Arsène Wenger was always so resistant to the idea of a technical director that it never got much leverage at Arsenal until he was gone. But a twisted route means it has taken the club more than a year to appoint their elegant former midfielder Edu. Originally the German talent spotter Sven Mislintat was earmarked for the position before it was whisked away. Then the deal was almost agreed with the Spanish transfer guru Monchi until he suddenly U-turned. Arsenal had to wait for the third man, who has been Brazil’s general coordinator. During the lull the job has not got any easier.
Edu, whom the club described as “the final and very important part” of Arsenal’s restructured jigsaw, has an overflowing in-tray. The relationship between player wages and contribution on the pitch is wonky and, even with a few key moves falling their way, will probably take a couple of years to smooth out. Another season in the Europa League has knocked the plans to boost the team ambitiously, the image and the bank balance on to the back burner. Unai Emery has one more year on his contract with another year option, so this season feels critical in terms of how his method of leadership is perceived.
In a more general way Edu might also turn his thoughts to something the former CEO Ivan Gazidis once called “Arsenalisation” – fostering a certain spirit and identity. But while Gazidis sounded like a PR man, spouting mottos such as “Together”, Edu knows from his playing days as a member of Arsenal’s Invincible squad how it felt when the club stood for something that had genuine substance and style. He brings a fierce sense of that old Arsenal ethos. As a man he is blessed with great natural charm but behind the smile he does not suffer fools.
Edu has been earmarked to oversee Arsenal’s direction in the bigger picture, which is just as well as it is unrealistic to expect someone to come in and make a difference to the immediate issues at hand. With precious few weeks of a maddeningly difficult transfer window left to negotiate, the fascination lies in how critically he assesses Arsenal’s current operation and how much he feels he can do about it.
Will he just fit in with the self-sustaining model they have preached for years or might he seek to shake up the status quo by asking some big questions of the owners, Stan Kroenke and his KSE organisation? How will he judge the work of Emery, a manager he played under at Valencia for a season? Does he have any bright ideas or connections to energise the squad very quickly and with a minimal financial outlay? Does he know how to get hold of a magic wand?
Arsenal leave for their tour of the United States on Thursday and Edu has arrived from victory with Brazil in the Copa América in time to catch the plane. He will get to make some connections with Kroenke and Kroenke’s son Josh as the first match takes place against KSE’s local team, Colorado Rapids. Edu will get his first close look at the bones of the squad. Although some of the players will return later because of international duty, the bulk of last season’s fifth-placed Premier League side remains.
There is no question that Arsenal are under pressure to address the shortcomings but that task became thornier the moment the team buckled at the end of last season to miss two opportunities to earn Champions League football. Arsenal are handcuffed by the fact they are as keen to offload high-earners whose performances do not justify star status as they are eager to refresh with younger, emerging talent. The targeting of teenagers such as Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba demonstrate how the concept of signing players they hope can become great, and valuable, before they are unaffordable is sound. But Arsenal have to try to deal with the present as well as the future.
It feels as if the head of football, Raúl Sanllehí, has been hard at it trying to tap away at this transfer window with the world’s smallest nut cracker. It is not easy to find new clubs for players Emery includes more by obligation than desire. An outlay of more than £600,000 per week on Mesut Özil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Shkodran Mustafi, none of whom provided consistency or efficiency last season, has become burdensome; but without freeing some of that up Sanllehí cannot be ruthless in tying up deals for recruits.
There are holes in the squad with the departures of Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck. In addition Arsenal need more quality at centre-back, from wide positions, and perhaps another option in central midfield. The club can lean on their faith in the youth system to plug some of those gaps, and Edu can consult with his old teammate Freddie Ljungberg for the lowdown on who is best placed to make an impact on the first team.
But some arrivals are essential. When Edu the Arsenal player left for Valencia in 2005 he walked out of Highbury’s marble halls leaving behind a squad so vibrant that they had completed an unbeaten season the year before and would reach the Champions League final the year after. Edu the technical director will arrive back in London to a quite different environment on and off the pitch.
Original article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/jul/09/arsenal-edu-football