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Ivan Gazidis: The Right Man for Milan?



When Berlusconi finally let go of Milan from his tightly clenched, vote-seeking little fists, I wondered about who would steer Milan into the future. And after Yonghong Li’s 15 minutes of fame was over, I wondered yet again about Milan’s leadership. Who would dare venture into this spontaneous scooter-riding, drama-filled Serie A world full of racist, sexist, megalomaniacs who sleep with underage women? Who could possibly understand the Italian culture of matchfixing and gaining any advantage you can, while moaning about any perceived advantages of your opponents? Someone who could navigate the crazy while still rebuilding the club for success from the top down? Who would be the right man for Milan?

At least he's used to being CEO at a club that's not winning

For now, Milan are owned by Elliott Management, which is an American hedge fund. Who knew that a vulture fund would bring more stability to the club than a couple of old Italian geezers who had given Milan so many trophies and so much prestige? Of course, this pet project of Elliott is to turn Milan around and sell it to the highest bidder. So to make them money, they chose Ivan Gazidis for the job. But is he the right man for Milan?

Gazidis is of Greek descent, but native to South Africa. However, he grew up in Manchester, England. While attending the University of Oxford, he played football, and was supposedly pretty decent, too. He was also reportedly a pretty decent drummer and played in a couple of bands while in school. However, being a Manchester City fan, he was never going to be a footballer or a drummer, so he instead graduated with a degree in law.

Commercially successful soccer? Mission Impossible

He moved to the United States, joining Latham and Watkins, one of the most prestigious law firms in the world. But it was in 1994 that he was able to marry his profession with one of his passions by being part of the founding management of Major League Soccer in the United States. He helped build the league into a reasonable success, at least financially, and even became its deputy commissioner in 2001.

At this time, he was also president of Soccer United Marketing, which was the business and marketing brain trust of the MLS. Additionally, he helped to promote the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Mexican Football League. All of these entities experienced commercial success, and more specifically, significant economic growth under Gazidis.

He convinced people to give the MLS money for something football-adjacent

From this foundation, he went back home to England to become the CEO of Arsenal in 2009. In addition to the traditional CEO roles, he took on many of the roles that were formerly given to the vice-chairman. Sound familiar? (Looking at you, Galliani.) And I'm guessing that taking on extra roles is why there was no room for Gandini to return to Milan, either. While no one could help Arsenal win on the pitch, it’s just not what they do, he is credited for moving Arsenal forward into the modern football model of sports marketing. Deloitte Football Money League ranks Arsenal’s revenue seventh in the world, with their matchday revenue being the highest in the world.

While many Arsenal fans are not exactly sad to see Gazidis go, something that is also largely tied with Wenger’s downfall and exit, from a marketing standpoint, Gazidis looks like a genius. I mean first he marketed “soccer” to Americans, and got them to pay way too much money for it. Then he spent over nine years selling Arsenal’s football to the world, and people paid for that, too. All jokes aside, he has the footballing knowledge, the cunning that only a lawyer has, and the business and marketing skills to pull it all together and create a successful and stable business model. First in America, then England.

Built Arsenal financially, maybe took down Wenger

However, doubts still remain as to whether or not he can repeat his miracles in Serie A. While every league is unique in its culture, Serie A amps up the crazy. Rules are made to be broken, except when they aren’t, and the only way to know how that works is to be either the richest or the craziest Italian. Money is weird, too, as Serie A owners don’t seem to want to make any, so they will make stupid economic decisions that impact the whole league. And don’t get me started on the stadium issues. Is Gazidis prepared to go into the mental ward that is Serie A and come out successful and unscathed?

The other big question is for the fans: are you okay economically stabilizing the club, but possibly not winning anything? The MLS is some kind of football-adjacent product that is shoved down the throats of Americans, calling it “soccer.” The fact that footballers from Europe and elsewhere can go to the MLS and play for years after they should have retired says it all. And let’s face it, it’s not like Arsenal won anything beyond a couple of FA Cups and Community Shields while Gazidis was there, either. Their fans have suffered like we have in recent years, except with financial stability. Will Milan’s DNA be able to help us be back where we should be in spite of Gazidis?

Ready or not, December 1st, here he comes

The man has a solid track record. If he helped build a commercially successful soccer league in America, he’s got to be some sort of wizard. And again, with Arsenal, the commercial success despite such little success on the pitch. Which is why I’m wary of Elliott Management bringing him in. He will give them what they need, but will he give fans what we need? I’m not so sure that Ivan Gazidis is the right man for Milan.


This post inspired by the music of The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love”