The biggest move of the MLS off-season occurred this week when deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis left his post with the league to take over as chief executive of English Premier League side Arsenal.
No player or coach can match the impact Gazidis has had on the league since joining in April 1994. Most of what fans see on the field fell under Gazidis' domain. Gazidis controlled most of the player movement and many of the on-field initiatives that have proven so successful.
This wasn't the first time an English club has approached the former deputy commissioner. Gazidis earlier spurned an offer from Manchester City before accepting this chance to join Arsenal as the latest proposed replacement for David Dein. The match makes sense: take a seasoned executive known for prudence and innovation and place him in charge of perhaps the most fiscally responsible major football club in the world.
“Ivan’s credentials are first class,” Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood told the club's Web site. “It is evident that he has a wealth of business acumen together with a broad knowledge of football that will not only help to maintain Arsenal’s pre-eminent standing but enhance our reputation within the football community and international commercial markets.”
With Gazidis gone, there are questions to ponder about the impact of his new job in the Friday Five.
1. Who becomes MLS' new soccer powerbroker?
If MLS Commissioner Don Garber lends his face to the league, Gazidis provided its body. Garber isn't a soccer guy, no matter how well he has guided the league during his tenure and how brilliant his marketing and business nous remains. Gazidis filled the role of the X's and O's executive who combined business acumen with a knowledge of how the soccer world worked. Someone in the league office will have to step in and fill that role.
2. Will transfer and contract negotiations be impacted?
Gazidis said upon his unveiling in North London that “every single player signing [came] through his office.” That leaves a gaping hole for MLS to fill. Most expect MLS President Mark Abbott to increase his role on the player personnel side, but questions remain about how a new face will approach player negotiations. The insularity of the American soccer community and the impending expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it unlikely that Abbott or anyone else who assumes this role will drastically alter course. Yet even a meager shift could drastically impact how the league deals with contract negotiations heading into an off-season where significant player moves and possible transfers must be addressed.
3. How does the move reflect the European fascination with MLS?
European leagues and club love MLS because MLS does everything European leagues wish they could do: limit player salaries by instituting a salary cap while merchandising and marketing to the hilt to maximize revenues. For a club like Arsenal – one with a limited transfer cash flow compared to its three major domestic rivals and a couple of its European foes because of sizable debt tied into constructing its new ground – Gazidis' proven ability to do more with less may have helped bolster his chances of employment. Gazidis' likely first step will involve continuing to expand the Arsenal brand worldwide to try to play catch up with Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona and ward off Liverpool, and AC Milan. In other words, get ready for that American tour, Mr. Wenger.
4. Is this the first step for a MLS player to head to one of the world largest clubs?
Upon his appointment, Gazidis said he would like to get involved with transfer dealings at his new club. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Arsenal's turnover, which is amongst the world's five richest clubs, doesn't lead to sizable transfer funds because of that debt service on the stadium and the club's fiscally responsible management. Something tells me Gazidis knows a league that may provide more bang for the buck than the English Championship or Ligue Un. An American exodus to London is unlikely for obvious sporting reasons, but it would be surprising if Gazidis didn't at least nudge his new club to have a look around the American top flight for prospects.
5. Can the move invigorate the Colorado Rapids-Arsenal partnership on the field?
Rapids investor/operator Stan Kroenke also owns a chunk of the North London club and initiated a partnership agreement with Arsenal to allow the Rapids to share marketing and commercial arrangements. The move has already provided one crucial underpinning for the Rapids: new head coach Gary Smith served as a scout for Arsenal in 2007 after spending time at Watford as reserve team manager. Sending a couple of up-and-coming reserve team players – a fullback or two might be nice – on loan for the MLS season would be a fruitful way to foster continued cooperation.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and blogs frequently during the week for Goal.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.