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A Brazilian Education

When asking Arsenal fans about underrated Brazilian midfielders in Arsenal’s Invincibles team, most will, not unfairly, say Gilberto Silva. The Brazilian was, by and large, the unsung hero of an Arsenal side that boasted the likes of Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Ashley Cole, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès and José Antonio Reyes; playing mainly as the central-defensive midfielder in Arsenal’s fluid 4-4-2 formation.

Though Gilberto is perhaps the most widely remembered and appreciated, there was another underrated Brazilian midfielder hiding in the ranks of the Arsenal side, one who made 79 appearances across four seasons at Highbury and his name is Edu.

Edu during his time with Arsenal

Edu had joined Arsenal two years prior to his national compatriot and was part of a team that won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 2001/02 and was an integral part of the team that would reach the 2002/03 FA Cup final, though he was unable to play in the final.

His final appearances at Arsenal brought about some good memories as well. Following a contract dispute, Arsène Wenger announced that the Brazilian would leave once his deal expired at the end of the season, which made his appearance in Arsenal’s 7-0 rout of Everton his final appearance at Highbury, which he capped off by scoring the team’s fifth goal from the penalty spot, he would also make a substitute appearance in the team’s triumph over Manchester United in the FA Cup final, which was also the final appearance of Patrick Vieira.

Edu played under Unai Emery at Valencia

Edu’s career endured peaks and troughs after that; he moved to Valencia in Spain, where he played for four years, before heading back to his native Brazil to play for Corinthians in São Paulo, where he played for just one year before retiring. 

After that, Edu became the Director of Football at Corinthians, taking over from William Machado. Edu was initially unsure about what to do after hanging up his boots, but his interest in business coupled with his proficiency with languages led Andrés Sánchez, the Corinthians president, to ask Edu to become the team’s new Director of Football.

Edu during his final year at Corinthians

Edu’s time at Corinthians was very successful, he won two Brazilian leagues (one in his first season), which was soon followed by success with the Copa Libertadores in 2012, a Recopa Sudamericana and then a remarkable victory over Chelsea to win the Club World Cup. Edu was a hit with the fans and shared a remarkable relationship with the team’s coach, Tite.

Edu’s abilities off the field became apparent to the hierarchy of Corinthians immediately and he was not afraid to deal with misbehaviour or anything that may show the club in a bad light, something which earned him further respect from the board and fans.

Corinthians winning the Copa Libertadores in 2012

At Corinthians, the club has its own Centre of Intelligence. This is the club’s main statistical analysis set-up and one that was infrequent in its usage prior to Edu’s tenure. The Brazilian saw how much statistical analysis could profit the club, not just in its recruitment, but also for the training and conditioning of the players, with Edu insisting the club focus more on the statistical side of the game, a move that paid off for the club and is still used to this day.

In 2016, Brazil decided to appoint the aforementioned Tite as the new Head-Coach, given their profitable relationship at Corinthians, Edu was asked to follow him into the role as the General Coordinator, not a million miles away from the role that Billy Beane occupied for the Oakland Athletics Baseball team. 

Edu as part of the Brazilian national set-up

His impact was nearly instantaneous, introducing designated work hours for the Brazilian Football Federation in Rio de Janeiro and working with consultants at a professional services company to work out an established hierarchy and chain of command. 

Edu has not been without his controversies. He was unwilling to disclose Brazil’s approach for him to Andrés Sánchez while at Corinthians, which irreparably damaged their long-term relationship. He was also criticised for his treatment of Neymar during the 2018 World Cup, as Neymar was allowed to have his family in the same hotel, while other players were not afforded such privileges. 

Edu joined Arsenal at a time when the team was in desperate need of a shake-up behind the scenes. Though Edu’s former manager Arsène Wenger had departed over a year previously, then Head of Football Relations Raül Sanllehí and Chief Executive Vinai Venkatesham spoke to the club’s internal media group about the need for a Technical Director; “The head-coach is focused more on the short-term vision” Sanllehí said, “the Technical Director has to safeguard the medium and the long-term vision of the club, so that person needs to be in very close contact with the first-team head coach.”

The Arsenal backroom set-up model established by Raül Sanllehí

Edu was confirmed as the club’s Technical Director after Brazil’s Copa América win in 2019. What followed was something of a baptism of fire. 

Edu joined up with the club in Colorado, America, where Arsenal were in the midst of their pre-season preparations. He watched on with Sanllehí and Stan & Josh Kroenke as Arsenal swaggered to a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids, another of Stan Kroenke’s assets. However, Arsenal fans soon turned on the owner dubbed ‘Silent Stan’, as abuse was hurled at the American billionaire and he was also the subject of the “We Care, Do You?” campaign by Arsenal fans.

It was not the most ideal time for Edu to join up with the club and watching the fans react the way they did was a particularly horrible way for Edu to become re-acquainted with the fans who used to sing his name from the terraces of Highbury.

Arsenal’s start to the season was not as strong as they would have hoped and soon enough, the team found themselves in real trouble as Emery’s tactics resulted in losses and humiliating draws.

