Yesterday, I touched on the David Luiz deal that all fans should find abhorrent. Today, I wanted to map out the journey Arsenal are on. We’re fast-moving from a club that was mocked for not moving with the times because we believed in the integrity of the game, to one that is seen as a feeding trough for super-agent fees.
This is a rundown of what’s happened since Wenger was fired.
Raul hired Unai Emery despite data pointing towards him being a super bland manager. Unai Emery actually thanked his agent, Arturo Canales, in an interview he did with AS before he moved.
“Thanks in part to Arturo Canales, they insisted I was the best candidate of all.”
Canales wasn’t his agent at the time but switched over soon after. Unai Emery was a bad candidate. He couldn’t manage egos, he couldn’t speak English, and his record with defences was abysmal.
Question: Did Canales land a finders fee?
It was clear from Emery’s first season that he was an absolute disaster of epic proportions. The data around his tenure showed that he’d performed worse than Wenger across the board. His football was bland, his communication was atrocious, he fell out with big names, he was meek, and he dropped the most cowardly end to a season in living memory.
He should have been fired, he wasn’t, and to make matters even more perplexing, Raul Sanhelli tried to give him an extension to his deal. The next season got off to the worst start in 38 years, but Raul held off firing him until mid-December, to the horror of Sir Chips according to Tim Payton. Eventually, the position became so toxic, the club had to exit Emery.
Sven Mislintat left Arsenal because he didn’t like the way Raul’s approach to transfers. The contacts approach wasn’t for him, this was common knowledge around the training ground.
With no Sven at the table, what happened? We unveiled a mega signing. Arsenal brought Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal (yes, I was excited). The rumours are that the fee was eye-watering. Italian clubs were leaking they wouldn’t deal with the number. Even this deal is based on contacts. A guy called Marc Ingla used to work with Raul at Barcelona in the marketing department. Famed in France after landing a 3 month suspended sentence from footballing activity in France for alleged false reporting in May 2019. The deal helped the €140m debt arrangement Lille had Elliot Management and staved off a Milan like takeover (according to the Financial Times).
The transfer fee we paid for Pepe was outrageous. If you’d said at the start of the summer, ‘where should we spend £72m?’, I’m not sure many would have said blow that on a winger. Especially not on one that was still incredibly raw and far from the finished article at 24 years old.
This sort of weirdness was all going to be solved by Edu. The Brazilian boasted Arsenal DNA and we hoped, Arsenal values. He’d put us on the straight and narrow, right?
So what do we know about Edu? Well, we know his agent is Kia. This would be fine if he at least pretended to act independently of him. His record so far indicates he does not.
Cedric Soares. A player Southampton thought was so bad, they leaked to The Athletic they were shocked to get a fee because they thought he’d end up at a lowly club after his contract expired in June.
As deadline week drew closer, news of Arsenal’s interest surfaced and Southampton could hardly believe it was true. They saw barely any logic in the approach and put it down to certain relationships between Arsenal and Soares’s people, yet there were no complaints from the south coast. A deal was done that suited all sides — the package is worth around £5m to Saints and Arsenal feel that, once fit, in Soares they will get exactly what they were seeking from the market.
It is quite stunning that the only person in world football that Arsenal could find to play right-back came from Kia’s portfolio (the same month, we were also linked to Kurzawa). He was also injured when we signed him.
David Luiz, another very odd signing. 3 months prior to joining Arsenal, he inked a 2 year deal with Chelsea. Edu then oversaw a £24m one-year signing that involved a £6m intermediaries fee (this has been denied by Kia, or at least he says he personally didn’t take more than £600k), an £8m transfer fee and a whopping £10m a year salary. David Luiz had been average for Chelsea. He was well past his prime, but Edu thought it wise to give him a 60% pay increase. Does that strike you as a normal thing to do for someone of his age and playing profile? Kia has fought back on the fee story, saying it was only £600k. Pretend for a minute the fee didn’t exist, we still spent £18m on a player we’re either having to sign up to a new deal or letting go for free.
Who are we being linked to this summer? Willian. A 31-year-old winger from Kia’s portfolio. My suspicion is this free transfer will look great to Josh K, and the player will come for a pay rise and there will be another fee. That deal was as rumoured to be very close a few months ago. Not sure where it is now, but would it surprise you? Why would Arsenal keep lining up at the same trough?
