At midday on August 15th, the Arsenal related section of Twitter erupted. Out of almost nowhere, it was announced that Arsenal’s head of football Raul Sanllehi would be leaving the club. Post-announcement, numerous rumours have been circulating concerning where the club goes from here. However, this is what we know: Sanllehi is gone and “Vinai Venkatesham, our current managing director, will lead us going forward.”
Venkatesham isn’t really a football man so it’s not particularly likely that he’ll be assuming the same role that Sanllehi operated in. Instead, he’ll continue to lead the business side of things at Arsenal. With regard to the footballing aspect of Sanllehi’s job, according to PA Sport journalist Mark Mann-Byrans, Huss Fahmy, Edu Gaspar and Mikel Arteta will be working together to make and execute “technical decisions”. In effect, Sanllehi’s role has become redundant. How ironic.
But how has it come to this? How has a man who was one thriving as a Director of Football at Barcelona ended up being forced out at Arsenal? Well, there is one simple answer to this question. Results.
Sanllehi started his role at Arsenal in February 2018 to work alongside then-CEO Ivan Gazidis. However, after the season ended and Unai Emery was hired, it became widely known that Gazidis would be moving on to join AC Milan at the 2017/18 season’s end. After Gazidis’ departure, Sanllehi was promoted to a ‘Head of Football’ role. Thus, at this point, Sanllehi’s performance could start to be fully evaluated by looking at Arsenal’s on-pitch performance. His role was quite simply to ensure the club’s ‘Head Coach’ had the best resources available to him to compete at the very top of the game in European Football.
Sanllehi helped bring Unai Emery into the club through his agent connection, Arturo Canales and also sanctioned the acquisition of 5 players in his first transfer window in the summer of 2018. Of course, Emery has been sacked and proved to be an awful choice regarding a Wenger replacement. Then, out of the five signings, only one is likely to remain an Arsenal player going into next season.
Stephan Lichtsteiner left the club after one disastrous season in North London; Sokratis, Torreira and Guendouzi have all been transfer listed whilst Bernd Leno is representative of the only true success story. A pretty disastrous first window for Sanllehi. Yes, the failures aren’t completely the fault of Sanllehi’s – after all, Sven Mislintat was the head of recruitment. However, as head of football, he has to take responsibility.
His first overall season within the head of football role was also a bit of a disaster. Again, not completely his fault. But still, Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League for the third consecutive season, Aaron Ramsey was allowed to leave Arsenal for nothing and the mid-season loan of Denis Suarez from Barcelona proved to be one of the worst signings in Arsenal’s history. In spite of this, by all accounts, Sanllehi’s position at the club remained secure and the Spaniard was also reportedly in favour of offering Unai Emery a new deal. Thank goodness this awful proposition was vetoed.
However, the Summer of 2019 was more promising. This was Raul’s first summer window where he exercised complete control over the recruitment. Sanllehi worked to ensure the signatures of Gabriel Martinelli, Dani Ceballos, Kieran Tireney and William Saliba were obtained which all look to have been great bits of business. However, it was the other two acquisitions which raised eyebrows.
Sanllehi used his relationship with super-agent Kia Joorabchian to sign David Luiz from Chelsea whilst a huge chunk of money is said to have been paid to agents for the £72 million purchase of Nicolas Pépé from Lille. An investigation into latter deal was held, as reported by ESPN and some are suggesting it may have led to his sacking. It’d be great to see the club stamp out the over-reliance on relationships with agents post-Sanllehi’s sacking.
Then, during the 18/19 season, Sanllehi’s track record has been laughably bad. Firstly, he delayed the sacking of Unai Emery. Then, he took far too long to appoint Mikel Arteta as the club’s new head coach. Both of these factors contributed towards Arsenal falling out of contention for UCL qualification far too early. And finally, we finished the Premier League season in 8th place in spite of £120 million spent in the Summer prior to the 19/20 campaign. When you look at the facts regarding Arsenal’s decline over the last few season, the surprising nature of Sanllehi’s sacking decreases majorly. The 53-year-old fully deserved to receive his marching orders.
Now, of course it would not be fair to blame solely blame Sanllehi for the club’s poor performance over the last few years. He is not the only one who is involved in the decision making process at Arsenal and he is not the one who sent out the players onto the pitch to produce countless poor performances this season. However, he is one of many who allowed things to get this bad. He allowed Unai Emery to overstay his welcome and it also seems he led a club with a tradition of being classy into some pretty dodgy transfer business. It seems the only man directing Sanllehi towards the exit door was himself.
So, there we have it. Our head of football is gone and good riddance to him. Let’s all cross are fingers and hope that under the leadership of Mikel Arteta, Edu Gaspar and Vinai Venkatesham our club can be taken back where it belongs. Now that ‘Don Raul’ is gone, we can finally truly begin our rebuilding process. What a crazy day it has been for everyone involved with Arsenal Football Club…