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Arsenal to fire head international scout, 55 employees total

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And we are Not Happy about it.

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

This sucks.

It sucks because 55 people, about 7.5% of Arsenal’s employees, are losing their jobs in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that has caused widespread financial hardship. It sucks because Arsenal are a $2 billion club with a $6 billion plus owner that almost certainly could keep those people in their jobs if they wanted to. It sucks because it’s another step towards the “contacts based” approach of Raul Sanllehi that has ceded control of Arsenal’s transfer dealings to Edu Gaspar and superagent Kia Joorabchian.

The move is a harsh reminder that the business of football is a cold, calculating one where the bottom line matters above all else.

The redundancy layoffs are particularly aggravating because Arsenal were the only Premier League team whose players took a year-long paycut during the shutdown. The reporting was that the team pitched the cut to the players as a way to save jobs during a tough financial period and as a show of solidarity that all club employees are important and valued. And now, not even six months later, this.

One player didn’t take a paycut — Mesut Özil. According to ESPN, Özil wanted more information about how the money saved would be used and about the future financial implications of the move. He said that it was not about his personal finances. It isn’t much of a leap to connect Özil being frozen out post-shutdown at least in part with his refusal to take that paycut; he was playing pretty much every match before the season was suspended.

Regardless of why Özil isn’t playing, the layoffs confirm that he was right to be concerned. He isn’t to blame in ANY of this, despite what some members of the media have suggested. He is a convenient scapegoat that the club is more than happy to let deflect attention away from their own culpability and role in this. It’s lazy and uncritical to buy into that narrative without at least examining it further.

Why are we so quick to blame players when money comes to the fore? Supporters are to players just as players are to owners. Put differently — yes, players have a lot more money than we do as “normal” people, but owners have exponentially more than the players. The top of the pyramid has, once again, pitted the lower levels against each other to distract from where the ire should rightfully fall. On management and ownership.

Just to reiterate: let’s assume the people Arsenal are laying off make £50K a year (which is £15K above the average full-time salary). It would take them 120,000 years to equal Stan Kroenke’s net worth. What about Mesut Özil and his £350K per-week contract? It would take him more than 340 years at that rate to match Stan. We are dealing with orders of magnitudes of difference in wealth here.

The club gave Özil his massive contract. Whatever the club is doing or wants done is at least part of the reason Özil isn’t playing.

The club said in its statement today explaining the redundancies, “it is now clear that we must reduce our costs further...to enable us to continue to invest in the team.” This is a clear statement of priorities — investing in the team (read: transfers) matters more than these 55 employees’ livelihoods. The understanding is that the redundancies are in no way related to current transfer business, which is expected to continue apace.

It’s going to be difficult for me to stomach watching Arsenal splash the cash this summer and hand out £100K, £200K-per week contracts to players, when I know that money, under different priorities, could have kept 4 or 5 people who aren’t already millionaires several times over in their jobs. But I’ll remind you — when those contracts inevitably are given out, the players won’t be the ones to blame.

Accompanying those contracts and transfers will inevitably be agent fees. Or put differently, money siphoned off to people who bring questionable value to the table. To be fair, it’s not exclusive to Arsenal’s dealings. That’s the way the system works. Agent fees are part of the ecosystem.

But the whole thing leaves a sour taste. An especially sour one, in fact, when you remember that Raul Sanllehi and Edu Gaspar’s “contact based” approach has seen the majority of those agent fees go to friend and superagent Kia Joorabchian.

That approach may ultimately be a successful one. Only time will tell. But the early returns are not encouraging. We’ve seen Arsenal sign David Luiz and Cedric Soares, and be linked to Willian and Philippe Coutinho in this window. Signing aging, expensive players doesn’t seem to square with what a rebuilding squad should be doing.

There’s a reason that the footballing implications of this move are all the way to the bottom of the post — they pale comparison to the very real implications for the 55 people losing their jobs.

But making redundant the head of international scouting, Francis Cagigao, along with other prominent members of the scouting department is an ominous sign that has led to “a sense of bemusement” at the club according to Arsenal correspondent Charles Watts. Cagigao has been with Arsenal for 20 years and is credited with identifying and recruiting, among others, Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin, and most recently, Gabriel Martinelli. Trading recruitment based on “boots on the ground” traditional scouting methods for a contacts and agents-based approach concerns me. A lot.

An agent’s primary duty is to his clients. He wants to get them the best deal possible. In doing so, he makes more money for himself because he gets a percentage cut. A scout’s first duty is to their club. Discovering talent and generating value is how they keep and advance in their job. Which of those two do you trust more to bring the best deal for Arsenal to the table? The guy who makes more if Arsenal spend more or the guy whose job security hinges on getting player evaluations right.

I’ll leave you with two things to think about.

It would seem that Arsenal have come a long way since 2016, when Arsene Wenger, speaking about transfers and club finances, said, “What matters to me is when you have a club with 600 employees you have the money to pay them at the end of the month.”

I don’t think the change in philosophy from what Arsene articulated to what the club demonstrated today is a good one.

So I’ll ask — does it matter to you what Arsenal do off the pitch if they win on it? I hope it does.