Arsenal made the shock announcement that Vinai is exiting the club after 14 years. It might feel like an odd move – we’re winning, everything on the shop floor looks good, fans are happy… but I don’t think his exit is particularly surprising. Arsenal doesn’t have a normal corporate setup and titles aren’t always what they seem.
He leaves the club better than he found it – which will look good on the resume for whatever he does next. He seems to have put his name to a lot of soft projects that the fans have enjoyed. The atmosphere rebirth has his name on it, the fan artwork around the stadium seemed to be a point of pride, his relationship with supporter groups has been top tier, he drove a deeper relationship with under repped communities, and developing the fandom in key markets like America seems to have been a key push by him. Another commendable trait is he has kept his profile low through the rebuild. Ivan G was a much more front-and-centre type character – you don’t see much of Vinai, which considering the Ws we’ve been hailed for of late shows great restraint. I’m sure he’ll have people ready to snap him up worldwide when he takes his next steps.
Back to the job…
The CEO role at Arsenal football club isn’t really a position of significance now and I doubt it will be moving forward. Back when it was Ivan G, maybe it was, because Stan ran the club. Ivan took over the club in 2007 when winning wasn’t really the mission. We hired average people, performed averagely considering our position in the Premier League, and didn’t win a single major trophy. When Ivan eventually ducked out after a flaccid tenure – what did the club do? They gave the commerical bits to Vinai and made him the Managing Director. They then experimented with an absolutely disastrous co-leadership thing with Don Raul. A real dark moment for the club because some very, very weird things happened during that period that didn’t shine a positive light on anyone – it certainly looked like were were not a priority for ownership during that phase. Regardless, we put a very inexperienced person in charge of CEO duties that would normally be reserved for someone with a big resume.
What does that tell you about the CEO position at Arsenal? That it’s a placeholder position. Why? Because Josh K is very much the CEO of Arsenal. He has a direct relationship with the manager, he calls the shots on transfer budgets, and he gets involved in club strategy. The ‘Be Excited’ heir from KSE is now one of the best owners in sport. He’s winning big trophies, executing elite strategies across nearly all of his clubs, and he’s bringing a lot of joy to the fans.
Then you have the on-the-ground people. Tim Lewis, the exClifford Chance partner (and Arsenal fan) has a big role at the club on the board. Since he came into the club in a more pronounced way, we’ve got better. Raul was binned within 6 weeks, the shopfloor was cleared of bad eggs, we started hiring better people, and we’ve moved forward at immense speed. Would it be a stretch to say he has more influence than Vinai had? I prefer not to speak.
So in short – nothing changes now that the CEO is exiting – because the CEO was never the one with the title.
It’ll be interesting to see what we do next in that position – the club has been making lots of corporate hires in all sorts of interesting positions. Mark G has exited, and now we have fresh blood in PR. They’ve hired marketing execs from brands like Puma. It looks like there’s a lot of movement as the club seems to be trying to do more to capitalize on a moment when we are actually good – and to maybe catch up with clubs doing things a little bit differently to them with less.
There are different ways we could do things with a new CEO. Some clubs go for football expertise with their hires – people who know the system, can sit at UEFA meetings gain concessions whilst also having great relationships with agents and players. I’m not sure we need that, considering the draw we have right now.
We could also go for someone that is a commercial beast – because we’re about to have a very good 10 years and our financial gains over the past 20 really haven’t been that good. We’re currently 10th in Europe for revenue and we now sit firmly behind Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea, and City. That has to be an area for improvement because I’d say outside Liverpool, we’re a much bigger club than the rest of them, and we’re nowhere near them.
Ivan Gazidis told us years ago the plan was to be the UK Bayern Munich – well, as it stands, we’re currently nowhere near Bayern. A whopping e200m gap sits between the clubs. We are in a bigger league, we’re in the English capital, we have an outrageous brand – why can’t we be playing closer to where they are?
Success plays a big role in this – but United are still coining it in despite a very rough decade. Arsenal sit 90m euros behind Spurs – 90m behind us is Dortmund. Spurs don’t even have a stadium sponsor yet. We should be doing better with the brand and history we have. Hopefully the next 10 years, with a young team everyone loves, and a serious model driving us to success – we can capitalise. Selling Arsenal right now must be easy. I hope the revenue guys have their PowerPoint presentations up to scratch!
It is progress that as fans, we don’t really care too much about corporate hires in 2023. 5 years ago, the role felt more consequential because it felts like our ownership was absent and we had a lot of frauds trying to drive the club. Now we have a clear vision that we’re executing against. We just signed Declan Rice for £105m – our biggest problem as a fan base is whether a kid that scored in a Champions League final will be good enough. We are living in a dreamworld.
Part of that was crafted by Vinai, so we have to thank him for him time, wish him well in his next endeavor, and hope that he landed a nice payout on his exit so he can afford all the nice merch Arsenal produce.
On the other side of things, be thankful that nothing is going to burn down with him gone. The club is in great shape, the ownership group give a shit, and all the hard work is paying dividends.
Ok, see you in the comments. x
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