Edu and Emery had worked together previously at Valencia, admittedly only for a year, which meant that Edu met all three of the criteria that Sanllehí was looking for when appointing a Technical Director: 

Though Edu and Emery may have shared a good working relationship at Valencia, it was fair to say that the two did not see eye-to-eye at Arsenal, and the Spaniard’s job was only really prolonged due to Sanllehí’s steadfastness to relive him of his job. 

Following Emery’s dismissal, Arsenal quickly appointed Edu’s former teammate Freddie Ljungberg as the interim-coach with Per Mertesacker as his assistant. Though Ljungberg and Mertesacker’s results were far from perfect and their appointments only temporary, Edu and Sanllehí faced criticism for their handling of the search for a new head-coach. Ljungberg publicly encouraged the board to handle the situation as quickly as possible; resulting in a four-week selection process.

Freddie Ljungberg was in charge for several weeks before Mikel Arteta was appointed

Arsenal’s subsequent interest and appointment of Mikel Arteta drew criticism from Manchester City, who were unhappy with Edu, Sanllehí and Vinai Venkatesham’s somewhat clandestine negotiation tactics and their updates on the pursuit of Pep Guardiola’s right-hand man were sporadic at best. Manchester City remain unhappy with Arsenal’s handling of the situation.

Despite being involved with the first team, Edu has also struck a close working relationship with Per Mertesacker, the Head of the Academy and the duo worked together to streamline the team’s talent identification at youth level.

Edu and Mertesacker both clashed with Arsenal’s Head of Youth Scouting and former Arsenal player, Steve Morrow and the Northern Ireland scout was eventually relieved of his duties by Edu, with former scouts Dave Lee, Kevin Beddell, Dan Rice and Joe Sutton following Morrow as part of a restructure. 

Arsenal’s former Head of Youth Scouting, Steve Morrow

Edu and Mertesacker have since been working on a number of important placements within the club’s youth scouting set-up, with Lee Herron now leading the Talent Identification department along with Steve Brown, formerly of MK Dons and Yousuf Sajjad of Chelsea.

These appointments have proven crucial to Arsenal and have helped them to secure a number of youth prospects in recent months, such as George Lewis from Fram Larvik in Norway, after he was scouted by the club at the iTromsø Cup and Arsenal will be hoping that he can follow success stories such as Mattéo Guendouzi, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli and push for a place in the senior squad in the next few years.

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-looming final date of Brexit, Arsenal have had to slightly realign their recruitment strategy, which has seen them decide on a new strategy, which sees them signing youth players that have been let go from other clubs and using statistical analysis to analyse their strengths and weaknesses. While Lewis is the most high-profile of the signings Arsenal have made under Edu’s new youth structure, there has also been Tim Akinola from Huddersfield Town and Jonathan Dinzeyi from Tottenham Hotspur.

Former Head of Football Relations, Raül Sanllehí

After Arsenal announced their intention to carry out fifty-five redundancies across the club in the wake of the aforementioned pandemic, the surprising name in the midst of these redundancies was Sanllehí, leaving Edu in charge of the club’s executive football team alongside Huss Fahmy.

Sanllehí’s departure came as a shock, not just to fans, but to staff as well. Though Arsenal have been strongly denying that Sanllehí’s departure was part of an internal investigation led by new non-executive director Tim Lewis, it seems as though Sanllehí’s approach to football is at odds with how Edu sees the club moving forward.

Prior to Sanllehí’s shock exit, Arsenal also announced the unpopular news that Francis Cagigao, Brian McDermott and Brian Clark, Arsenal’s hugely popular long-term scouts, would be let go as part of a senior scouting revamp. While Sanllehí preferred a more contacts-led approach, Edu is an advocate of statistical analysis, which has led to Cagigao, McDermott and Clark’s respective dismissals. 

It was thought that Sanllehí’s dismissal may throw a number of key deals into the balance. Arsenal are keen to extend captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract for a further three years and are in the midst of negotiations with Lille for Gabriel Magalhães and Atlético Madrid for Thomas Partey, all of which Sanllehí was handling personally and the responsibility now falls to Edu and Fahmy to get these deals completed. 

In losing Sanllehí, Arsenal have lost a trusted negotiator and someone who also has a reputation for being able to complete deals and establish relationships with those who may be able to aid any transfer processes, while Edu also has connections of his own, they are not as vast as Sanllehí’s wide web of contacts.

Gabriel Magalhães, Arsenal’s reported transfer target

Arsenal have already completed the signing of Willian from Chelsea on a free transfer, and Edu will be aware that Mikel Arteta will need substantial investment going into the new season. 

Edu has been relatively shielded from the public eye during Sanllehí’s tenure at the club, with the Spaniard taking most of the praise and criticism for transfers and other decisions, but now, with the former Barcelona Head of Football gone, Edu has been thrust right into the spotlight and his decisions from this point forward will prove crucial for Arsenal’s success moving forward and the former midfielder’s status as an Invincible will only protect him for so long before results are demanded and this transfer window could be the start of something beautiful or something very ugly for all involved. 

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