Ivan Gazidis on Rooney, Wenger, spending and the players that Arsenal never signed – read the FULL transcript here
Arsenal fans are often left wondering what is going on in the minds of those that run their club – why they have fallen behind their rivals Manchester United, City and Chelsea, why they have not spent big on players. Here, chief executive Ivan Gazidis answers those questions.
Ivan Gazidis: So obviously we have come to the end of the season and in the end we finished with 73 points and in fourth place which I would say was necessary for us.
We want to be competing at the top of the game and in order to do that you have to be in the Champions League. So we are pleased to qualified, or at least, for the qualification games.
But it is not ultimately where we want to be with moving the club forward. We want to be a club that is competing at the very top end
of the game and that means competing to win the Premier League and competing to win the Champions League.
Big players: Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis (left) with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger (right)
We have spoken about it many, many times before – and I think you are all aware of it – the stadium move has meant we have tied in a lot of our commercial deals to it which has put us behind the game.
The critical thing now as we look ahead over the next season and the season after is our developing financial capability which will give us a lot more options than in recent years.
We think we have got a fantastic manager who has seen us through moving to a new stadium, which is for many clubs a difficult period, with consistency and so we think we have got the right person to make the kinds of choices and decisions that we are going to have over this really significant period of the club’s development.
So we are feeling very optimistic. It is interesting where we are at the moment in the summer.
I’m not going to talk about individual players at all today. I don’t want to get into the whole speculation around the transfer market but generally, what I’ll say is that it has been quite a slow start and I think that’s because there was such a managerial musical chairs going on that everybody is waiting for that to settle down.
I think clubs are, agents are and players are. Which means it has been quite an unusual beginning to the transfer window. I imagine once most of the managerial appointments settle in a little bit, we will see that starting to pick up.
But that’s a general overview of where we are. The club is on a good path. We have been through a difficult and in some ways disappointing season which ended satisfactorily. But we are not crowing about that. We are looking ahead and to how we can push forward.
Where are you at in terms of contract talks with Arsene?
What I really don’t want to do is have a public discussion about Arsene’s contractual position. That would be a daily, weekly fixture on the public coverage if you start getting into that. What I will say is that we think we have got a fantastic manager.
We hope that he wants to do what he is doing for the long term. I believe he does. I think he is still ambitious, still driven and sees the potential of the club as he looks forward and I think he is very excited by that.
We have a great relationship and he has a great relationship with the board as well. So, quietly and at the right time I think we will make an announcement on that when things are all put in place.
Have you made him an offer?
I don’t want to get into that level because then it’ll be: ‘you’ve made him an offer’ then the next question will be ‘well, what did he say?’ and so on. This is going to happen very quietly behind closed doors, privately and then there will be an announcement.
Can you tell us whether you have you even discussed it yet?
I don’t even want to say that. We have got a lot of confidence in Arsene that he is the right person to take the club forward and I think he will want to do that.
Will any uncertainty over the manager’s long-term future affect the club’s ability to sign players?
I think players that are concerned about uncertainty probably think about Arsenal as the most certain place they could be in the world of football. This is a club that has had remarkable consistency in terms of its manager, its football philosophy, its direction and the consistent support from the board and our principal owner for our manager is pretty much unmatched, through some difficult periods as well. So if its consistency players are looking for, I think Arsenal would be a very attractive place to come.
But it could be a different manager?
If you are asking me, is that an issue with players, the answer is ‘no.’ Its far more an issue with players signing at other clubs than it is at Arsenal. If players have that on their issue list, I think that’s a mark in our favour, not against us.
Out of the top four, you are the only ones who have kept the same manager. Why not take advantage and move quickly for players now?
It doesn’t only require our decision, it require player decision and other clubs’ decisions, so there is a market that has to move not just dependent on one party, but dependent on a number of parties and many of those parties have been in a period of uncertainty. As those situations begin to play themselves out clubs get themselves into a position where they can start to make decisions. But I think that has been generally for the market, I wouldn’t specifically say just us. Some of the seasons are just coming to an end. The Spanish season has just ended, the German season went on. So we are not exactly deep into it at this point.
We’ve spoken frequently and you are more often than not very upbeat. This is the first time you’ve been so pessimistic in your summary of the season?
Look as a chief executive it is always an interesting position because you are, on the one hand, it is imperative you are realistic and ambitious about where you want to go but also realistic about what you need to do to get there. At the same time you are also a cheerleader for the club. So walking that line and getting the right tone is sometimes challenging. Look at the end of the season we finished on 73 points, that is more than last year and more again than the season before that when we had van Persie, Fabregas and Nasri.
