It feels like something is brewing in the Arsenal front office. Last week came the news that as part of a reorganization and streamlining, Arsenal let go of several prominent scouts, separate from the 55 layoffs via redundancy.
Yesterday, superagent Kia Joorabchian, who has close ties to Arsenal Head of Football Raul Sanllehi and Technical Director Edu Gaspar, blasted former Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat for numerous “c***-ups” during his time advising the club on transfers.
Today comes the news that Edu recently investigated the club-record £72M signing of Nicolas Pepe from Lille to determine if and how the Gunners may have overpaid, according to ESPN UK. The investigation reportedly was part of the overhaul of the scouting department that has seen the club move towards what Edu calls a more “contacts and data driven” approach.
Arsenal declined official comment about the investigation, but club sources confirmed to ESPN that the inquiry took place. Those sources also confirmed that representatives from other clubs were surprised at the amount Arsenal ended up spending.
Edu joined Arsenal three weeks before the club announced Nicolas Pepe’s transfer. He took part in the pomp and ceremony, holding up Pepe’s kit with the Frenchman for photos. But it’s believed that the majority of the negotiation and details of the transfer had taken place before Edu joined the club. That points to Raul Sanllehi being the chief architect behind the deal and is supported by the scuttlebutt on who was driving the club’s transfer business last summer.
I don’t think that the timing of his hiring or that he’s recently investigated the deal fully absolves Edu of all responsibility for the move. If it really was a massive overpay, you’d hope that the incoming Technical Director would have the pull to kill the deal. That also assumes that Edu recognized at the time that it was an overpay, which appears to be the narrative he’s trying to push now. Is it revisionist history? Maybe.
The timing of the investigation “leaking” to the press feels a bit too convenient for my taste. It is probably not a coincidence that it broke on the same day that Arsenal announce the Willian signing, adding to the list of Kia Joorabchian clients at the club. Commentators and pundits have long observed Joorabchian’s growing influence at Arsenal since the departure of Arsene Wenger, who more or less refused to deal with the superagent. Indeed in that talkSPORT interview above, Joorabchian felt the need to defend himself from accusations that he has too heavy a hand in Arsenal’s transfer dealings.
For the record, I like the Willian signing. I think he will be a useful player for Arsenal. But the timing of everything feels very much like a “look over here” situation.
Re-enter Sven Mislintat for a minute. He recently described Arsenal as a “mess” and a “dysfunctional [club] with no clear plan.” Some of that may be the product of a relationship that turned sour quickly — Mislintat only spent 18 months in North London — but some of it may be accurate. Mistlintat reportedly wanted to trim what he saw as a “bloated” Arsenal scouting department but was blocked by Raul Sanllehi. And now Arsenal have gone and done just that, gotten rid of a number of prominent scouts.
Who just signed his third client in a year to Arsenal’s squad? Kia Joorabchian. Who had Mislintat squarely in the crosshairs recently? Kia Joorabchian. Whose buddy just investigated another one his buddies over a club-record transfer? Kia Joorabchian. Who’s voice are we hearing speak most often about Arsenal transfer dealings? Kia Joorabchian. Who recently felt the needed to downplay his involvement in the club’s transfer policy? Kia Joorabchian.
I don’t know about you, but that’s Kia Joorabchian coming up far too often in connection with Arsenal for my liking. He doesn’t work for the club. It’s not his job to make Arsenal a better team. His responsibility is to his clients — to get them the best deals he can. And oh by the way, the more money he gets them, the more money he makes. Probably not the best setup for running a club.
But that’s not really Joorabchian’s fault, is it? He’s doing his job. The responsibility falls to Raul Sanllehi, and to a lesser extent, Edu. Edu’s got Gabriel Martinelli (home run) and Pablo Mari. Raul Sanllehi’s two biggest moves were Unai Emery (yikes) and Nicolas Pepe (the subject of an internal investigation). And so we turn our attention to the Head of Football.
I’m not “Raul out.” At least not yet. But I’m concerned. If there is a problem that needs fixing at Arsenal, it’s Raul Sanllehi. The club needed a more defined organizational structure coming out of the Arsene Wenger years. But Sanllehi’s tenure at the helm of the footballing side of things hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.
You know what, after crafting the previous sentence, I am “Raul out.” While I was pretty consistent in my criticism of Unai Emery after Arsenal utterly collapsed to end the 2018-19 season, I was late to the “Emery out” bandwagon. Had Arsenal acted quicker to sack him, they would probably be in a much better position right now. The club cannot afford to make that same mistake again. Call it wishful thinking, but maybe the internal investigation into Sanllehi’s big transfer is the first crack in that dam.
There is, unfortunately, a much simpler explanation for the investigation. It’s reasonable justification and cover for the reorganization of the scouting department. The timing is just coincidence. Just yesterday, I warned about filling in blanks and jumping to conclusions about Mesut Ozil. I should take my own advice.
But maybe, just maybe, somebody higher up at Arsenal isn’t happy and wants answers. Could it be The Board? Josh Kroenke? Stan Kroenke?
But they’ve let me down before. I really shouldn’t get my hopes up. I’m not going to jump to conclusions. Just say no to wild conspiracies and reading between lines that aren’t there. There aren’t going to be shocking executive sackings at Arsenal. Definitely not.