Nashville's MLS expansion team has its first CEO, and Ian Ayre describes the lure of the job and how he plans to build the league's future club from scratch.

By Grant Wahl
May 22, 2018

Nashville will be home to a future MLS expansion team, and the burgeoning club made big news Monday with the hiring of former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre, who assumes the same role.

Ayre joined the Planet Fútbol Podcast days before attending the Champions League final featuring his former club, and he explained what piqued his interest about the job and MLS, how he plans to build Nashville's team from the ground up and his personal connection to someone who will now be an MLS adversary–former Tottenham and current Atlanta United official Darren Eales.

The conversation with Ayre begins at the 30:45 mark of our latest podcast, with much of it transcribed below and edited only for length and clarity. (To subscribe to and download the podcast, you can find us on iTunes here.)

GRANT WAHL: What's the story of how this Nashville job came together for you?

IAN AYRE: I was approached by the search agency that [club owner] John Ingram had hired to look for the position. If I look at MLS over the last five years and the growth of the league, the combination of that, the excitement–the chance really, to build a whole team from the ground up it just seems like a great combination. A great city, great people, great team, great owners. It all came together quite quickly over two or three months, and I'm really happy to be chosen and keen to get started.

GW: In what ways is this Nashville team going to be special, in your opinion?

IA: If you're going to assemble a team to compete in this league, for me there are two or three key things. The right ingredients for any soccer team need to be good ownership, good people, good team that you assemble, and you have to have great support. I know that first-hand from being the CEO of Liverpool and being a Liverpool soccer fan my whole life. If you can put those right ingredients together, you can achieve amazing things.

This is about building something not just to take part but to challenge and win and go the whole hog, so it's very exciting.

GW: What is it about MLS and soccer in America that you find intriguing?

IA: I think the trajectory it's been on more than anything. Look back 10 years, five years, you can say this thing coming out of the ground originally and then just continuing year on year, bigger crowds, bigger revenue, better quality of on-field talent, attracting more and more talent–developing talent domestically but also attracting talent from international markets. I think that all speaks for itself. Whether it's good coaches or good players, everyone has seen the value in the league. They've done an incredible job with it. As I said before, to get the chance to A) be a part of that and B) to build an entire team is too good to turn down for anyone who's an executive in this industry.

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GW: Maybe it's partly to do with Nashville's location not too far away from Atlanta and Atlanta being a recent addition to this league and being so extremely successful in terms of how things have gone there that people might make some comparisons. Also Darren Eales came in at Atlanta from the Premier League–Did you talk to Darren at all before you took this job to get an idea of MLS?

IA: I didn't but only out of confidentiality, but I know Darren well. We have some history of competing against each other when he was at Tottenham. We probably had the better of them over the period, so I look forward to some more of that. Look, Darren and the people at Atlanta have done a fantastic job. I don't think we will compare ourselves to anyone. We will be our own team with our own objectives and our own style and everything else. We're very much looking forward to catching up with Darren and hearing how it's all worked for him. I did see him about six or seven months ago and he was enthused about what he was doing. I look forward to reconnecting with him.

GW: Soccer fans in Nashville, one of their first questions will be what sort of a head coach are you looking to hire?

IA: I think it's too early to answer that question. This is kind of day one. So there's all sorts of other things to get through. But I think what we'll do is over a reasonably short period of time, we'll start to develop a playing style we expect, to look at the type of football we want to play, look at the budget. ... I think our coach will come through that process once we define the type of style and type of players we want to have and everything else. Then obviously the coach needs to fit within that. ... It's a great opportunity to look at the whole market and see what the opportunities are for Nashville.

GW: Will there be a technical director hired as well? I'm not sure what kind of structure you plan on having there.

IA: We're already on with the next piece of news we will have will come in a reasonably short period of time is to find a good general manager or technical director to work alongside me. That's important. As much as we're still some way from kicking our first ball in competition, we will need very quickly to start work on analysis and scouting and building up the information we need to make the right selection for players. That for me is a priority and something I've been involved in in the lead-up to (Monday's) announcement. I've been kept in the loop on that and look forward to meeting some of the potential candidates in the coming weeks.

GW: Is there a general timeline on a technical director timeline or when you'd like to hire a coach?

IA: For me, as soon as possible. There's a lot to do. In real terms it's a relatively short time to assemble what we need and the more time we have the better equipped we'll be. We won't rush it. We have to get the right person with the right credentials. But as soon as possible. 

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GW: From a major player signing perspective there are sort of two trends in MLS lately. There's the trend of signing young, emerging stars, usually from South America like we've seen Atlanta and LAFC do. Then there's this trend of signing big-name European players, often in their 30s, like we've seen several clubs do. Wayne Rooney is the latest name we've seen as potentially heading to D.C. United. What's your sense on what Nashville's strategy will be?

IA: I don't think it falls into either category particularly. I think our strategy will be to extract the most value on the field that we can from the budget we set. I think one thing is for certain. Anyone who comes here will need to be hungry and committed to playing for Nashville. I think that's really important. There's a mixed bag of successes and failures in players coming in from overseas, and we'll look at that long and hard. That's no different in reality from the way that we recruited at Liverpool. It wasn't always about who cost the most or was the biggest and the best. It was about finding really good value and assembling a team that worked well together. I don't see it being any different. For obvious reasons the scale and the value and expenditure are different, but that doesn't change the philosophy at all. I think it will be a mix of all of those things. Everybody who pulls on the Nashville shirt at the appropriate time will need to be completely committed to our team and delivering results.

GW: Do we know what the name of your club is going to be?

IA: That's still a work in progress. We have some ideas around that but I think more importantly will be building a culture and a way that fits with Nashville and the people of Nashville and the soccer fans in this community. We'll do some work on that in the coming weeks and months, but something that everybody can identify with for sure.

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