On stage, Wenger expressed his amazement at the transformation. He could never have foreseen a time, he said, when Americans owned roughly a dozen of Englandâs clubs. He was, he said, delighted by it. Polite applause rippled among the guests.
Outside that room, though, the picture is rather more complicated. Barzun might have wanted to celebrate the special relationship that had brought so much American influence into the Premier League, but not everybody in England does.
The detail that Josh Harris and David Blitzer, part of the ownership group that controls the Philadelphia 76ers of the N.B.A. and the New Jersey Devils of the N.H.L., went into as they considered their bid to take over Crystal Palace was forensic.
Over the course of more than a year as they weighed investing, Harris and Blitzer had pored over the numbers so often that, by the end, they had dozens of financial projections for the club, accounting for a host of different outcomes. In none of them, it is fair to assume, did the prospect of firing a coach after 77 days feature.
When Harris and Blitzer finally completed the deal to acquire Palace in December 2015, the South London club became the eighth English team under American control. The Glazer family had been the first on the scene, buying Manchester United in 2003. In the years to come, Liverpool (twice), Arsenal, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Fulham, Millwall and Derby County would follow.
After Harris and Blitzer, Swansea City and Portsmouth, too, moved into American hands; Bournemouth is partly owned by Matthew Hulsizer, a Chicago financier. Barnsley, targeted by a consortium including the Oakland Aâs executive Billy Beane, may be next.
Few, if any, would count as unqualified successes. The Glazers faced protests almost from the start; even now, the Manchester United Supportersâ Trust believes no owner has âever taken so much money from a single club.â Kroenke is blamed for Arsenalâs inertia. Henry is hardly universally popular in Liverpool.
Fulham, Aston Villa and Sunderland have all been relegated. Swansea City only narrowly avoided the same fate last season, and relations between the clubâs fans and its American owners, Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien, remain strained. And at Palace this week, the club appointed Roy Hodgson to replace Frank de Boer, fired after only four games in charge. He is the fourth coach in Harris and Blitzerâs brief tenure.
âIt is unfair to say they have all been complete failures,â Chris Anderson, who has consulted on a number of completed and putative takeovers, said of American owners in Britain. âBut many do struggle with the dynamics of the game, and the industry. They find it hard to understand the nature of the beast.â
According to Steven Gans, a Boston lawyer who advises teams and owners, including several in Britain, there is a direct connection between the way American parents approach their childrenâs soccer games and the way American owners approach the clubs they pay hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire, and he argues that it is this link that is the root of the problems Americans have endured since they started arriving in England.
âParents of kids who play soccer tend not to have a frame of reference for it in the same way as they would for baseball, for example,â Gans said in a telephone interview. âThey are insecure, only dipping their toes into it. They presuppose they do not know enough. So they outsource it to whoever seems to know more, and that is not always the right person.
âThe same pattern applies to owners when they buy an asset. They are at the mercy of their own insecurities. They have less confidence in their own judgment, so they completely outsource the running of it.
âJohn Henry knows baseball in a way he does not know soccer, so he suspends his normal instincts. He tends not to interject his own thoughts and evaluations. In soccer, U.S. owners outsource the running to people who seem to have the right experience.â
The problem for many American owners â especially at first â is in establishing who, exactly, that might be. âWhen you land at an airport in a foreign city, sometimes you get charged twice the normal rate by a taxi driver, and you pay it, because you donât know any better,â said Hendrik Almstadt, a German executive who worked both at Lernerâs Villa and Kroenkeâs Arsenal. âIt happens to us all.â
Anderson compares it to someone functioning in a second language: able to grasp the meaning of the sentence, but not always the nuance.
âThey cannot necessarily read the signs in the same way as they would in the U.S.,â he said. âThese are finance guys, largely. They are used to a macho world, where everyone is wearing immaculate suits and has great teeth. That is what everyone in European soccer looks and behaves like. So how do you tell the good ones and bad ones apart?â
Given the difference between the sports industries in Europe and the United States, Anderson sees establishing that credibility as crucial. âIn the U.S., it is highly professionalized,â he said. âIt is a small thing, but in a lot of front offices, you have guys with college degrees, a formal understanding of business. That is not the case in Europe.â
He searches for the right word. âNew owners do not understand how informal it is. It is less regulated. It is based on personal networks.â
John Henry has put it a little more succinctly: European soccer, he said early in his Liverpool tenure, is like the âWild West.â
At first, in Almstadtâs experience, American owners tend to believe a âcool, rational, analytical approachâ will make them the exception in the chaotic, impulsive atmosphere of European soccer.
Few arrive aiming to be a benefactor in the style of Roman Abramovich, lavishing bottomless wealth on their teams. They believe that their knowledge will yield success.
The problem, Almstadt argued, is that English soccerâs establishment â the old hands, longstanding coaches, influential former players and a hostile news media â is inherently resistant to new ideas. Americans arrive wanting to mold their new environment, but on unknown territory in an unfamiliar sport, too often they allow the opposite to happen. It is an echo of Gansâs theory: They are at the mercy of their insecurities.
âTraditionally, owners gave the manager the keys to the car,â Almstadt said, as an example. âAnd then, six months later, when it didnât work out, they did the same with another manager.â
That is the way it has always been in England, where managerial omnipotence has long been considered a virtue. It is at odds with what Almstadt described as the âfront office modelâ of American sports, where the coach is just another link in a chain that leads up to the owner, whose position, according to the author Dave Zirin, is akin to âa modern day Caesar.â
At Sunderland and at Villa and increasingly at Palace â where Harris and Blitzer have left day-to-day decisions to Steve Parish, an Englishman and minority owner â the managerial churn has been endless. At other clubs, executives, too, have come and gone: owners not trusting their own judgment, vacillating between concepts and advisers, unable to hear themselves think amid the deafening cultural dissonance.
âAfter a while, you become locked in a death spiral,â Almstadt said. Poor decisions induce panic, and vice versa.
But he and Anderson say they believe things are improving. âThe commercial model of the Glazers is now being copied by a lot of teams,â Almstadt said. âMore and more teams have a front office model now, too, where coaches are a part of â a very important part of â a broader structure.
âThere is a definite American influence on English football starting to show.â
Anderson has been encouraged, too. He praised Henry for his âtrial and errorâ approach, and noted that Liverpoolâs gradual improvement suggested lessons are being learned, and that the right people are being retained. He has also found that more owners are doing more comprehensive due diligence on teams before buying.
âThey are getting people in to look at their squads, their academies, their staff, to see exactly what they are getting,â he said. Owners have always paid close attention to the finances. Now, they are beginning to dig under the surface of the soccer, too.
That was why there was plenty to celebrate that night at Winfield House. As Wenger said, the special relationship between the United States and the Premier League would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. It is still young, though, still developing. It is perhaps a little too early for the Champagne to flow. There is a lot, still, for both sides to learn.