The Misadventures of Sven Mislintat

During Arsène Wenger’s time at Arsenal, there have been many people who have taken the role of “chief scout”. In essence, the role was merely symbolic under the Frenchman, who took on the bulk of recruitment decisions himself.

The likes of Francis Cagigao, Ty Gooden and Gilles Grimandi have all received a fair amount of praise over the years for bringing particular stars to the Frenchman’s attention.

However, after the departure of the late Steve Rowley, Arsenal opted for a new appointment. Sven Mislintat.

On the 20th of November 2017, Arsenal announced that the former-Borussia Dortmund chief scout was to form the backbone of Arsenal’s new recruitment team.

“We are delighted that Sven is joining us. Identifying and developing talent is a core part of our philosophy and Sven has an outstanding track record over many years. We look forward to him taking our existing recruitment approach forwards.”

Arsène Wenger on Sven Mislintat’s appointment.

The years of Wenger investing more in youth than in established talent made him the perfect choice for the role. Indeed, it is the work Wenger did in his early years with the club that proved to be one of the main inspirations for Mislintat’s time as a scout.

At Dortmund, Mislintat had unearthed some of the club’s brightest gems. From Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to Shinji Kagawa, to Sokratis Papastathopoulos to Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Robert Lewandowski and countless others.

In the end, Mislintat’s relationship with Dortmund soured, after a fallout with then-manager Thomas Tuchel over the signing (or lack thereof) of Spanish midfielder Óliver Torres.

Mislintat took over from long-time Chief Scout, Steve Rowley (left).

Dortmund and Mislintat broke apart and the German joined the Arsenal set-up.

In joining, Mislintat was not to become just another chief scout, but the Head of Recruitment.

For many, this, coupled with the appointment of Raul Sanllehí to the role of Head of Football Relations, signalled the dilution of Wenger’s power and a move towards a more continental approach.

Fast-foreward five years later and none of the men are at the club anymore.

Wenger left the club in 2018 after 22 years of glittering service, Mislintat resigned after a falling out with Sanllehí, who himself was sacked, though the official line was that Arsenal felt they didn’t need both him and Edu occupying the same space.

In his time with Arsenal, Mislintat oversaw x transfers, all of which have subsequently left, with varying degrees of success.

PlayerFee SoldProfit/Loss
Konstantinos Mavropanos£1.8m£5m+ £3.2m
Henrikh MkhitaryanFreeReleasedN/A
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang£54mReleased— £54m
Stephan LichtsteinerFreeFreeN/A
Bernd Leno£22.5m£8m— £14.5m
Sokratis Papastathopoulos£17.6mReleased— £17.6m
Lucas Torreira£26m£7.5m— £18.5m
Mattéo Guendouzi£7m£10m+ £3m
TOTAL£128.9m£30.5m— £98.4m
All signings Arsenal made under Mislintat.

Many can argue that Mislintat, who was only in the role for little over a year, was not given an adequate enough chance to fully show what he was capable of.

Ultimately, Mislintat was caught up in the inevitable power vacuum that engulfed Arsenal in the wake of Wenger’s departure.

But the power dynamic was not troubled by Wenger’s departure, but from Ivan Gazidis, then the club’s CEO.

Gazidis has appointed Sanellhí and Mislintat in their jobs and had heralded both acquisitions as the beginning of a new dawn at the club.

Despite this, Gazidis rode off into the sunset a few months later. This was not ideal.

Ivan Gazidis’ departure caused a major shake-up in Mislintat’s Arsenal career.

Head-coach Unai Emery, the only person at the club required to give regular press interviews, was forced to remain silent as questions were barked at him every week, but behind the scenes, things were changing.

Sanellhí knew that what Arsenal needed more than anything, was a Technical Director. A Technical Director would allow the club to manage the staff and to provide more hands-on guidance to the academy, the women’s team and to the head-coach.

Naturally, Mislintat felt that he would be best suited to the role and dutifully threw his proverbial hat into the ring.

Sanellhí had other ideas.

His vision for an Arsenal Technical Director was that they met the following three commandments:

  • Has a connection, however tenuous, to Arsenal Football Club.
  • Has experience in the role of Technical Director.
  • Has worked with Unai Emery before.

Of course, it would be difficult to find someone who met all three of these wishes, however, Mislintat met none.

Vinai Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehí (left and right) did not feel that Mislintat was the right man for the job.

