What a way to wake up on a bright Saturday. I mean, wow. To roll over and see messages flying that the rumors of Raul Sanllehi’s sacking were coming true less than a day after they emerged is astounding. And with it, Arsenal’s head of football, and a very divisive figure within the club, exits.
Have we said that a lot lately? A lot of issues and people, in particular, are being described as “divisive” and within that, potentially lies much of the issues surrounding Arsenal’s turbulent attempt to rebuild in a cohesive direction. From player’s situation and appearances like Ozil, Guendouzi, or Xhaka earlier in the season, to leaders within the club like Raul, his attachments to Kia Joorabchian and super agents, and even KSE’s role – a lot of Arsenal is splitting opinions starkly.
What it leaves is a feeling of disarray, no one sure about the cohesive direction we are left in, the method in which the club is using to rebuild itself and find talent, the quality and fit of that talent – I mean when you look back at the chaos along the way and the vacuum and void that is left in the club now, it’s impossible to not feel the club is in an odd place. However, it is also a place that should offer a lot of positive opportunities to move forward.
To say Raul was a cancer to the club may not go over well with everyone, but it also may not be far from the truth. Just 24 hours after ESPN reported an internal investigation into the Nicolas Pepe’s deal, Raul is sacked. Well, it was “mutually agreed to.” I imagine in the same way many breakups are mutually agreed upon when one person initiates a break up.
Things that I have to imagine would make a person naive that hears this news:
- Believing this issue that led to Raul’s sacking was mutual
- Believing is is solely about the Pepe deal
- Believing other deals and aspects of Raul’s methods weren’t lined with similar worrying signs and behaviors
A few months ago, Amy Lawrence, a beloved and trusted journalist that is highly regarded in the Arsenal community, reported that David Luiz’s loan deal involved £6m in intermediary fees and was instantly rebuked by Kia Joorabchian calling it “fake news”.
Besides my internal gut reaction to never believe someone who’s first response to allegations is the phrase “fake news”, the fact that he dragged her through the mud, threatened to settle this in court, and then backed it up with nothing, is more than eerie. That, followed by Raul being forced out of the club after some reports that he took £10m on the Pepe deal, all but tells you who was likely more trustworthy during the Luiz case. Not Kia. Amy. Amy Lawrence was right.
But that story aside and the Pepe one as well, we saw KSE put forth their trusted eyes into the mix when they brought Tim Lewis on board at the very start of July. Now, a month and a half later, he has led an investigation into Raul and his tactics of business along with their results and gotten rid of him. Tim Lewis, an Arsenal fan, took his role seriously and put the best interests of the club first – something it is clear that Raul didn’t do during his time.
It’s evident that Raul cared about Arsenal to some extent, but cared about Raul and friends more. Sure, bringing in Pepe helped Arsenal, he is a good player with lots of promise and Pepe himself is not the problem. The problem is, Raul did it to pad his own and others’ pockets. If there is a side positive besides the opportunity to realign the club with someone who has its interests at heart, it may be that KSE is paying closer attention to Arsenal than many give them credit for.
It’s that close attention we shall hope carries through to filling the void that Raul’s immediate departure leaves. Because while removing Raul as soon as possible was critical to stopping the damage he could do, the timing of it certainly could give people a bit of concern. In the short term, Arsenal find themselves in the middle of a condensed offseason and transfer window that needs to be an effective one. I mean, Arsenal need to put on an exposé for the world on how to get business done smartly. They need to sell and offload players, while wisely drilling into the available market to find players that address their multiple issues at a relatively low cost.
Was Raul the one to achieve this “smartly” and within their budget? Today’s news and the perceived results of the investigation suggests not. A capability to get some things done is arguable, but the tendency to overpay and stay within the readily available player pool in front of him is hardly what Arsenal need.
In the long term, Arsenal face a reality in which they fired the mass majority of their scouting department, including Francis Cagigao, in an effort to restructure and modernize the department while committing fully to Raul’s preferred contact-based recruitment method, only to fire Raul and likely eliminate some ease-of-access to the contacts he brought. Now, agents are fickle and at the end of the day, money talks, so let’s not pretend they won’t be more than willing to have conversations with the club on their client’s behalf. But there is significant work to do to close this hole in the organization and get each piece running the same direction.
In the meantime, Vinai Venkatesham, will become the sole head of both the business side and footballing side of the club. While that may worry some given Vinai’s limited footballing experience, much of the footballing side’s burden will actually fall onto the shoulders of Technical Director Edu and Mikel Arteta.
On the bright side, very few people will have an issue with more of the decision making power being put in Mikel’s hands – a person who adores the club, knows what he needs and wants, and has nothing but the club’s interests at heard. On the pessimistic side, the role that Edu has played up to this point is a bit unclear. He has been the man who works in the shadows around the club, which means some may have doubts about what he is capable of bringing to the table and whether he is truly a fantastic selection or not.
To really over simplify the breakdown, Vinnai will oversee Edu and Mikel and contract man Huss Fahmy. Edu and Mikel will work together to decide who they want and can target. Huss will go out and get the deal done. Truly that is incredibly simplified but is essentially how it will work, from my understanding.
What will be interesting to see is what KSE does to rectify the situation. Do they leave Vinnai in charge if things go well in the next few weeks? Do they replace Raul and return to the two-headed structure they had? Do they replace Raul and appoint someone to a role like a CEO that oversees Raul’s replacement and Vinnai?
As long as this Raul situation is done with and the club is looking to move past it, they might as well take the time to do it right. Much like the call to not turn to bandaid transfers, KSE and the club must set up a structure for the longterm success and stability of the club.
Will it come at the cost of business this window? I hope not, the club claims not, but I think at this very moment that may be tough to truly determine. While Arsenal removing Raul is a statement that the club is determined to make themselves more stable, it comes with the picture of instability and internal-everything-on-fire chaos at the moment. Does a prospect want to join a major project when the background of the club is very volatile and people are being fired and found redundant? We essentially have to hope that Mikel’s work is enough to entice players on the footballing project because Mikel IS doing fantastic work.
And if there is one thing that we should positively take away from this, it’s that Mikel’s project is moving in the right direction on the pitch, off the pitch he has just been given more say in what players the club goes after, and the club itself has just given itself a major reason to reinvent itself in a much better way. They can expedite the efforts to restructure and modernize scouting like they wanted, they can turn back to some of the data-driven acquisitions Edu claims to desire, and they can strike a balance between contact-led buys and data-backed buys that align with Arteta’s wants. And THAT is a beautiful vision.
Sorry, not sorry Raul. I don’t think he will feel that broken up about it as he swims in the money he likely made for himself during his brief tenure, but I’m not sorry to see him go. Best of luck to Edu and Arteta in picking up the pieces Raul’s behavior has left them with. Rumors have it Gabriel will make his decision on Monday. We shall see. Would be a great sign if he ends up a Gunner.