I am not going to present that as a step forward for the club, but I do think we have been resilient and consistent through this period. The disappointment is we haven’t challenged this season to win a trophy. That is my ambition, that is Stan Kroenke’s ambitions, that is the ambition of the board, that is Arsene’s ambition and that is the ambition of our players.
So we get to the end of the season and we had to have a very strong run, which required a lot of strength within the club to achieve – and there is certainly a feeling of relief at having achieved that goal. But the is not really the goal we want to be aiming for at the end of the season.
The critical thing about that is to work out how we don’t have to go through all of that again and we can go through next season and put ourselves in a position where we are really competing for major trophies towards the end of the season. And that is going to require forward progression. I think everybody realises that. There has been a long-term plan in place at this club. You are probably all sick of hearing me talk about it. The plan is incredibly ambitious and we are ahead of that plan in terms of what we are achieving off the field.
The key is to translate all of that now onto the field because of course you have a chicken and egg here and you need the financial platform in order to create the sporting success but you need the sporting success in order to supply the financial platform as well. I think we have done a terrific job creating the financial platform. The club can take a lot of credit from that. But it really is time now for us to turn that into sporting success and that is what everybody here is focused on. It is how we make the right decisions to push ourselves forward on the field. I know Arsene is focused on that and we are together in that.
This is not some veiled message about this is what we need to do otherwise something will happen. That is what we are all focusing on. We think we have got the right personnel to do that, we have got a good platform on which to build. The key to this summer is going to be making the right decisions without damaging the great team unity and spirit which we have – adding to that appropriately and I think we have the right person to do that in Arsene.
I think he will make the right decisions and I think we will go into this next season with a lot of excitement around the team. We are not going to go through what we have gone through the last couple of summers with a major departure we are having to wrestle with. If there are any players to leave the squad those will be Arsenal’s decisions and Arsene’s decisions. So certainly we will take a step forward this summer, how bigger step will depend on how well we are able to execute over the next month or two.
But you are now operating in a different financial playing field?
We have got fantastic support from Emirates through the new deal we’ve done with them. We’re very confident with the new deals we’ve got coming through, although we can’t talk about that in any detail. That’s showing really positive progression.
We should be able to compete at a level like a club such as Bayern Munich. I’m not saying we are there by any means, we have a way to go before we can put ourselves on that level. But this whole journey over the past ten years really has been with that goal in mind which is why I say that this is an extraordinarily ambitious club. We get beaten up along the way but I think we are an extraordinarily ambitious club. This has been about putting us up with the best in the world and now the question is turning that platform now into on-field success.
What do you think fans want to see?
I think fans want to see a real form of progression. I think they want to see good players being added to the team. But I think it’s important that whatever happens in the summer that it is only relevant when we start playing in August if the team is better and is performing better. Obviously always want to see big name players and sometimes they can be the critical ingredient but sometimes the critical ingredients are a little bit more complex than just that as well.
There are lot of ways in which on field performance can be developed and it’s not actually all about making new signings. There’s lot of different areas that we’re looking into and looking at and making progress in. But certainly getting the right players to add to what is a solid foundation is what is going to be most visible to people and we certainly have the capability to do that.
It’s very clear that fans want big names, big players, will you sign them?
If Arsene thinks that’s the right thing to do, yes.
But can you really do it? Every year we hear this but you don’t pay a certain wage?
I think that’s a little unfair to say that every year you hear this. I know what my messaging has been every year and I’ve been very careful about it. The fact is this year we are beginning to see something we have been planning for for some time, which is the escalation in our financial firepower. And that’s going to happen partly into next season – it’s part way available now in the summer but the following season as well. It’s a progression over the next two seasons. It’s quite significant for the club.
What does it mean? Can you spend more on transfers, you can have a higher top wage?
I think it means both of those things. I think it means we can look at some options that weren’t really in our financial capability.
How close does it take you to the big-shot spenders like Manchester City and Chelsea?
It’s difficult to assess that because it’s unknown – if you are competing against somebody who has limitless spending, it doesn’t take you any closer at all.”
There aren’t many who are like that ?
No, there aren’t. My own view is we are moving into a new phase where if we make our decisions well, if we get the right chemistry, and if we do a variety of other things as well, not just the new players that come in but the right kind of things on the football side, that we can compete with any club in the world. We’ve seen two clubs this year in the CL final – both of whom run responsible financial models and they’re pretty fantastic teams and very exciting to watch. There’s no reason why we can’t do that.
