People on the internet are making a big mistake. They are fighting over the records of Raul and Sven. This is an incorrect comparison. We need to put a stop to the madness because it is making it difficult to see the mess at Arsenal with any sort of clarity. My patronising hope is that this article might help you understand why the situation at Arsenal is as nuts as it is at the moment.
First things first, let’s get into the history of Arsenal’s latest mess.
Ivan Gazidis had a pretty good plan post-Arsene Wenger (give it a chance), at least on paper. He had three things he needed to accomplish:
Firstly, he had to find someone that could upgrade the way Arsenal scouted. We’d become bloated, dated, and the hits had dried up. We were Disney under 90s-Katzenberg. After Alladin, The Lion King and the Little Mermaid the future wasn’t more 2D animation, it was guys like 3D world builders like Steve Jobs and John Lasseter at Pixar. Disney moved on their problem, Ivan didn’t have the power to, but when he sensed the end, he geared up for action.
There was very little creativity in the way Arsenal approached things and the good people were being crowded out of the important decisions. We were missing out on too many gems and there was a bottleneck in the system. Gazidis spent a very long time headhunting Sven Mislintat from Dortmund, who arguably had/has one of the best scouting records in the world over the last 15 years. We beat out other Premier League clubs for his signature (Spurs/United). What we were hiring was a data-centric approach to recruitment and a new way of doing things.
Secondly, Ivan needed to replace Dick Law, who was the man in charge of negotiating deals for Arsenal during the Wenger reign. The club needed someone ruthless, that knew the dark arts of agents, that could work the angles with UEFA. He found Raul Sanhelli, reportedly Ivan had been captivated by him at UEFA shindigs.
Now, let’s talk about what Raul did at Barcelona, because people get very confused.
He was not a scout or a talent guy. In the industry, they call his role a fixer, a runner, or a bagman. The role is important because you can’t have actual talent messing around on long flights or doing laborious jobs they aren’t suited for. There is a clear split between bagmen and talent spotters.
The Barca approach to buying football players is as followed.
The Sporting Directors picks the players, likely sourced through intense data and scouting. Once they decide on a player, then people like Raul would be activated to make the deal happen. They’d be given the rules of the road and sent wherever they needed to go in the world to make the deals happen. Raul would be instructed to lowball clubs, work with the agents and families involved, to plant stories in the media to unsettle the target players, to do what was necessary to bring the deal home. Arguably, the murkier side of this process (though legal) was what we lacked. Remember, we were the club that missed out on Mbappe because of a £7m fee.
Let’s get this straight. Raul is not a football guy. That is not what he did at Barcelona. He was a fixer of deals. He executed whatever plan was handed to him. To bring it back to film, the magic of an excellent production is technically down to the person that negotiated the fee for an Oscar-winning actress (Raul fan mindset), but the truth is the real smarts lie with the casting director or the film director that helped the actor bring the story to life.
The idea on paper was that Sven would find the players using data-driven smarts, because that’s what he was excellent at, and Raul would push the deal over the line because that was his thing.
If Sven was the architect, Raul was the estate agent.
Simple, right? Wrong.
There was a third thing Ivan had to oversee. A new manager.
Ivan G set up the new system, then caved to a Raul-special-friend-agent recommendation to bring in Unai Emery. To make matters more complicated, he had promised that Sven would be made the Sporting Director at Arsenal when Wenger left. However, when Ivan was supposed to be CEOing and ensuring his new leadership team was playing nicely, he was actually negotiating a sweet deal with The Elliot Management Group to take over at AC Milan.
He quit without seeing his plan through. When he fucked off he left a big fat power vacuum at Arsenal. A bland CEO was allowed to suggest what his succession plan looked like and it was fucking garbage.
The club decided, in its infinite wisdom, to give the leadership of the club to a 37-year-old finance guy, and to make Raul his partner. One did commercial deals, the other ran the football side of things.
This was a huge mistake.
Sven was not given the position of Sporting Director. We can point to many reasons why this didn’t happen, but the reality is that his process wouldn’t have worked for Raul who doesn’t seem to believe in data, and that eventually played out when Sven decided to leave because he didn’t like the way the new leadership team did business. I was told there were allegedly tensions dating back to the Auba deal, with someone preferring to bring in a Brazilian forward that is now playing in Russia instead. An additional clue to Sven’s angst might be how the Iwobi deal grew in complexity (adding more agents to deals), per the Nick Ames Guardian story yesterday. That is pure speculation of course. Whatever the issue was, Sven didn’t like the way Raul did business, and Raul didn’t like Sven. The friction between the conflicting philosophies was well known on the training ground.
