Last week Friday, it was revealed by the Mirror that Arsenal told ten of their scouts their contracts would not be renewed at the end of June when they expire.
It was a major shock to many, including the scouts who are reportedly known for the finding of players like Bukayo Saka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock.
When these cuts came, it was attributed to the cutbacks that Arsenal are being forced to make due to the Coronavirus pandemic. After all, these part-time scouts are on an £800k-a-month retainer for the club which is no small amount.
They were told there is a “hope” they will be able to be re-hired back September 1, but will have to reapply for their jobs, and even that is no guarantee. A source for the Mirror said, “These guys are among the best youth scouts in the country, have brought through the best kids and Arsenal have a reputation as one of the best clubs in the country for youth development” and yet here Arsenal are cutting costs before many of the other clubs. Ahead of the curve or something else at play?
There is no doubt that clubs across the world will have to make difficult decisions in the coming weeks, months, and likely, years in order to adjust to life after Covid. However, Arsenal have built themselves a reputation for having a top-level youth program, in large part, to the emphasis that was put on its growth from the club and the success of their scouting.
It is almost universally agreed upon that in the post-pandemic world of football, when clubs are struggling for cash liquidity, that the rise in value for a strong youth component will be pivotal to success. Especially for a club like Arsenal that is not owned by someone like Roman Ambromovich, who is almost always willing to throw a few hundred million dollars in for the cause each window. So more or less…what gives?
There are two, potentially, frightening aspects at play here for Arsenal and they both are aspects that should be of concern for supporters. First, the cutting back on staff not only sheds light on the fact that Arsenal likely are in fact struggling for cash, which I imagine will carry over into the transfer window when it does open, but it also shows a potential acceptance of where the team stands, which runs the risk of seeing us settle as a second-tier team.
While one could argue that there are big name teams who may not have the most illustrious scouting team, and rely on other means for finding their next wave of future first-teamers, it is an aspect of being a well-rounded, first-tier team that shouldn’t be undervalued. Assuming Arsenal are not moving the in the direction of KSE covering the club’s losses during this time and turning into the sugar-daddy owners many fans are clamoring for, finding players like the above would normally be a means of acquiring their future. It’s also something supporters enjoy about Arsenal. People like having youth prospects and relatively, homegrown talent. Which brings us to the more worrisome aspect – a shift in how Arsenal find players.
It is now well-known that Arsenal have made a major shift from being a team that was scrutinized and ridiculed for not keeping up with the times, to one that is casting its lot with super-agents like Kia Joorabchian, known for representing Cedric Soares, Willian, Phillipe Coutinho, being pals with Raul and Edu, and sitting in the Arsenal Directors Box on match day. It’s a shift that has come with the Raul appointment and one that has become the major means of player acquisition.
In fact, in looking back, we can point at a steady stream of events that led to this shift and rise in Raul Sanllehi’s power. We had the leaving of Sven Mislintat who disliked the shift away from data driven decision making and the departure of Jaeson Rosenfeld, head of Arsenal’s internal analytics company StatsDNA, due to Sanllehi’s preference for contact-led transfer business and a job from Arsene Wenger. We have the retirement of Sir Chips Keswick from the board, planned or not, who spoke of his dislike for the direction things were heading and although his position was relatively ceremonial once KSE took complete control, he offered some semblance of checks and balances. Now we have a board that is 50% Kroenke and it is arguable that neither of the Kroenkes have deep knowledge of the intricacies of transfers.
Couple this with the recent reports of the large sum forked over for a 1-year, with possible extension, deal for David Luiz – a Kia Joorabchian client – linked with intermediaries’ fees of £6m. While, Kia and club have denied their recognition of this sum declaring Amy Lawrence’s sum and information to be false, we have still spent £18m on a 30+ year-old center back and the links to Kia Joorabchian and super agents have only grown odder since.
Cedric Soares, Willian, Phillipe Coutinho, Layvin Kurzawa, and even Edu are all Kia Joorabcian clients who we have been linked heavily with moves to Arsenal or are already here. Pablo Mari, and Emery all are represented or linked with Arturo Canales, and while we have high hopes for Mari after a few starts, it showcases our that our eyes are scanning our direct-linked player pool.
What is clear is that when there is a gap at Arsenal, Kia Joorabchian seems to have the missing piece of the puzzle within his clientele and Arsenal are nibbling at the bait. It’s no surprise that Kia is inserting himself, the life of an agent and whatnot, but for those worried about a potential future where Arsenal limit themselves in their reach for top talent – the signs could be worrying. It is hard to believe in the world of football that Cedric Soares and Layvin Kurzawa are the dream players for Arsenal’s future – even as backups. The people who would, by all accounts, broaden Arsenal’s horizon, have been cut back early, before losses are fully understood, before a transfer window is open, and it may be sending a real message.