Arsenal dropped the second part of the double CEO Interview and THANK the bloody LORD Dennis Bergkamp, it was FAR more interesting.
The baton was passed over to Raul and the Spaniard started to talk about some of the details we’ve been lacking as fans. It was probably the most interesting interview I’ve ever seen come from Arsenal.com.
The new structure sits on an axis that Raul describes as the skeleton.
At the top, sits the first team coach… emphasis on the word ‘coach.’
At the bottom, sits the Academy Head, which is Per Mertesacker. This part of the business is important for obvious reasons, but I still liked hearing Raul talk about its role… namely, it creates an identity within the club, and also reduces the cost of transfers. He noted that Ajax, Bayern and Barca have all had legendary youth ranks.
Then he talked about the technical director role and if you’ve been following Le Grove for any length of time, I think you’ll be pleased we were in the right ballpark. They’ll be setting the tone and vision for the club. If you work in or around advertising, it’s basically a brand manager. A person that’s in charge of ensuring we do things the Arsenal way on the pitch from a technical perspective.
Then to the left, you have the Head of Football Operations. The person who is in charge of making sure every detail works from a budget perspective. They work on the player deals, they ensure contracts are buttoned up, they make sure the guy booking bus tickets isn’t holding the team haka.
The meat around the skeleton is the important thing that we’ve again been talking about at length. Burgess and Shad are growing in importance as we push hard to build out our High-Performance engine. Making sure players are fit, on the right programmes and that our injuries are low. We have a growing Data and Analytics team. That’s working out how we measure players, how we analyse a multitude of data points and how we find people that can extract meaningful insights out the back end. Remember, tools show you the data, elite humans make sense of it. They also had the ladies team in there, which seems to be a core growth point for the Arsenal as we’re so damn successful there (GO LADIES GO!).
They also spoke about player identification as an iterative process, which is great to hear. We’ve chatted about how big clubs build a profile of what they need over the course of a season so they’re not caught in a window shopping frenzy like Wenger used to be. Vinai pointed out they were talking about summer deals in October, which is assuring to hear.
It’s also clear that Emery and Raul are in the driving seat this summer. So we’ll have to see how that plays out. Regardless of how good that plan is, he was adamant there was a plan.
Another thing I really, really loved… Raul and Vinai doubled down on Arsenal being a great place to be for players (and managers by proxy). He’s absolutely correct. All the misery guts that make out we’re some sort of pariah club have always been wrong, but it was good to hear it from the top. History, facilities, fanbase, exposure, stadium… as Raul said, we have a lot of ammunition.
The Aaron Ramsey chat was a bit of a pigs ear. They spoke about wage rationalisation as the leading reason. You can buy into that as ‘we couldn’t afford him’, or you can look at how it went down which is, ‘we decided he wasn’t worth it.’
We didn’t think he was worth it. We offered him a big deal, which from what I heard was lower than what he eventually took at Juve (I also heard the Juve money being bandied around is not a clear cut as it seems), but it was big, then the manager and Raul decided to yank the deal in late September, likely because he wasn’t living up to the PowerPoint hype Emery had envisaged.
You know this is the deal because we took the worst of all PR routes.
Firstly, if we’d wanted to keep Aaron, we’d not have dropped him in September when we pulled the deal. There’s literally no reason to bench a play in September if they’re good. Players need to play, they want to play, and it is extremely rare to make a statement out of a person that early in a season. Also, we didn’t do it with Ozil or Sanchez.
Secondly, if the problem is greed, that’s a PR nugget to run with. You leave it to the player to reject a huge deal and send Aaron to Italy looking like a mercenary. If the problem is the player waiting out their deal, you leave the contract with them and let the player infuriate the fans.
We did neither, we yanked the deal and made a big fuss of it being our decision. Which would have been fine had we not needed to go crawling back in January. The club underestimated how good he was, I think it’s that simple. Wenger did the same with BIG John Hartson, gone too soon man, gone too soon.
If wage rationalisation were an issue, we’d not have Mikhi on £170k a week, we’d do something aggressive about Ozil, we’d not have Lacazette and Auba getting £250k a week (the number Ramsey was being pitched), and we’d not be doubling the money of Matteo.
So here would be my key takeaway. I fucking LOVE an operational lecture, I really do. It’s fascinating to hear how the club is organising bodies around a vision of the future. These sorts of things should always be iterative and they should always change… but organisational charts alone won’t move the club forward.
We need to have the very best talent in the system and we need to have someone leading in a very strong way to make sure it all ticks along properly. One bad apple can infect the rest of the business like a cancer. Who is there making sure there is no cancer in the system?
We have a sports psychologist in the mix that’s overseen epic tanks for years now, if you’re talking elite performance, how is that guy justifying his salary?
If you’re talking about performance over the course of a season, and you’re looking at data, what does success for the manager look like? Sarri put it perfectly when he said that Chelsea should sack him now if his season is dependent on one trophy. What are we judging Emery by? Just top level, if metrics get worse as a season goes on, and you invested in areas to make them better but didn’t manage it, how do you justify those things? It’s just a question, don’t burst a blood vessel answering.
I love Big Per Mertesacker and he talks incredibly well about the game, but growing talent across such a wide range of age groups is REALLY tough. If he gets it wrong, he could consign a generation of players to the bin. Was it sensible to give someone the keys to the academy like that? Time will tell, but it was a huge gamble to go that route for the lifeblood and identity of the club moving forward.
How did all of this process land us on the decision to sign Denis Suarez in January? It’s a serious question. Of all the problems our squad clearly had, how did months of talking about weaknesses in the squad land us on a player that lacked character, physicality and purpose for our setup?
Anyone can map problems out.
Anyone can build a paper organisation.
Anyone can design a model for the future.
The difficult part is driving through that change and holding people accountable for moving things forward. It’s uncomfortable, it’s hard and it takes a huge expenditure of energy.
Who has the energy to make it happen? What are Vinai and Raul accountable for? What is the timeframe for success?
Part one was such a letdown because we didn’t offer up clarity on the vision. If your vision is murky, the execution will be the same.
We have a lot of theory, but very little to judge it by. Making the fans proud is meek.
I also wanted to hear something a bit more detailed about the football.
That could be us waiting for a technical director, or that could be the self-preservation kicking in. If you’re not told to be ambitious, why would you put your neck on the line?
You wouldn’t. Textbook Ivan Gazidis. Talk around the notion of accountability, whinge on that it’s really hard to compete, and people will likely not notice. Remember all the morons that jumped on Arsene Wenger’s comments about buying loaves of bread? Dortmund have done a massive chunk of excellent transfer business and we’re not out of May. They have a clear vision and they execute against it like clockwork. I’m not sure what ours is after an hour-long interview with the top two guys.
Part 2 was very solid, but if I were being very critical, I’d say… What’s really new here? What are doing that no other club is doing? Does this not feel a little like table stakes? Are we celebrating moving forward, or are we still blasting party poppers about catching up on the basics?
Right, that was a good chat… well played Raul and Vinai, but still some way to go if we’re truly planning to make moves over the next 5 years.
See you in the comments!