Now Arsenal was fully at the mercy of a bagman who had ambitions to be the club lead who ran the football side of things despite not being qualified in that role.
Say what you want about Sven Mislintat, we were a very short amount of time into the tenure of someone that had an actual track record with talent.
He was responsible for: Saliba, Auba, Leno, Guendouzi, Tierney, and Torreira.
No one has truly thrived at Arsenal over the past two years, but it’s hard to sniff at those players and not think that we were at least on the path to a smarter way of working.
Raul ran last summer then brought in Edu, who was represented by Kia. As far as I am aware, Sven didn’t have a super-agent repping him. Let’s try and imagine a world where it’s a good idea that a super-agent brings a Technical Director to a big club, and then starts buying from his portfolio. If you were Business Affairs Manager at any reputable company, what would you think about that setup?
As expected, the Raul/Edu era hasn’t exactly been coherent. We blew £72m on a winger last season when central midfield and defence was the problem. I won’t relitigate some of the oddities of that deal (read here), but needless to say, there was a connection to Raul in the Lille exec team. We spent £24m on David Luiz for a single year according to The Athletic who as far as I am aware have not retracted the story. We signed Pablo Mari to a 4-year deal after about 22 competitive games in his career (out for 4 months), we’re having to justify giving a 29-year-old right-back that Southampton thought was good for glue a 4-year deal, and we signed David Luiz for another year despite performance issues (now injured). Yes, Gabriel Martinelli was a good signing. He was a recco from Cagigao. Do with think he’d have recommended the other players? I have my reservations.
Letting Sven Mislintat go has been a disaster for Arsenal, not because of the person, but because what ditching someone like that means for your standing as a club. We don’t believe in data, we’ve put scouting on the back burner, we are making it clear even to other agents that the game at Arsenal is only played by a select few. It’s so bad, we have Kia in the press talking like he’s an Arsenal representative.
We have cleared out a bunch of scouts. We didn’t replace Sven. The StatDNA guy left. We lost Lord Harris and Sir Chips from the board. There’s very little accountability. According to multiple outlets, there was a fight to make sure David O’Leary was not added to the board, why? I have my concerns it was his behaviour at Leeds that was the tipping point.
The best thing Arsenal have done in the last 6 months is Arteta, but even that decision is slightly tainted by the kingmaker concern. Though I will reiterate, he is not a mistake and I don’t care how the club landed on him. He’ll be the reason Edu and Raul keep their jobs for longer than they should.
So in short, we’re not being run by a football guy. We’re being run by a fixer who made deals happen. The guy that was widely praised for his role in the Neymar deal is the person we’ve entrusted to use his contacts to get us back to the top. Does it look like that’s working out? Do you read the story of Liverpool and think Arsenal’s leadership is capable of making that many good decisions over a 4 year period?
I have my doubts. We’ll see this summer though. Will we bring back the scouts we lost and add something different? Will Edu put forth a plan and explain what value he’s offering the club? Will we put the Willian deal in the bin and spend £150k a week on players that actually have a future in the game beyond one season?
It remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, the pressure on those two is now immense. They have to deliver this summer and the deals have to look like they are for the good of Arsenal, not their mates.
It’s time for Josh and Stan to wake up. Every year we entrust chancers with the keys to our club is another £50m down the drain. We need to act smart, build out a proper infrastructure around Arteta, hire in the right talent and put the super-agent recommendations in a very deep hole. Contacts football sounds sexy, but it’s a load of shit. It’s like pining after dickhead players that cause problems because they are perceived as more passionate than the cause. No serious business would allow this type of carry-on. No one would let the conflicts of interest slide so easily. Ownership needs to put a stop to the madness now before we have another shocking summer.
I will leave on a positive because there is always a path to a better future.
Liverpool just won the league.
They did it the proper way.
It wasn’t grotesque, it was about smart people, and money well spent.
Tomorrow, I’m going to lay out how Arsenal can borrow from their playbook and bring back greatness to N5.
Right, that’s me done, see you in the comments. x