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20/21 First Team General

Raül Sanllehí Leaves the Club

Arsenal announced today that Head of Football Relations, Raül Sanllehí was relieved of his duties.

The announcement comes off the back of Arsenal also announcing fifty-five redundancies across the club and after the signing of Willian from Chelsea.

In a statement released by the club, Vinai Venkatesham, the club’s Managing Director, will lead the club going forward.

From left to right: Raül Sanllehí, Mikel Arteta, Edu and Vinai Venkatesham

Though reports are sketchy as to why Sanllehí has been dismissed, it is thought that the Spaniard’s dismissal was a direct result of an internal club investigation.

Recently, Arsenal announced that Chairman, Sir Chips Keswick was to stand down from his position at the end of last season, which saw Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) appoint Tim Lewis as a non-executive director at the club.

This led to Lewis conducting an investigation behind the scenes into the club’s recent dealings, specifically, into the signing of Nicolas Pépé, who Arsenal signed for £72m last summer from Lille OSC. It is thought that the investigation into Pépé’s transfer was down to the amount Arsenal paid to Lille, a figure that shocked the French club when they received it and was significantly higher than bids lodged by other clubs.

The internal investigation into Pépé’s transfer came about as part of a wider recruitment overhaul, an overhaul that has also seen well-known scouts Francis Cagigao, Brian McDermott and Brian Clark dismissed under the directive of Technical Director, Edu.

Tim Lewis, Arsenal’s new non-executive director

Sanllehí started at Arsenal in February 2018, just as Arsène Wenger’s reign was about to come to an end and was part of the team tasked with finding the Frenchman’s successor.

Sanllehí, former Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis and former Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat were the main three in charge of the process and eventually selected Unai Emery.

Though Emery, Arsenal and Mesut Özil mainly dominated the headlines, the news that Mislintat was to step down gained more media interest than Arsenal would normally have experienced.

Mislintat was renowned for being one of the brightest young scouts in Europe, having identified numerous talents at Borussia Dortmund, but after falling out with the club’s hierarchy, he left to join Arsenal. It is thought that Mislintat was promised the Technical Director’s job by Gazidis upon joining, however, after Gazidis left for AC Milan, the plan was thrown into disarray.

Sven Mislintat, Arsenal’s former Head of Recruitment

Sanllehí did not like the idea of Mislintat taking over the role of Technical Director as he lacked the three criteria that Sanllehí wanted for the position: no experience in the role, no prior connection to the club and no previous experience working with Emery.

After Mislintat left, Arsenal were agonisingly close to appointing Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo (more commonly known as Monchi), as Technical Director, as he had worked with Emery before, but the Spaniard perplexed Arsenal by signing with Sevilla instead.

Arsenal’s next choice was Marc Overmars, but the Dutchman opted to stay with Ajax, so the club instead appointed Edu, who left his role with the Brazilian national side.

Under Sanllehí’s tenure, Arsenal moved away from a data and analytics approach and instead focused more on a contacts-led approach. This is likely how Arsenal found themselves working with super-agents such as Jorge Mendes, who was essential in the now scrutinised deal for Pépé, Arturo Canales, who was responsible for bringing Unai Emery to Arsenal’s attention and Kia Joorabchian, who is the agent of David Luiz, who Arsenal signed from Chelsea for £8m last summer, Cédric Soares, who joined on a free transfer last season, an unnamed youth player in the club’s academy, Edu himself and new boy Willian.

Kia Joorabchian with client and Arsenal’s first signing of the summer, Willian

As a result of Sanllehí’s new approach, the data and analytics team at the club felt increasingly marginalised under the Spaniard and led to Jaeson Rosenfeld, the founder of StatDNA – who Arsenal privately purchased in December 2012, stepping down from his position in March.

Mikel Arteta, the club’s new head-coach is a big advocate of statistical analysis and data, especially in monitoring of his players, an approach that is shared by Edu, however, while Sanllehí agreed with this principle in the conditioning of the first-team, he was not in favour of it being used in recruitment.

After Edu’s latest changes in the club and Lewis’ investigation supposedly at its end, it means that Arsenal have now moved on from the time of using Sanllehí and his wide web of contacts to move into a more data-driven approach.

For Edu, the process is inspired by the work being done at Liverpool and Manchester City, both of whom have data systems and teams that are the reported envy of clubs all over Europe.

Edu and Mikel Arteta at Goodison Park just after ARteta was announced Arsenal’s new head-coach

Sanllehí leaves Arsenal with a mixed bag of results. Though his contacts helped broker some of Arsenal’s most important deals, such as Nicolas Pépé, Gabriel Martinelli, Kieran Tierney and William Saliba and saw the club lift the FA Cup recently, he also leaves under a shroud of controversy.

His agent-led approach has led the club being uncomfortably close to Kia Joorabchian and his nefarious methods and his handling of Unai Emery’s disastrous tenure at the club still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of many Arsenal fans.

There are rumours of Arsenal looking for a replacement for Sanllehí, but whether or not Arsenal do source a replacement remains to be seen, however, for now, it looks as though Edu, Huss Fahmy and Vinai Venkatesham will be in charge of the club from now on, with Mikel Arteta focusing on the first-team.

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