This felt like a promise broken to Mislintat. When he had taken the job under Gazidis, he had been promised the Technical Director role, one that would allow him to be closer to the team on a daily basis, but he was passed over for the role by Sanllehí and CEO Vinai Venkatesham.

The feeling of being passed over for the Technical Director role was further compounded by the competing ideology of Sanellhí when it came to recruitment.

Mislintat was the champion of data analytics in recruitment. His own recruitment tool, ScoutPanel (now MatchMetrics), replaced Arsenal’s own in-house data and analytics team, StatDNA (later rebranded as Arsenal Data Analytics) team.

I applied for the newly-created technical director role and Raul Sanllehí and Vinai Venkatesham, who succeeded Ivan in a co-leadership role at Arsenal, decided to go for someone else.

We then agreed in a very respectful way that I would leave, all entirely amicable.

Sven Mislintat interview with Raphael Honigstein for The Athletic.

The use of data and analytics had been a big part of Mislintat’s philosophy and was likely the main reason he was hired to work under Wenger, who also opted for. amore statistical approach to transfers.

Despite this, Sanellhí favoured a different approach.

Sanellhí’s way of working was a reliance on archetypal “black book” that so makes up the arsenal (pardon the pun) of a Director of Football.

Sanllehí preferred to work with agents like Kia Joorabchian than rely on Mislintat’s scouting.

Essentially, Sanellhí preferred to rely on his cordial relationship with agents, rather than unearthing talent through data and analytics, which could take months.

Mislintat liked to scout the player multiple times, use the data reports to conduct a thorough profile of the player and then meet the player in the flesh to see what they are like.

Sanellhí did not like this approach. His relationships with some of the game’s biggest agents, such as Jorge Mendes and Kia Joorabchian had proven to be useful weapons with which to wield when he worked at Barcelona.

This meant that Mislintat was now sidelined on two crucial areas and ultimately, the German left with a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.

More recently, Arsenal fans have begun to look back on Mislintat’s small selection of recruits.

The prevailing consensus is that, ultimately, it was a pretty sorry selection of recruits for such an established scout.

The reality of the situation is that Mislintat was not really at the club long enough to forge a lasting legacy. The players he recruited were made for two different coaches and many were not entirely his decision.

Wenger had tried to poach Henrikh Mkhitaryan when the Armienan was at Borussia Dortmund and he was a long-time admirer of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, having tried to sign him six months earlier too. Mislintat championed both signings and though he was key to completing both deals, neither were entirely down to him.

Stephan Lichtsteiner was signed as an “old head” for the Arsenal defence.

With Emery, the recruitment is a little more complex.

Stephan Lichsteiner was brought in to provide an “old head” for the defence, experience and a nasty side that would prove useful in the rough and tumble of the Premier League.

Ultimately, whatever Mislintat’s thought process was regarding Lichsteiner, the signing rpoved to be a disaster. The pace of the Premier League proved far too much for the experienced Swiss international to handle.

While Per Mertesacker had handled the pace of the league fairly well, this was mainly down to the German defender’s excellent ability to read the game and to position himself in a way that compensated for his lack of pace. Something Lichsteiner did not have.

Emery’s main need for the squad was the ability to play out from the back. In reality, Arsenal had been doing this since 1997, but with far less direction, with Wenger preferring the player’s abilities to do the talking for them and to allow the players to dictate were the passes went. Emery did not.

Emery need a deliberate and thought-out approach for playing out from the back, one that would bring the full-backs into the game but not isolate the midfield.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Henrikh Mkhitaryan during their time with Jürgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund.

Mislintat’s recruit for a ball-playing central defender was Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Whatever Sokratis had shown at Dortmund with regard to playing out from the back, it’s safe to say that he did not bring it to Arsenal, leading many to ask why Emery had asked for a ball-playing central defender and Mislintat had provided him with a no-nonsense centre back.

Of course, the failure of the players is not down to Mislintat. After all, it is not he who picks the team, nor him who decides on the tactics being used.

It’s not Mislintat’s fault that Arsenal decided to pay Mkhitaryan £200,000-a-week and then play him irregularly, nor is it his fault that Arsenal needed to cancel his contract in order to facilitate a move.

Mislintat cannot be held responsible for the fallout between the club and Mattéo Guendouzi, nor could he have known that Lucas Torreira would go from being an N’Golo Kanté-esque defensive midfielder into an Aaron Ramsey understudy.

Mislintat felt that Mattéo Guendouzi’s fiery temper would prove useful in the Premier League.

However, the warning signs were there for many of the players that such an established scout should have been able to pick up on.

