constant drive, striving to improve, get better and put everything out on the table - you need that. It’s been frustrating for the fans. I know it’s been enormously frustrating for Arsene and for me. It has been incredibly frustrating not being able to be where we want to be these last few years, so winning the FA Cup was a fantastic moment. In my life, that’s one of my greatest moments, to feel that and to go on the open-top bus tour. Not for me, but to see the fans and what it meant to them - that was an incredible day for me and all the staff and players that were a part of it. I don’t come out of that feeling satisfied like we’ve achieved what we need to achieve. The hunger for success is immediate. The moment you get away from that euphoria of the moment, the next question is, ‘How do we have more of that?’ That’s what everybody at this club is focused on. There’s no satisfaction in it - it’s what do we do now.
So you brought commercial success to the club. How challenging has that been?
It’s the fuel to provide what we need for our ambitions on the field. We want to win and we want this club to be one of the great clubs in the world. That’s what this entire journey has been about. How do we take Arsenal, which is a wonderful, historic football club based in a wonderful but slightly antiquated Highbury stadium, and really surge it forward so that it can compete with the biggest football clubs in the world? We’re not there yet - this is a long-term journey that we’re on. That consumes us every single day in our ownership, our board, me, our staff, our football manager and it’s important the players feel that as well. We want this football club to be at the top of the world’s game.
The reason we talk about a healthy business is because that’s what we need behind it. It’s easy to talk about ambition, anyone can use flowery words about what they want to be, but you’ve got to actually deliver. That’s what is so important and that’s why the stadium move was so important. That’s why the last five years of unlocking our international and our commercial revenues is so important for the club. It allows us to go out and, if the manager believes in someone like Mesut Ozil, he can buy him. It’s the same with Alexis Sanchez. Underneath that tip of the iceberg, those star signings that we talk a lot about, there’s an awful lot else going on. We’re signing some fantastic young talent and we’re keeping our players now, unlike the situation two or three years ago when we were really financially challenged and were losing our top players, we’re signing our top players to long-term contracts. Guys like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, I could go on. Underneath that you have all of this other stuff this football club is about.
"Underneath that tip of the iceberg, those star signings that we talk a lot about, there’s an awful lot else going on"
Our youth development, for example, is going to be the foundation of this football club going forward. We’re investing millions of pounds into leadership at that level, new coaching as we go through a transition, but also in facilities. Hale End is our facility for nine-year-olds through to 16-year-olds on the North Circular. That place is getting totally transformed at the moment. Anyone who goes there will see what we’re doing there. We’re investing many million pounds into developing London Colney, our main training centre - our athletic development, our analytics, our scouting, all these things are part of making a modern football club.
We need to make sure that we’re absolutely ahead of the curve in all of those areas. We have to find our own path and our path is going to built around how well we can develop our young players and bring them through to our first team. That’s always been an underlying principle of the club and that’s going to continue to be the case. The difference is that now, as we come through this era, we’re in a more powerful place to be able to add to that foundation and that’s going to be a very powerful combination. We’ve seen with clubs like Borussia Dortmund or Atletico Madrid that you can compete at the very top of the game and I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t believe we could compete at the very top level. I know Arsene feels exactly the same way.
What about the scouting of talent? Do you feel that you’re making inroads there in terms of being able to identify tomorrow’s players who are going to pull on an Arsenal shirt?
We talk about the changes that are happening in youth development - one of the really important things that is happening is that the investment going into youth development across the Premier League in these new category one academies means that we’ve opened up the door for national recruitment. So, for the first time, a club like Arsenal can scout for players all around England and bring them in to our system and develop them here, which hasn’t been the case historically. That opens the door but it also opens a requirement that we’ve got to have an excellent domestic scouting system for young players to make sure we get the best young players into Arsenal.
"We have top, top coaches here for young players, we have fantastic facilities that we are investing in - they will be state of the art and top class in the world"
I think we have a fantastic story to tell at Arsenal because we have top, top coaches here for young players, we have fantastic facilities that we are investing in - they will be state of the art and top class in the world. We have also got a great athletic development department and, above all of those things, we have a strong club philosophy, which revolves around playing great football and giving young players a chance. That means that not only the very best young players in England but the very best young players in Europe want to come to Arsenal Football Club. It gives us a great competitive advantage and that’s why I believe we can have the best youth academy in the world over a period of time but we’re not there yet. We need to invest.
It’s Arsenal’s 17th consecutive season in the Champions League. In the world league table, where do you think Arsenal sit?
Where we are currently is off the shoulder of the world’s top teams. I think the best teams in the world are in Europe and you think about the great names in world football like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich - I don’t think we’re at that level yet but that’s where we’re aiming to get to. It’s one thing to say that and it’s another thing to be able to deliver it.
That’s why so many of these things that we talk about with Arsenal are about not just having the vision or the words to say that, but to actually have the infrastructure and the foundations to deliver it to our fans. That’s not something that happens overnight but we’re on that journey, which is why Stan Kroenke is involved in our club, that’s why our board, who are lifelong fans of this club, are involved and it’s why Arsene Wenger and I are involved in this football club. Right through our staff, on the field and off the field, I can tell you that’s what everyone is driving for - we want Arsenal to be in that elite group of football clubs around the world.