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Ivan Gazidis has won Arsenal
Ivan Gazidis met the higher-ups at Real Madrid in August 2013 with the intention of signing one player – Ángel Di María. The Spanish club would not sell and, what was more, they told the Arsenal chief executive he could not have anybody.
Then Gazidis’s stars aligned. Over at the Real training pitches the club’s new manager, Carlo Ancelotti, told Mesut Özil he would not be assured of a starting place. Özil threw his
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toys and, rather abruptly, Gazidis was told he could take the Germany superstar, which he did.
Gazidis is fond of telling the story because it has plenty of zesty ingredients, not least football’s everlasting capacity to surprise. But he tells it, more than anything, because it was a cool thing to have been a part of and, at times like these, even men in his position and with his icy temperament can be touched by a childlike excitement.
Gazidis is, first and foremost, a football lover. Born in Johannesburg, he moved to Manchester at the age of four where he supported City and
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was an outstanding schoolboy player. Having obtained a masters in law, he pursued his career as a lawyer but the bug did not leave him. Gazidis was one of the founder members of Major League Soccer in the United States, and he worked there until 2008.
The Özil deal has been one of the high points of Gazidis’s nine and a half years at Arsenal and yet the opportunistic element to it did not seem to fit with his personality. Gazidis is not an off-the-cuff operator. He is a contemplator, a deep thinker, who will calmly consider each decision from every conceivable angle. Perhaps he quickly concluded that Özil was a no-brainer; he did not have to over-analyse this one.
Gazidis is primed to announce the
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most significant signing of his career and, as the process to appoint a managerial successor to Arsčne Wenger approached its endgame last week, there was the temptation to wonder, once again, whether he was about to act out of character. The 53-year-old is, by nature, risk-averse and not inclined to roll the dice. And yet he looked set to go for Mikel Arteta – a man with zero experience of being a manager.
Gazidis sounds like a marketing executive when he describes Arsenal’s determination to do things their way, even if it means going against the grain. “We zig where others zag,” he once said. They were ready
to zig and then some.
Something changed over the weekend and, rather than Arteta, Gazidis is now putting the finishing touches to the appointment of Unai Emery, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla
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manager – an altogether safer bet, despite his often volatile touchline manner. Many will say the Arsenal squad, so indulged by Wenger, need an iron-fist-in-an-iron-glove kind of guy.
The club have attempted a piece of revisionism and who can blame them? There was from the outset only one outstanding candidate for the job, they say, and
he is about to get it. Why, then, were discussions so advanced with Arteta that the conversation had turned to his backroom staff? On Sunday night
he still expected to be offered the post.
Maybe it was a fiendish attempt by Gazidis and his inner circle to throw people off the scent, to use Arteta as a smokescreen for Emery, before dashing his hopes at the last. Or maybe not. It is simply not Gazidis’s style.
More likely is that, when push came to shove, Gazidis played the percentages. Emery has experience, pedigree. He is an outstanding candidate because of his body of work over 14 seasons in management, particularly at Sevilla, where he won three Europa Leagues in a row.
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