We are also being heavily linked to Coutinho. A good player, but Arsenal, per Josh K, has a wage bill problem and we’re apparently thinking about taking the 3rd highest-paid player from Barcelona on for next season. What’s the fee there? Are we really in a position to be exploring a deal of that size when we’ve cut the entire squads earnings by 12.5%? This is a player that can’t get a bite from anywhere in Europe because he is seen as overpriced. We are literally mainlining Kia’s players into the squad.
Then we go to Pablo Mari, a player I’m sure we’d all love to see come good, but he’s had 22 top-flight games and his agent is… Arturo Canales.
Even the interview process for Emery’s vacant role saw Kia inserting his clients into the mixer. Why would anyone consider Vítor Pereira? An absolute joke suggestion. He would be nowhere near any top clubs shortlist of names, but once again, Arsenal Football club indulged agent suggestions, despite the disastrous consequences of doing that exact same thing the first time around.
Where does scouting play out in these deals? Is it just a coincidence that most of our players come from a small selection of agents Edu and Raul like? Are we using our money to sign the absolute best talent to move us forward? Looks questionable.
There are four positions that are important for the smooth flow of unaccountability in football.
The club: Raul doesn’t own Arsenal, but he might as well do. Josh doesn’t understand the game in enough detail to be potent or nuanced in his questioning. Unless he truly did think £24m was a good deal for a 33 year old for one year, then we really are fucked. Geraldo Lopez of Lille tried to build a football agency so he could ship players around the world, then third party ownership disappeared, his solve? Buy a club. Jorge Mendes runs Wolves for a reason. Own a club and it’s a fee printing machine.
“Trading in talent is often more profitable than owning soccer clubs, say academics who study the sport. But it is also a business model that some fans, officials and club owners criticise and oppose. They say it diverts money to agents and financial investors that would otherwise go to clubs and help sustain the vibrant competition that fans pay to see.”
A Sporting Director should be single-minded in delivering a club the best players, for the best price, that offer the best value. Arsenal is a club under financial strain. Where was the value in the Luiz deal? Can anyone fathom Soares at right-back?
The board: This is the final layer of scrutiny on deals. Raul, according to The Athletic, bypasses the board now, which is part of the reason Sir Chips packed in his Chairmanship. When you have owners learning the game, the board should be packed with knowledge and be afforded the power of veto, especially without a strong CEO in place.
The manager: It helps to have a compliant manager in charge. Nuno was Jorge Mendes man at Valencia. The fans hated it even though he took them into the top 4. Now he’s at Wolves. It’s clear why. Unai Emery had very little say at Arsenal, he was lucky to have the job. He was well paid and Raul was his king, but he had no true power according to his grumblings post-sacking.
Arteta was the best candidate for the job, this is true, but he is also in a very weak position. This is his first job, he’ll have very little power at the club right now, Raul is his King. The same was true for Unai Emery; who was going to Real Sociedad before his agent put the call in.
Say what you will about Arsene Wenger, the guy always had righteous views when it came to super-agents. To a fault, no doubt, but I tell you what, I wish we had some of his values at the exec level of Arsenal football club right now. I can’t believe I’m writing that but this is not a good moment for Arsenal.
We cannot allow our club to be a vessel for agents/intermediaries/family fees. I understand that it is hard to bypass them in totality, but the simple truth is Arsenal have shifted from a mindset of paying them as a necessity because we want a great player, to almost shifting our entire transfer approach to be solely focused on certain agents portfolios… to the detriment of the football that has us sitting in 9th.
The David Luiz deal was a huge waste of money. Unai Emery was a terrible hire. Cedric Soares should never have been signed. We did not need Dennis Suarez. Nicolas Pepe was overpriced. Now we’re looking at Willian, Coutinho and continue to be open to suggestions from the same stable of ‘friends.’ It’s a worrying trend and all the traditional checks and balances have gone. Absent ownership under Arsene Wenger was bad, but at least he tried to run the club like it was his own. What is the new world? Where is the fierce independence that makes Arsenal, The Arsenal?
We are better than this. There’s never been a greater leveller in football than what has happened now. Let’s hope we don’t blow it by meekly handing over our future to fee merchants.