Departing Essendon CEO Xavier Campbell is being positioned as a potential candidate to take over the role of AFL CEO when Gillon McLachlan leaves the most powerful role in Australian sport.

McLachlan, himself views Campbell, who has been CEO of the Bombers for the past six years, as a future leader of the AFL. It’s a view shared by others inside league headquarters but there is also the usual angst by others who rate themselves as more desirable candidates.

Campbell is set to leave clubland, with Eddie McGuire reporting that Campbell will be appointed to a new role at the AFL. The role, according to McGuire, is the next level down from Gillon McLachlan’s 2IC and includes assuming control of the now AFL owned Marvel Stadium.

“There are a lot of candidates that they are interviewing extensively and Xavier Campbell will get the job”, Collingwood President Eddie McGuire told his Triple M Melbourne breakfast show audience on Friday.

This may well have come as news to some of those seemingly unsuccessful candidates that include sacked Fremantle CEO Steve Roisch who was forced out of the Dockers when the board went against his recommendation, and dumped coach Ross Lyon.

Campbell was personally encouraged to join the AFL executive team by Gillon McLachlan, who is coming to the end of his tenure as head of the country’s strongest sporting competition. McLachlan, who is understood to be out of contract at the end of 2020, was planning to depart after next season. More specifically, McLachlan has previously stated that he would prefer a less high profile job by the time his children reach high school which aligns with a 2020 end date.

However, crucially, as reported by journalist Caroline Wilson, who is clearly well-connected with the goings-on at AFL executive level, Gillon McLachlan has not given much thought to anointing a successor. Without an obvious replacement, McLachlan may be forced to continue on past his self-imposed deadline. McLachlan is certainly going against the grain at AFL House, as evidenced by his lack of a succession plan and has courted criticism for this. Such criticism has even come from the man who was pivotal to the succession plan that installed McLachlan (which was almost derailed when the NRL came knocking), Andrew Demetriou who told The Age.

“You don’t want to have this void. I’ve said to Gill that he’s almost doing himself a disservice, and the AFL a disservice, by not providing a succession plan.”

Remarkably, finding his eventual replacement was Demetriou’s first order of business when he took over the league in 2003. While, McLachlan has not been as active in doing this, the potential appointment of Campbell shows that there is movement in this area. In fact, McLachlan has also assigned Steve Hocking to be considered too, according to Caroline Wilson. 2020 shapes as a big year for Hocking who will take on an expanded portfolio that will see AFLW head Nicole Livingstone report directly to him.

However, McLachlan has been particularly impressed by Xavier Campbell’s tenure at Essendon where he navigated the Bombers out of the biggest debacle in football history, the infamous supplements scandal. Campbell was instrumental in repairing the spiteful relationship between Essendon and the AFL. This was a relationship that was damaged so brutally during the long-running drugs saga that the AFL even threatened to stand Essendon down from the competition. That is a difficult relationship to mend.

Under Campbell, Essendon also successfully negotiated financial settlements for the banned Bombers found guilty of doping, despite the written and verbal assurances from the club that all substances they were taking were WADA compliant. That too was no easy task, but was achieved.

On Friday, Campbell also announced that Essendon will no longer be carrying debt for the first time in eight years. Meaning, he is set to leave the club in good financial health.

Although, Essendon are not without their internal problems with reports of an unhappy playing group being epitomised by the contracted Joe Daniher’s very public unsuccessful trade request to Sydney. Some of the disgruntlement amongst the playing group, not linked to the Daniher situation, revolves around the recently announced coaching succession plan that sees John Worsfold hand over the reins to Ben Rutten in 2021.

It looks like they will also need to find a new CEO too as Xavier Campbell is bound for bigger things outside of Bomberland.