Three months ago Ian Ayre was named as the CEO of the Nashville MLS Franchise Project, the biggest move of his career since joining Liverpool as commercial director in 2007.
With the MLS expanding from 23 teams in 2018 to 28 in 2020 – FC Cincinnati being the 24th – the aim is to create a vision where television rights become paramount for the commercial success of the league.
So no doubt the arrival of a Premier League heavyweight behind the scenes will cause a stir within the higher echelons of ‘soccer’ across the States.
An impossible task?
No manager, no players, no training ground, no permanent stadium, no infrastructure and remarkably no name. To say there’s a long way to go in the planning would be an understatement.
To envisage a goal of a complete team competing at the highest level of football in the US within 20 months is one thing but to start it from scratch is another.
So no doubt Ayre will have his work cut out.
The role within Nashville will be similar to that of Liverpool, managing the business aspects of the team, allowing the structure to be cohesive under one person.
Different design to that of the MLS
Look at the MLS and you will find there is a particular stereotype associated with the league, one where the best European talents use it as a stop-gap between the end of the prime of their career and inevitable retirement.
David Villa and Andrea Pirlo at New York City, Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Los Angeles Galaxy and now Wayne Rooney at DC United provide substance to that belief.
Yet look at Alphonso Davies and the picture changes in an instance.
The 17-year-old winger is regarded by Bayern Munich as one of the MLS’ best prospects and have been eager to sign him over the last few months.
Davies, unlike the MLS’ current undisputed most valued talent, Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic, didn’t spend a section of his youth career in Europe and instead earned the trade at Vancouver Whitecaps’ reserve side.
And that is what Ayre wants to establish at Nashville. The MLS as a whole league can attract superstar names but authenticity is what will make Nashville different, building from the bottom collectively instead of looking at a protagonist from the skies.
The Ingram conundrum
It’s a 15-minute drive from Belle Meade to Nashville but for the sports fans of the city, it will feel a whole lot shorter.
The small town outside the state capital is the birthplace of businessman and multi-billionaire John Ingram, the investment rock and Nashville MLS Owner.
In theory, then there should be no problem in regards to communication and transparency between Ayre and Ingram.
Yet look at Ayre’s time at 1860 Munich, a backroom tale of Brian Clough in Damned United, and you will find a frivolous relationship.
Ayre left after just eight weeks due to ownership conflicts due to a warring faction between owner Hasan Ismaik and shareholders.
A similarity to Liverpool
Ayre would’ve studied Nashville before departing for his mid-Atlantic flight yet there probably wasn’t a great need to do so.
Both Liverpool and Nashville aren’t the standout cities in the UK and US – London and New York – but they provide rich heritage across the board.
Music for example. Liverpool and The Beatles go hand in hand in marriage while Nashville hold the infamous Grand Ole Opry. Try architecture? The Liver Bird overlooks the skies of Merseyside yet Tennessee’s capital have probably gone one better with a full-size reproduction of the Greek Pantheon.
And then of course sport.
Ayre to perhaps no one’s surprise then sees Nashville as a home from home and has since visited the city on three further occasions.
Nashville has sporting history
There aren’t many cities in the US which you could associate immediately with a state but Nashville and Tennessee go in perfect tandem with each other.
The city already hosts franchises in the NFL and NHL, the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators respectively, and Nashville SC, but the fact they earn their trade in the second-tier United Soccer League speaks volumes of the need for an MLS franchise.
How Ayre will go about the organisational aspect will be the major question in what could be seen as a metaphor for an ever extended linkage between European and US football.
Nashville may yet emerge as the biggest story of them all.