For the sake of stability and continuity, Arsenal fans should be extremely happy that Raul Sanllehi and Vinai Venkatesham have been promoted to Head of Football and Managing Director, effectively taking the place of the departing CEO Ivan Gazidis. Given the sensitivity and precision needed from the club following the radical changes made to its structure in the last 12 months, not to mention the departure of Arsene Wenger, the very last thing Arsenal should have done is look outside the club when filling the role Gazidis left behind.
When a CEO is brought in externally within most businesses, what generally follows is a slow upheaval of staff that reports to them. CEOs are tasked with either ensuring the continual growth of the business or, in volatile situations, righting a wayward ship, and it’s their ability to plan out a course of action and having the wherewithal to put into action the many steps required to be taken to either not disrupt the business or to jolt the organization into moving in a positive direction.
It doesn’t take a trained eye to see which clubs could benefit from such a disruption that a new CEO from outside of their walls brings – AC Milan being one example – but Arsenal is not a dysfunctional unit, regardless of their last two league season table places.
While it’s assumed that Venkatesham will continue to enhance Arsenal’s commercial side of the business, an area of the club where Gazidis shoulders a lot of blame for the stagnation of growth, the focus from many has shifted quite suddenly to Sanllehi, formerly the Head of Football Relations (the functional difference between his prior title and his new one is unclear). The Spaniard arrived at Arsenal with an oversized reputation from Barcelona as having one of the largest networks in world football, and with that attached to his name, expectations will undoubtedly be that whatever the differences and/or constraints that might have held him in check due to the prior organizational hierarchy won’t remain going forward.
The ethos of the club in regards to player recruitment and their youth academy aren’t changing with the new leadership, but Sanllehi will be under pressure to steer his charges in a direction he is in charge of shaping, that will hopefully result in consistently bringing some of the top young players in the world to Arsenal.
All of this is said without bringing up the topic of Josh Kroenke and what role he might play at the club in the future. Notably known as the President of the Denver Nuggets, Kroenke has experience in the daily operational aspects of running high-level sports clubs, and stories have emerged this week following Gazidis’ departure that it was Josh who was instrumental in pushing through and finalizing the protracted Mesut Ozil contract extension this past January. If Kroenke were to assume a role above Sanllehi and Venkatesham thanks to the privatization of Arsenal and the familial ties he has, it would look extremely bad from a nepotism angle, but honestly, it probably wouldn’t change much within the operations at the club.
Josh probably wouldn’t be a figurehead if he were in the ex-CEO’s position, whatever it would be named, but he also wouldn’t be a malevolent influence on the club that his dad gave him to run on a whim, either - he’s got the chops to do the job. The question would be if adding the job of Arsenal CEO to his already busy portfolio would see him be stretched too thin - at that point he’d be running the Nuggets, Avalanche, Rapids and Arsenal. That’s a full work day. Would that mean that Arsenal, who famously aren’t based in Denver, get the short end of the Kroenke attention stick? Would Josh be as passive a CEO as Stan is as owner?
It remains to be seen whether the Kroenke family has the desire to make any of this happen, but it’s their toy now, so time will tell.