Arsene Wenger never hid his dislike for any directors of football.
‘Director of football?’ Wenger said in 2017. ‘I don’t know what it means. As long as I am the manager of Arsenal Football Club I will decide what happens on a technical front.’
In 2018 Raul Sanllehi arrived and on Saturday he left with no explanation as to why. Only a statement on Arsenal’s website which painted a pretty picture of an amicable parting of ways.
Stan and Josh Kroenke hailed Sanllehi for his contribution over the last two years. Managing director Vinai Venkatesham hailed the owners for trusting him with a new challenge. Sanllehi hailed Arsenal, saying he will always be ‘cheering’ for the club from afar.
Yet behind this whirlpool of warm wishes is another executive being shown the exit in the post-Wenger era and a summer shake-up is afoot at the Emirates Stadium.
The problems are piling up off the pitch at Arsenal – at a time when the Premier League’s youngest manager in Mikel Arteta would prefer to concentrate on making progress on it.
There have been accusations of agents having too much sway, while the club are disputing reports of an internal review into the £72million purchase of Nicolas Pepe. Then there’s the issue of 55 people losing their livelihoods, the scouting department being downsized, and the possibility of Mesut Ozil seeing out his £350,000-per-week contract while not playing.
Now a club who just managed their lowest league position for 25 years must tackle a vital window of trading without the man they hoped would be their transfer guru.
Instead they will be led by Venkatesham and technical director Edu, while Arteta will also be expected to step up and Huss Fahmy will continue to act as chief contract negotiator.
Elsewhere, Tim Lewis, a partner at law firm Clifford Chance, has joined the board as a non-executive director. Lewis says he wants to ‘help take the club forward’ and Arsenal say they have been looking at streamlining their operation in light of the overwhelming impact of Covid-19.
Part of that is ensuring they are efficient in the market, with Pepe, the 25-year-old they signed from Lille, having become an unfortunate poster boy for their habit of overpaying.
That £72m signing is one which Sanllehi oversaw.
But amid these hirings and firings, it has become apparent that the Wenger way has been well and truly dismantled.
You would forgive the 70-year-old Frenchman for feeling vindicated by seeing his former side scrap the technical position he fought against. Wenger used to oversee the process of signing players. He felt it should be part of the club’s DNA to scout properly, discover bargains worldwide and develop talent from within.
Yet head of recruitment Francis Cagigao, UK head of recruitment Pete Clark and former Reading and Leeds manager Brian McDermott, another key member of the scouting department, are among those who have been cut loose recently.
Sanllehi, along with Venkatesham, put their names to a statement confirming the 55 redundancies two weeks ago. Now he has left himself, after it was hoped the former Barcelona director’s extensive contacts list might open doors.
Yet their recurring use of certain agents has seemed to cause concern. Intermediary Kia Joorabchian, who represents David Luiz, Cedric Soares and Willian, among others, is one name which keeps cropping up. He recently said on talkSPORT there had been ‘cock ups’ in the market under Sven Mislintat, the former head of recruitment.
Make of that what you will, though many fans might forgive the odd mistake made by Mislintat, such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was signed on his watch.
So, what happens now? It remains to be seen what strategy Arsenal will adopt in light of Sanllehi’s departure, with Venkatesham now taking over. In a sign that they will work together closely, he described Arteta and Edu as a ‘formidable team’ in an interview with the club’s website this week.
We should see Edu become more of a public figure after time spent in the shadows and a show of leadership would not be a bad thing. Josh Kroenke – the son of Stan – is hands-on and is said to have been frustrated that the coronavirus stopped him from overseeing operations more closely.
For now, some good news would not go amiss, and that may come in the form of Aubameyang penning a new £250,000-per-week deal. Sanllehi was involved in those talks, and it may prove to be his parting gift.
Aubameyang staying would be a good start – something to cross out on what is a very long to-do list that Venkatesham, Edu, Fahmy and Arteta must make their way through.