"That Arsenal, one of the most distinguished sports organizations in the world, has chosen Ivan to lead its club speaks volumes about his abilities and the international respect for MLS that he has helped establish," said MLS commissioner Don Garber. "We have countless reasons to thank Ivan for his pioneering efforts and we wish him all the best in his new endeavor."
Gazidis, 44, left his native South Africa with his family when he was 4 and grew up in England. He graduated from Oxford University in 1986 with a Master's Degree in Law after playing for Oxford against Cambridge University at Wembley Stadium in 1984 and 1985 in an annual match between the two universities.
An internship with the law firm of Latham & Watkins, of which World Cup chairman and former U.S. Soccer President Alan Rothenberg was a senior partner, lured him to the United States in 1992. As Rothenberg assembled a team to launch MLS he arranged for Gazidis to play golf with another member of the firm, Mark Abbott, and by the time that round was finished Gazidis had agreed to join up.
Gazidis began working for MLS in 1994 and was promoted to deputy commissioner in 2001. He helped formulate the mechanisms by which MLS acquires players in its single-entity system and along with Sunil Gulati, conducted the acquisition of the league's most prominent players during its startup years.
When Gulati was fired as deputy commissioner in February, 1999, at the behest of MLS operator-investor Stuart Subotnik, Gazidis took over management of the league's competitive operations.
"Ivan Gazidis was one of the founding executives of Major League Soccer," said Garber. "Major League Soccer's on-field product has marched steadily forward, primarily due to Ivan's thorough understanding of the game and its global market, his impressive reasoning and judgment, and his deep-rooted desire to see soccer grow in North America."
Said Gazidis, "The league is superbly positioned for future growth and this provides me the opportunity to return home after 16 years in the United States. I am delighted to be offered the opportunity to work at Arsenal - a club rich in heritage and tradition - and I will bring all of my experiences at MLS to bear in my new role."
His extensive list of duties and responsibilities will be handled by executive vice president Todd Durbin and senior vice president Nelson Rodriguez, with assistance from others, including Abbott, now MLS president.
Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood said: "Ivan's credentials are first class. 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 preeminent standing but enhance our reputation within the football community and international commercial markets."