The spectacular decline of Arsenal, one of the English Premier League’s traditional powerhouses, has been a hot issue in the early weeks of the new season.
With the Gunners languishing in 17th place in the EPL standings following their worst start in 58 years (1-1-3), head coach Arsene Wenger has come under a level of pressure he has never before experienced in 14 years with the club.
While it is Wenger’s name and face plastered across the British media as speculation surrounding his future intensifies, another figure is central to Arsenal’s tortured current saga. And he is a man who had a significant role in shaping the modern face of American soccer.
Ivan Gazidis was one of the biggest driving forces behind the development of Major League Soccer, working with the domestic league since before its launch in 1996. He left his position of deputy commissioner in January 2009 to become CEO at Arsenal.
Now Gazidis faces his biggest test since his appointment. There is no easy solution to the Wenger scenario or the club’s recent difficulties. Sacking Wenger would have been unthinkable at any other time, but the feeling is growing that it may be the only solution to the present malaise.
Oddsmakers have the Frenchman at 5:1 to be the next EPL boss fired, despite assertions to the contrary from Gazidis.
“It is nonsense,” Gazidis told The Guardian, when asked if Wenger was in danger of losing his job. “[The criticism] is part of this black-and-white perception that you're either flying high or a broken failure.
“He didn't suddenly become a bad manager. To have him portrayed as some kind of idiot who is out of touch is profoundly damaging, not simply for Arsenal nor particularly for Arsene, but for football. It's nonsense based on the need to always create a mini-crisis … We are incredibly fortunate to have a manager who has a vision of what the game can be. To have a manager that thinks about the future is relatively rare.”
English soccer has plenty of peculiarities, and the dreaded “vote of confidence” is one of them. Many a manager has been given the public backing of a senior team official, only to be fired after one more negative result.
Gazidis, a successful lawyer before moving into sports, is a straight shooter, however. Wenger likely will be given extra time to turn things around, a reward for all his years of successful service.
No manager is beyond sacking, though, and while his reputation and longevity may buy him time, a continuation of Arsenal’s slump would certainly lead to Wenger’s departure.
“The potential at the club is very high,” Gazidis said. “Self-inflicted problems have prevented us from achieving that potential. We have to correct that – that is the frustration Arsene is dealing with.”
Stan Kroenke, who also owns the St Louis Rams of the NFL, is Arsenal’s majority shareholder, but Gazidis’ opinion holds great sway and Wenger’s future is very much in his hands.
With results such as Arsenal’s devastating recent 8-2 defeat at Manchester United having cranked up the pressure, Gazidis is facing his trickiest time since coming aboard. Whatever decision he makes will be certain to attract criticism – and will shape the immediate future of one of England’s proudest clubs.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Yankees fan serves Red Sox pitcher with child-support papers
• Dodgers lefty Kershaw earns 20th win of season
• Teixeira's bat fails to match his lofty Yankees contract