Vinai Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehi say they were both surprised to learn of Ivan Gazidis’ decision to quit Arsenal for AC Milan but insist they are well-placed to continue the restructuring project begun by the now-departed CEO.
Gazidis drew a line under his association with the Gunners last month and will take up his new role at the San Siro on 1 December. In his place, Stan Kroenke opted to promote Venkatesham and Sanllehi to Managing Director and Head of Football respectively, while further internal appointments have taken on additional responsibilities further down the food chain.
In total, the football operations staff has doubled in the space of five years; a clear sign that the club is having to adapt quickly to the demands of the modern game.
Speaking to the Evening Standard about Gazidis’ departure, Venkatesham said: “It was a surprise. It is usually a surprise when a chief executive leaves an organisation unless it is in trouble or failing — and Arsenal is not a failing organisation or in trouble.
“I was surprised and I think Raul was surprised. The positive thing for Arsenal is that over the past few years we built up the capability, we can manage these transitions.
“Obviously, Raul and my jobs have changed and that gets the media and fan focus, but there are internal people in the organisation who have stepped up into the roles we were doing.
“To use a football analogy, we have a great bench and I am proud of how we have been able to manage quite a significant thing in a chief executive leaving, and two people in previously senior roles stepping up and, so far, everything has been filled by people stepping up to the next challenge.”
Sanllehi, who knew Gazidis from his time working as a Nike exec in the US, was also keen to stress the age-old marketer’s adage that his work represents ‘evolution not revolution’. He also took the opportunity to wish the man who hired him, the best of luck in his new role.
“I can only wish him luck,” said the Spaniard. “Milan is taking a top football executive to take on the incredible challenge they have there and I wish him all the luck.
“But it definitely was not planned when I joined the club. That is the point why we are talking about evolution rather than revolution. He did start this and we are following the path.
“We are putting our badge on it and our ideas and we are very happy to be dragging out this new chapter because we are convinced we are on the right track. By all means, Ivan was a big part of this new [path], for sure.”
It remains to be seen whether Venkatesham and Sanllehi maintain their openness with the media. Obviously, it’s easier to hold such events when you’re new in the job and things are going quite well on the pitch.
As far as we’re aware, this is the duo’s second sit down with the press in two months; a welcome state of affairs given the probability that AGM meetings will be cancelled as a result of Stan Kroenke’s full takeover.
Perhaps we’ll get an invitation next time…