Arsenal bid farewell to Raul Sanllehi and his departure highlights a worrying trend
Raul Sanllehi handed in his notice this past Saturday and is set to leave Arsenal. Having just managed the club through a major pandemic, and with expectations mounting ever higher as Arsenal continue to slide down the table, his departure is unsurprising.
That’s not to say I’ll miss him terribly. I don’t believe Sanllehi ran the club terribly well—his time in charge saw three different managers, overblown transfer fees, confusing contract decisions, and a change in transfer focus to almost total reliance on super agents.
But his departure worries me more because of the trend it represents. Sanllehi is the fourth executive to leave since Wenger departed the club, with most citing internal disputes as to the reason for their departure.
Arsenal needs to stop creating a worrying trend of instability
Ivan Gazidis left after being handed almost full control of the club. He was head-hunted by AC Milan throughout, but reportedly was unhappy with the mountain to climb ahead, and wanted to succeed elsewhere.
Following him out the door was Sven “Diamond-eye” Mislintat, formerly of Borussia Dortmund. Our chief scout wanted to become Director of Football, the role vacated by both Gazidis and now Sanllehi, but was overlooked by Stan Kroenke, and sought his fortune elsewhere.
Third to leave was Darren Burgess, who isn’t a name most will know, but he was a key figure at the club under Wenger as the director of high performance. He was in charge of every aspect of on-field management, including fitness and strength, health and medicine, and facilities management. He left the club because, in an effort to save money, something we don’t have a lot of, Arsenal entirely overhauled their high-performance department, leading to large salary cuts and mass dismissal of workers. Sound familiar?
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55 workers, including every single overseas and youth scout at the club, were put in the same exact position by Don Raul himself because of a lack of financial input during the pandemic. This left Arsenal floundering behind the scenes, and the Spaniard had to keep the club above water.
And now Sanllehi is gone too. The fourth major executive in three years to leave, and the second executive director of the club. It’s a worrying trend, but what worries me even more in the reason behind it.
Some of it—a lot of it—boils down to ownership. Arsenal are in literal debt to their owner, as Stan Kroenke’s newest contribution to the self-sustaining business model are a series of cash injections in the form of loans, which the American expects the club to pay back. Any investment he puts into the club is expected to be recouped to him in full.
Furthermore, the billionaire heir to the Walmart fortune didn’t bat an eye when the club was forced to fire those 55 employees, instead citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the club’s lack of financial stability.
But even despite the lack of cash flow from across the pond, Arsenal’s internal issues are worse than just an investment issue. The whole situation smacks of disagreements among the higher-ups at the club, a group of men that really haven’t had any balance, due to the power vacuum left by the departures of Arsene Wenger and Gazidis.
More specifically, the timing of Sanllehi’s departure is curious to me—the middle of a transfer window isn’t really the greatest timing—and suggests that some part of the management structure of the club has gone askew. He’s left us in an unholy mess, and the worst part is, I don’t trust the men left behind.
Vinai Venkatesham, the successor to Ivan Gazidis as Managing Director, is now Chief Executive of Arsenal, and while this brings a warm feeling to my heart—Venkatesham has been a dedicated servant of the club for over a decade and pours his heart and soul into his work—his partnership with Edu is unconvincing to me.
They are both known for their friendships with super agents, with Mino Raiola having his spotlight stolen by Kia Joorabchian over the last six months. It’s a managing pair that is likely to take the club even further away from the analytics-based system many believe they should be following. Their proclivity to trust super agents tends to slap them with hefty agents fees, something our cash-strapped club shouldn’t have to handle right now.
I’m willing to trust our new executive, but I also believe that the primary area of focus must be backroom stability. I wrote a few months ago about the necessity of a strong backbone, and there is no more important foundation for a club than its backroom stability. We need to sort things out and fast.