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HomeHeadline newsArsenal CEO proud of restoring Gunners’ glory and faith of fans

Arsenal CEO proud of restoring Gunners’ glory and faith of fans

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ARSENAL chief executive officer Vinai Venkatesham took the decision to leave the club after feeling a sense of fulfilment as the team returned as one of the top sides in Europe.

Venkatesham, 42, has been with the north London club for 14 years, during which it experienced a number of ups and downs. However, in recent years, it appears to have turned a corner, fighting for the Premier League title and also performing well in the Champions League.

“I think the job of a chief executive is to leave at a time when the club is in a great moment. If you leave at a time when the club isn’t doing so well, I don’t think many people will ask ‘why are you leaving?’” Venkatesham told Eastern Eye.

“It’s a hard decision to leave. You can sense from the passion in my voice how much I love the football club – I love what the club stands for, I love our values, I love the fans, I love the people we have working for the club,”he added.

Venkatesham joined Arsenal in 2010 and rose through the ranks before becoming managing director in 2018 and, two years later, the CEO. He was tasked with steering the club after the departures of legendary manager Arsene Wenger and CEO Ivan Gazidis. It was a period of great change, as Wenger had been at the club for 22 years and Gazidis for ten years.

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INSET 2 GG2 Man of the Year Shailesh Solanki Nitin Ganatra Vinai Venkatesham Arsenal Football Club Kalpesh Solanki
Venkatesham with Shailesh Solanki, actor Nitin Ganatra and Kalpesh Solanki at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Awards in 2023

“Arsene (Wenger) is obviously a remarkable manager and a wonderful human being – it was a real giant of the game leaving. Ivan was the chief executive when I joined and somebody I had worked with for a long period of time,” said Venkatesham. “When I became chief executive, it was actually my sixth job at the club. I’ve been able to develop my career and learn at Arsenal. It’s hopefully also meant that I’ve been able to deliver for the club in a number of different areas. One of the really positive things when you are promoted internally is that it’s a real sign of trust. It’s a group of people who have worked with you a long time, who respect and value you and think you can do more.”

Wenger’s last years and the appointment of his successor Unai Emery in 2018 saw little success on the pitch and there was discontent within Arsenal’s fanbase.

Venkatesham said his goal was to change the culture of the entire club. And that began with the hiring of former club captain Mikel Arteta as manager, seen as a risk at the time in some quarters as the Spaniard had not previously held a managerial role.

“When Mikel came in, the club was not performing at the level everybody associated with the club expected us to,” Venkatesham recalled.

“The history and heritage of this football club means that the expectations are always high, that we are competing for the biggest trophies in the game, both in England and also in Europe,”he said.

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Arsenal women team with League Cup trophy

Arsenal women with League Cup trophy In a major overhaul of the Arsenal squad, Venkatesham and Arteta brought in several new faces, including Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil and Willian, while then captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang departed.

“On the sporting side, Mikel works very closely with Edu (Gaspar), our sporting director. We made significant changes to the squad. We had a number of players leave and brought in new players, who are, in the main, younger age groups, players who our technical staff could develop and grow together. That’s what we have seen,” said Venkatesham.

“But it’s much more than just the players on the pitch. It’s the culture we’ve created throughout the club, with everybody being together, having a forward and positive mindset, always behaving in the right way. Turning the fortunes of the club around and reconnecting the club with its supporters is what I am most proud of,” he added.

Venkatesham has also been a driving force for the women’s game and said the club has a responsibility to help drive women’s football forward because of their pioneering role in the sport’s professional development.

“The continual growth of women’s football has been a big success during my time at the club,” he said.

“We’re just delighted to see over the past three or four years the acceleration of the growth of women’s football. A great example of that is our recent game against Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium that was completely sold out and set a new record for ticket sales and attendance for a women’s game in this country,” Venkatesham said.

“Long-term, I’m really excited about the future of women’s football. I think there’s a huge opportunity ahead. The Women’s Super League (WSL) is on the right journey, getting more and more competitive, but we want to get to a point where lots of teams are investing heavily in women’s football and then you’ll have a very vibrant WSL. The reason I’m so excited now is, it feels like, for so long, we have been really trying to push women’s football and it feels like we’re reaching that tipping point where everything we’ve been hoping for, everything we’ve wanted it to be, we can start seeing it,” he added.

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Mikel Arteta at a training session

While Venkatesham was aware of his position as the sole and first Asian CEO of a Premier League club, this came to the forefront after he announced his decision to step down.

“I was moved by how many people got in touch with me, either with the same ethnic background as mine or others from a different ethnic minority background, to say what it has meant for them – to see somebody with my background being able to reach the position of chief executive at such a high-profile organisation,” said Venkatesham.

“It’s not something I guess I thought about every day, but it’s something I definitely reflected on when I announced I was going to leave because I got so many lovely messages from people telling me how much it had meant for them,”he said.

He was recognised for his efforts at the GG2 Leadership and Diversity Awards in 2023 when he won the Man of the Year.“A privilege to win this award…. a wonderful event,” he said in a social media post.

Venkatesham previously held highlevel positions at Deloitte and the London 2012 Olympic Games and said he was fortunate to work for organisations where diversity and inclusivity were on the agenda and said he strived to implement that at Arsenal.

“There’s been a massive focus at Arsenal to drive greater inclusivity. The executive team has a 50-50 male-female split, which in a football club is incredibly rare,” the 42-year-old said.

“It has been fantastic for the business because I firmly believe that diverse organisations perform better. We’ve also done quite a lot of work to encourage people, either from an ethnic minority background and or specifically south Asian background, to think about how they might be able to develop a career in football,” he said. “That might be on a technical side, the commercial side, administration, or it could be on the playing side. My hope is over the coming years, people will start seeing more role models who have similar backgrounds to them, who look like them, and that it will encourage people to believe that it could be their future too.”

Venkatesham’s long distinguished career was recognised with an OBE for services to sport in the 2024 New Year’s Honours List.

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Arsenal’s home ground, Emirates stadium

He was surprised when he opened the letter from the King and added he was “very proud and very privileged.”

“I must admit I sometimes feel a little embarrassed to be talking about myself when everyone is part of the team, but it’s obviously a really special moment for me and a really special moment for my family, who have been unbelievably supportive for the almost 20 years I have been in sport, through the highs, the lows, the long hours, everyone has been there for me,” he said.

Venkatesham said he hasn’t thought about his next role and said he is focused on spending time with his family this summer. “I have been here (Arsenal) for 14 years. The job is enormous and an incredible privilege, but it’s also 110 miles an hour, 365 days of the year, seven days a week,” he said. “I’ve never taken a break throughout my whole career. I’m going to have a little bit of time off over the summer holidays with the kids. And then I’m sure I’ll find an exciting challenge that’s going to be just as demanding and require just as much as we go forward.”

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