Arsenal have announced the promotion of Edu Gaspar, who moves from the role of technical director to sporting director. Rumours have been swirling in recent weeks that many of Europe’s top clubs were interested in poaching the Brazilian. Many sources have incorrectly reported that Edu has signed a new long-term contract with the club, but these reports are wide of the mark.
Unlike the playing staff, who are not permanent members of staff, and who have specified periods for which their contract is valid, Edu does not need to sign a contract as he is considered a permanent staff member. Edu’s new role does mean a change of job title, a wage increase and new bonuses.
It is a rich reward for Edu, who has overseen a period of immense change at the Emirates Stadium. Though Edu is the club’s first sporting director, it is, in effect, an amalgamation of the technical director role that he already occupied and that of the head of football relations role that was left by the departed Raúl Sanllehí.
Edu’s new role grants him far more responsibility across the footballing direction of the club. An Arsenal press release revealed that Edu will be working closely with Academy manager Per Mertesacker, with a view to strengthen the integration of youth players into the first-team.
Edu will also have a stronger relationship with the club’s women’s team – liasing with Jonas Eidevall, who recently committed his long-term future to the club alongside Mikel Arteta.
The change overseen at the club since the Brazilian’s arrival from the Brazil national side has been immense. The culling of Arsenal’s scouting network has seen them focus more on a data-led approach with a smaller group of scouts, as the club look to work with scouts who are more comfortable working with the club’s in-house data provider, StatDNA, now Arsenal Data Holdings, with Edu’s penchant for data already well-known.
Edu, a member of Arsène Wenger’s infamous invincibles side, returned to Arsenal in the summer of 2019, becoming the club’s first-ever technical director.
When Edu joined, Arsenal were in a state of turmoil at executive level. Ivan Gazidis (the club’s former Chief Executive) had left for AC Milan, Sven Mislintat had departed amidst a fall-out with Sanllehí and Vinai Venkatesham was stilll learning the ropes after taking over from Gazidis.
It was also no secret that Edu was not the club’s first-choice for the role. Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo (known colloquially as ‘Monchi’) was the club’s first-choice, although he pulled out of the move at the final moment. Marc Overmars at Ajax was next in line, but he was far more comfortable in Amsterdam than north London.
The decision to hire an external candidate had directly contributed to Mislintat’s decision to leave the club (he had been privately assured of the role by Gazidis) and, despite being third on the list of potential candidates, he joined a few months later.
If things off the pitch were bad, they were hardly improved on them. Unai Emery was sacked after a particularly tepid run of form and Mikel Arteta was hired a few weeks later.
The new structure were unable to become fully settled in their roles as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. At the end of the season, after a triumphant FA Cup campaign, the cub were forced to announce the redundancies of over 50 staff members. Sanllehí was amongst them, bringing an ended to his idylic, yet overly-bloated structure.
With Sanllehí gone, the majority of transfer decisions fell to Edu. A sumemr that saw the signings of Willian, Gabriel Magalhães and Thomas Partey was respectable enough for a first timer, however, the aforementioned signing of Willian turned out to be a colossal disaster and the failure to sign Lyon’s Houssem Aouar was another bitter blow.
Following an 8th place finish, Edu and Arteta began to plot a new path for the club. A rebuild would need to be taken more seriously, a cash injection from the owners was needed and the club would need to starting targeting different types of player.
As a result, Arsenal began to target hybrid players between under the age of 24. A summer spending spree ensued, which saw the likes of Benjamin White join the club for £50m, Martin Ødegaard arrive from Real Madrid for £29m and Aaron Ramsdale from Sheffield United for £24m.
Though Arsenal’s season was off to a shaky start, their fortunes soon turned around and they finished in 5th place, though only after the agonising realoty of being usurped to 4th by rivals Tottenham.
This season, Arsenal have majorly improved and Edu’s business in the transfer market has played a tremendous part in that.
During his time with the club, Edu has shown an uncommon amount of patience in Mikel Arteta and his vision for the club. He has also taken the very idea of a rebuild to heart, sanctioning the departures of the likes of Mesut Özil, Shkodran Mustafi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos through contract terminations.
There are still areas of improvement needed within the club, however. The club’s signings have been lauded by pundits, but their ability to sell players has led to a lot of scrutiny. During Edu’s time, Arsenal have made just £72m back on a massive £348m outlay.
Though contract terminations have been hugely beneficial to Arsenal over the course of their rebuild, it is no longer a state of affairs that can continue.
There is more work to be done at Arsenal over the coming months and years. A busy January is expected from the club and renewals for Bukayo Saka, William Saliba and Gabriel Martinelli are considered top priority.