You seem to have identified but not actually got a lot of players you wanted – Juan Mata, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling. Are you saying you can get them now?
I hesitate to get into individual discussions. I also think there is a tremendous focus on what we haven’t got. I think there should be a little bit more focus on what we have got. I think we have some tremendous players in the squad and some players that we’ve acquired recently that other clubs would love to have.
You don’t have the kind of resilience that we have as a club if you’re only making bad decisions and only failing to get the players that you want. I think we deserve a little more credit than we’ve been given. Having said that, we’ve got more financial capability and I’m sure that will help us to be able to secure the targets that Arsene wants us to do.
Is Wenger averse to spending £25m on a single player? Is there an idealogical narrative going on from him here? Doesn’t he prefer developing players?
No. There is no ideological narrative at stake here. The ideological narrative is we want to have the best possible players, the best possible team and compete for trophies and Arsene will do what he thinks is right to do that. There is no philosophical line in the sand and I suspect that he would pay £25m for Lionel Messi.
Is there a recognition from you and Arsene that maybe that needs to be done this summer?
I think our fans are going to respond to what they see on the field in August. I didn’t hear last summer an outcry that we must sign Santi Cazorla, but we knew he was a top-class player who would add to our team and give us something that we needed. There is a short-term narrative that we play through week by week where we will get linked with every name under the sun.
People will get excited, disappointed and excited and disappointed again, for every club. In the end the most important thing is that we have the right chemistry, the right talent to be able to excite people once we open the doors in August. That is the most critical thing. That could be players that are big-name players. But it also might not be. It’s going to be the players that Arsene believes in. He is pretty blind to price tags. He looks at what he sees with his eyes and makes judgements based on that. And not on reputations and prices.’
In the past, Arsene Wenger has called the wage policy a ‘socialist wage structure’. Is it time for that to change?
Our biggest expense is our wage bill. It’s not something that we simply stumble upon by accident. There is a massive amount of thought that goes into it by some very very smart and thoughtful people at the club including Harvard analysts and Arsene Wenger himself is a pretty smart mathematical guy. I have been doing that myself for 14 years at Major League Soccer, where I was responsible for the management of the player pool within a budget. This is something we think about deeply and we know a lot about.
We have outperformed our spend, in virtually any metric you can look at, consistently for the last 15 years. It’s an extraordinary record. So we are doing something right in the way that we spend although it may frustrate some people. We are doing something right and we are very thoughtful about it.
It’s not something that happens by accident. As we develop new financial capabilities, clearly, that wage bounds will change. It’s under review all the time. It’s never been fixed in stone. It really depends on what the circumstances are as you move forward, what the market looks like, where you see the opportunities, where you think the value is. That will change and if we – which we do – want to attract and also keep the very best talent then we have to pay them the market rate.
There is a complete understanding of that at the club. So yes, our wage structure will evolve, as it has over the last five years. It will continue to evolve with a new financial capability behind it, which means we can do some things perhaps that we haven’t been able to do while we have had one hand tied behind our back.
Can you buy a Martinez like Bayern did? Big fee, not astronomical wages? Would you ever buy a player for a big fee who is not on massive wages?
The assumption behind your question is that there have been rules preventing us from doing that in the past. There haven’t been rules. There has been a financial constraint and we had a strategy within those financial parameters which hasn’t delivered what we all want, I accept that, but that has been carefully thought through.
It doesn’t mean that if we had the opportunity to sign somebody we thought was extra special at a price we thought made sense that we wouldn’t do it. So when you come back to the socialist wage structure or limit on transfer fees we would pay. These things don’t really exist. It really depends on individual circumstances and how much Arsene believes a particular player is the critical piece for us.
We’re going to be emerging into the new period in our development, a very exciting period, I think, which will mean if we think we can get the right value and a player is really special and Arsene believes in it, we can make some exciting moves and I think our fans will be pleased over the next couple of years to see the club making some progressive steps.”
Can you compete with the three clubs who finished above you, three new managers bringing in big players?
Can we compete? Yes we can. This year we were five points behind Manchester City and two or three points behind Chelsea.
What about financially?
I can’t compete with somebody who has an unlimited budget. I don’t know what their budgets are. If you are telling me they have unlimited budgets, no I can’t compete because I double my bid and they will double it again.
There are new rules in the Premier League and we will see how those are enforced. There is a wage cap, for example, so teams are not allowed to spend more than they did last year in wages from the new TV money unless they have commercial revenue, as we do, coming in from other sources. I’m not quite so sure it is going to be a free-spending bonanza that you are envisaging with the question.
