As if this year could be any more of a wildcard, this last week has somehow been one of the most hectic and chaotic weeks for Arsenal, its employees, its players, and of course, the supporters. However, it is arguable that no one has had a more whirlwind week than Vinai Venkatesham who has been thrust into the limelight, whether he wants it or not, and will now play an active role in the success or failure of Arsenal’s immediate future.
As news broke that Arsenal and Raul Sanllehi were parting ways, it became clear that the two-headed portion of their executive structure, consisting of Raul handling football matters and Vinai tending to the business side of the club, was being halved and that Vinai would be filling in for the foreseeable future. While there may be some additional headcount added to fill the vacancy left by Raul, Arsenal find themselves in the middle of the exact moment you want an experienced Head of Football. The fact that Arsenal know that and still fired Raul says a lot. But I will let you make of that what you will.
There is no time for Vinai to freeze in the bright headlights of the daunting transfer window bearing down on the Gunners. This window is both critical to Arsenal and Mikel Arteta’s rebuild plans and extremely difficult given the financial constraints and quantity of selling and buying Arsenal really need to do. Balancing quantity with quality will be a crucial chord to strike. With Willian through the doors and announced, Arsenal and Vinai need to follow with a new deal for Aubameyang, help in the center of defense, and a drastic midfield overhaul… and possibly a few others.
It’s no easy task to achieve, much less to be handed the responsibility when your colleague is shown the door and your experience lies outside of footballing matters. So how does Vinai, a man that has been at Arsenal for ten years, show signs of success that will allow Arsenal fans to breathe a bit easier?
1. Assist in the restructure
It is clear that Arsenal, or more specifically Arsenal’s owners KSE, were unhappy with the methods, tactics, and results of Raul’s work in his short time at the club. There is plenty of reason to believe that his top priority may not have been strictly beneficial for Arsenal. With his exit, Arsenal are open to move themselves forward with a clear path to restructuring their organization.
Personally, I found the firing and decimation of the scouting department a very unfortunate aspect of the last few weeks. And without scouts, and no access to Raul’s fabled black book of contacts, there are reasons to feel Arsenal are pulling in opposite directions lately — which is a worrisome prospect.
To make these changes benefit the club, create the foundation for a better future, and excel the club in the right direction, Arsenal will need to set themselves to the task of diligently restructuring. Vinai can help with that and demonstrate that the club’s benefit is his number one goal.
This includes assisting in the modernization of the scouting department, the rebuilding and amplifying of StatDNA and it’s role in decision making, and potentially the finding of Raul’s replacement or an official CEO-type of role should Arsenal look to replace Raul and add an additional person to oversee that replacement and Vinai to create a more hierarchical structure that feels commonplace in large organizations. Being a part of this, demonstrating himself as a team-players, and having some early success will go a long way.
2. Overseeing transfer business but trusting experts
Arsenal have a lot to get done in the next weeks, and over the course of these two months. As someone who feels a bit stressed when my ‘To Do’ list hits four or five sizable items, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to live life with a list the size of Arsenal’s during this transfer window. As I mentioned before, there is no time for Vinai to bask in the glow of his new role or sit shellshocked by recent developments, he must keep negotiations moving forward and pickup where Raul left off.
A key part of that will be his ability to self-analyze his capabilities as a negotiator within the footballing world and put stock in experts like his Technical Director Edu, coach Mikel Arteta, and contract negotiator Huss Fahmy. Luckily, he was quick to acknowledge that in his first statements.
“We have, in Edu and Mikel, two individuals who are responsible for our technical plan,” Vinai said, “Of course, overseen by me and the board, but those two are the experts and they have a very, very clear plan about how they want to rebalance our squad in the short term, in the medium term and in the long term.”
While it would be understandable if he had a desire to step into this new role, take the responsibility by the horns, and put his personal stamp on the decisions Arsenal make — his best route may be taking a step back and acting as an unbiased form of checks and balances to Arteta and Edu’s decisions, while giving it final approval if needed.
Getting Aubameyang’s contract completed would be a very pivotal first step for everyone after this shakeup. After all, it is reported that those negotiations were being led mostly by Sanllehi so completing it would give some semblance of “business as usual”.
3. Adding some financial security through continued business efforts
While taking up Raul’s role may be top of mind, Vinai must not forget or abandon his responsibility to the business side of Arsenal’s finances and success as a club.
It is fairly well known that Arsenal’s commercial revenue amount has been low in comparison to fellow Premier League rivals. A lovely piece from Arseblog and Swiss Ramble called out Arsenal’s £111m figure for commercial revenue in 2018/19 which saw the Gunners fall behind Manchester United (£275m), Manchester City (£227m), Liverpool (£188m), Chelsea (£180m), and even fierce rival Tottenham (£134m).
While Arsenal have a decent boost from their Adidas sponsorship, the fact that there are no fans expected in the stadium, at least to begin with, means matchday revenue won’t be available. This of course gives extra importance to finding ways to increase commercial revenue.
Vinai will have a tough balancing act, but it goes without saying that he needs to help bring financial aid and security to the club during these times if they are going to be able to properly rebuild the way Arteta wants and deserves.
4. Transparency and communication with supporters
If there is one aspect of the last week that has stung as a supporter, it has been the ever-present feeling of the club hiding itself and its actions from the rest of the world and its own supporters. Naturally there is going to be some degree of this. It is unrealistic to imagine that any club would ever operate in a completely transparent fashion in every matter, but there is certainly room to improve from how Arsenal are currently behaving.
In fact, all year there has been a call for explanations, transparency, and answers for many of the actions, or lack of actions, the club chooses. From Xhaka, to Emery’s firing, to Arteta’s hiring, to general day-to-day decisions the people have wanted answers. None bigger than the continued growth in Kia Joorbchian’s presence and role at the club due to his relationship with Raul and Edu.
Fans aren’t the only ones to notice that they are being boxed out from things and left feeling, at times, lied to or pushed aside and Vinai commented. “I think we can do better a job of communicating with our fans,” Vinai said, “We’re not going to be able to give them a running commentary of everything that we’re doing, nor are we always going to correct or be able to correct some of the misinformation there is about the club. But we need to be clear about what we’re doing and what our plan is and we can get better at that.”
Arsenal are at a point in their rebuild where their success will be far from linear. The path back to the top is filled with ups and downs, and offering supporters and fans access to their reasoning and plans will naturally grant them a level of forgiveness when times get tough. The same way Arteta was given forgiveness when Chelsea beat them early in his tenure 2-1 — fans could see the improvement, see the plan, and understand the strides that were being taken to build a new foundation for the team.
Applying this same method to the business side of the club and the rebuild, will grant forgiveness and more importantly patience from the supporters. Improving transparency and communication would be a breath of fresh air in comparison to how the last year has been, much less the last few weeks.
Vinai has a tough task on his hands, but the responsibility does not fall on his shoulders alone. It is a major moment for Arteta to obtain the players he needs by exercising the extra voting power he has been given. Likewise, it’s a massive moment for Edu to step out from the shadows and show the world what he can bring to the club. Whether by choice, or by the nature of his position under Raul, we know very little about what Edu offers. But with Raul out, and Arsenal in need of business and players, there is nowhere for him to hide. We will know a lot more about Edu and his future in the world of football as a Technical Director by the end of this calendar year.Vinai is not alone, but here are a few things he can do to show signs of success.
Have I over simplified them? Yep, probably. The luxury of simply being a blogger I suppose. But over to you, Vinai! In all seriousness, I hope for nothing but his outright and absolute success. By all accounts he is a much more straightforward, honest man with the club’s best interests at heart. Good luck.