Despite, or perhaps because of, Arsenal’s non-statement about Ivan Gazidis, rumours of his departure for AC Milan’s board continue to swirl. It is a mark of how ingrained Gazidis has become that, 12 months after he was persona non grata, with many people inquiring in a sweary manner exactly what it is that he does, that news of his departure causes genuine concern. In part, that has a great deal to do with the reforms that have happened at backroom staff level—moves that have, ironically, made it feasible for Gazidis to leave. Sven Mislintat is in charge of recruitment, Raul Sanllehi is the Director of Football Relations (whatever that means), Huss Fahmy is the new contract negotiator, and Unai Emery is the head coach. Power at Arsenal, following Gazidis reforms and Arsène Wenger’s departure, has been diversified.
And yet, there should still be concern. When Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, United didn’t only suffer because Ferguson was replaced by David Moyes; they also lost their chief executive of ten years, David Gill, who was replaced by Ed Woodward. Woodward’s failures as chief exec has been well documented—the first summer, when they spent time chasing Thiago, getting led up by the garden path by Cesc Fabregas, duped by impostors and ended up signing only Marouane Fellaini—and it’s worth noting that Woodward was an internal promotion, someone who was already ingrained into the club.
If Gazidis leaves, there will be, again, a huge transition of power. Gazidis may have spread responsibilities around over the past 12 months, but when Wenger announced his departure, and with Stan Kroenke a famously absent owner, Gazidis made it very clear that he was the public face of power at the club. It was Gazidis who spoke to the press in the afternoon on 20 April. It was Gazidis who sat next to Unai Emery when his appointment as head coach was announced. It has been Gazidis who has given quotes about new signings and contract extensions and academy appointments. With Wenger gone, Gazidis has stepped up in the day to day running of the football club. Those decisions may be made more in consultation, or spread out among departments, but it has been clear that the decision maker has been Gazidis.
Without Gazidis, there will be huge questions about who steps in to replace him. If Unai Emery struggles to the extent where a decision needs to be made about sacking him and searching for a replacement, who makes that decision? Who heads the search? Those roles have been, since April, Gazidis. Will it be Sven Mislintat, a scout? Raul Sanllehi, who only joined Arsenal in February? The Arsenal board, who are short of football expertise? Or will the owner, who has been extremely reticent, finally take more of an active role? These are questions that Arsenal will have to address. Having already had to answer them once, when Wenger left, they should be well-placed to answer them. And yet, it opens a huge gap, another unknown when Arsenal are already entering a season with the biggest unknown they have had since 1996. For a club that is in a transitional phase, it may be worth reflecting that it is better the devil you know than yet another unknown factor.