Guendouzi’s fiery temperament had been picked up on several occasions during his time with FC Lorient. The lack of technical quality that Torreira possesed was equally plain for all to see, as was the inability to play out from the back that so plagued Sokratis.

Perhaps it was these signings that forced Sanllehí not to fully trust the German further.

There was also the singular way that Mislintat worked that so isolated him from the process.

Mislintat was a man who liked to work alone. This was at odds with Arsenal’s then scouting set-up.

Arsenal had scouts all over the globe, Danny Karbasiyoon handled North America, Francis Cagigao handled Spain, Ty Gooden was in charge of Belgium & France and Jonathan Vidallè took up residence in South America. All of them were essentially left out of the process.

Mislintat was initially hired to work alongside Arsène Wenger.

Even Jaeson Rosenfeld, who ran the club’s data and analytics team was left out of key scouting operations as Mislintat decided to move on his own.

Mislintat did not trust Arsenal’s in-house data and analytics system. Mislintat revealed in Christoph Biermann’s book Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution, that he found the scouting software to throw up too many wildcard players for his liking.

The marriage of Mislintat and Arsenal ought to have been one made in heaven. Arsenal have long-favoured data and analytics at the club. Arsenal spend nearly $2m annually to ensure they have the most complete data and have shown a willingness to learn from past mistakes.

Indeed, Rosenfeld’s appointment came after he made a presentation to Wenger about the ill-fated signings of Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-young about how neither’s xG was sufficiently high enough to merit the club’s purchase.

Mislintat’s fallout was more to the club’s over-reliance of agent contacts than actual science.

The signing of Denis Suárez proved equally contentious.

Unai Emery had wanted the Spaniard to fill the creative attacking void left by an often exiled Mesut Özil. Emery’s logic was that he would be able to get the best out of Suárez and that their previous working relationship would prove useful.

Milsintat preferred Arsenal to sign either Yannick Carrasco or Ivan Perišić rather than Denis Suárez.

Mislintat did not like the signing.

For him, the Head of Recruitment should be making these decisions, no one else. Suárez was obviously a useful player, given that he could occupy most central roles and could play out wide, but they did not fit Mislintat’s brief.

Mislintat had identified Dalian Yifang’s Yannick Carrasco and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perišić, the latter of whom he had signed for Borussia Dortmund a few years prior.

Both players were more natural fits for Arsenal’s system and would fit Emery’s style of play much better, especially given that Suárez’s stats were spectacularly unimpressive.

Mislintat was also dismayed that Arsenal would not put faith in players currently in their Hale End Academy. Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka were both playing very well in Freddie Ljungberg’s U23 team and were both deserving of a call-up. Emery was not keen to hand such a big responsibility to two teenagers.

Mislintat was befuddled that Emery did not want to put faith in youngsters Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka.

Suárez was considered a more attainable target owing to Barcelona’s interest in a loan deal and the possibility of a purchase option being included, giving Arsenal more control over the signing.

Despite Mislintat’s protestations, Arsenal signed the Spaniard on a short-term loan deal. The deal was a complete disaster for Arsenal and would have likely provided Mislintat with some form of vindication.

Suárez made six apperances for the team in all competitions, registering no goals or assists and missed the remainder of the season through a back injury.

This proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Mislintat stepped down from his role at Arsenal in January of 2019. Plenty has changed in the intervening years.

Raul Sanllehí left the club under fairly suspicious circumstances. Former Arsenal midfielder Edu Gaspar has since been hired for the Technical Director role that Mislintat so desperately wished to occupy, Richard Garlick is now the Director of Football Operations, Vinai Venkatesham remains the CEO of the club and Francis Cagigao was named as the club;s Head of Recruitment before being made redundant.

But what of Mislintat?

Mislintat is now the Sporting Director at VfB Stuttgart, in Germany.

Mislintat now works in Germany, where he is the Sporting Director of VfB Stuttgart, after an official proposal from then-Club President Wolfgang Dietrich. The German has not said much about his time with Arsenal, apart from a few amicable comments in an interview with The Athletic back in March of 2021.

He was re-united with Konstantinos Mavropanos this summer after the club made his initial loan deal permanent.

Both seem far happier for the split.

Arsenal have a good working relationship between Edu and new manager Mikel Arteta, while Mislintat has the role he wanted at a club that fully supports him.

If nothing else, both will look at his tenure as teachable moments, but who knows what might have happened had the German been given a bit more time.

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