Teams will have to live within those constraints. I can’t foresee exactly what the transfer window will be. What I can tell you is that I believe that we will have a team next season that is more capable than the team we have had this season for a couple of reasons. One, some of our younger players will develop and get better.
I think we saw that even in the course of the season. We had a team with a number of new players who had to fit in and learn the English game. I think they will be hitting the ground running and there will be new additions over the summer. I think those three things make me confident that we will have a squad that is more capable of competing.
You talked about the boffins who drew up the wage policy…?
They don’t draw up the wage policy – that is not what I said. We are not advised. Arsene and I have a huge amount of experience in this area. Arsene is the guy that decides the talent that we want to have. We also have people who do analystics, at our direction, to help us to think about that.
But on the back of a fag packet, if you ask a fan, do you want to pay Squillaci, Chamakh and Djourou 60k a week or pay 180k on a stellar signing, they’d say pay someone 180k a week. Why don’t you do that?
I’m not going to get into an individual debate on individual players. I’ll come back to what I told you before.
But there are players nowhere near the first team on 60k a week?
Ok… there’s an awful lot of hypotheticals you can come up with with every club about wouldn’t you rather have this guy, who turned out to be a bargain, rather than these three guys who turned out not to be a bargain and cost just as much. You can go through every single club and find your examples of that. The way to assess whether a club is doing it well or not? I don’t know any other measure to see whether a club does that well or does it poorly, than to look at their overall spending and compare it against their performance and when we do that with Arsenal, every single year, we outperform our spend.
It’s very possible to do it for a couple of years, either because you spend money a certain way or because you are lucky, it is extraordinary difficult to do that consistently over time. It doesn’t happen by accident. We get criticised a lot because we are perceived as somehow foolish with some of our choices, or not ambitious with some of our choices. I don’t think that is fair criticism. I think we do this, not as well as we can, we need to improve, every club needs to improve, but I think on any objective measure we do this well.
So imagine how you would do if you spent more money?
That’s exactly right, I totally agree. That’s why I’m excited as I look forward because our capability to spend is going up and our efficiency of spend has always been good and I don’t think that is going to fall away over the next couple of years.
We have got a proven record. So what you will see is certainly an Arsenal team that is getting better over the next couple of years unless we make big mistakes but historically we have got a manager who has got a proven of doing this extremely well over a long period of time. And his financial capability will be better.
Do I think that Arsene will always be somebody who gives chances to young players? Yes I do. Do I think he’ll always be out on the training ground, developing talent? Yes I do. But do I think that means he can’t appreciate world class established talent and make bold decisions? I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.
What do you think will happen at Manchester United, post Fergie? Will they be as much of a threat?
Who knows? Manchester United are a fantastic club. Anybody who thinks they’re going to take a dip is making some optimistic assumptions. We’re assuming everybody will be more competitive next year and we have to be more competitive. We’re a very transparent club. Our accounts are there, and if you’ve got the right skills you can get to the bottom of them.
Can you be certain that none of your good players will leave this summer?
Quietly we did a good job during the season of tying down most of out important players to long-term contracts. We’re in a very strong contractual position, not just for this summer, but looking forward. We’ve got a lot of players locked into contracts, which is why we’ve got a very strong, robust foundation going forward. The critical thing for us is making the right decisions in terms of additions.
Will Sagna go?
I don’t want to comment on any individual player.
Can you confirm there is a buy back option on Fabregas? Would that interest you?
I’m not going to comment on any individuals. I don’t want to comment on it. I just don’t want to comment on individual players and targets and speculation as to whom we might be interested in and so on. It’s not where I wanna go.
There must be a need to get the right players in now?
We’ve got an important opportunity. We’ve got the right guy in charge to make those decisions, but you can never guarantee things will work out the way you want in football.
Can you win the league next season?
We need to make improvements for me to be able to see that, so I’ll have a fairer idea once we get through the summer, but yes I do. That’s what our ambition is, what our goal is, and what the whole thing is about.
Your message about Arsene’s continuity has been very clear. Will his long term future at the club be dependent on whether you go through another season like this? And if it ends up trophyless the fact that Arsene represents the philosophy and approach and he embodies that, will that prove more important than the fans’ frustration about a ninth year without a trophy?
I don’t want to talk about hypotheticals in the next season. We’re focusing right now on what we have to do to move forward into next season. I’m very optimistic about it, we’ve got the right man at the helm. That’s where we are at the moment and looking forward to being able to put together something that will make our fans excited optimistic and most importantly it will have us in competition to win something next year.