Arsenal have gone back in time to appoint a man who will be crucial to their attempts to get the club moving forward again.
Former midfielder Edu, Arsenal’s first ever technical director, will surely realise that the club he has rejoined are a shadow of the one he left.
The fans are restless, feeling disconnected from their club, in contrast to the unity of purpose in his time as a player. The squad lack the hardened winners and reliable characters who supporters identified with, believed in, trusted to deliver every week and adored.
As technical director, Edu is convinced he can help his former club Arsenal return to glory
The club have lost some of the appeal they had in the Invincibles era, their pulling power hampered by strained finances and threatened by rivals both on their doorstep in Tottenham and the bigger spenders from beyond north London.
William Saliba is set for an Arsenal medical this week after they finalised a £27million deal with St Etienne for the defender. But the 18-year-old, who will sign for five years, will be loaned back to St Etienne for the season.
In his five seasons at Highbury, Edu celebrated two Premier League title wins, three FA Cup triumphs and a Community Shield.
Arsenal are set to sign St Etienne’s William Saliba for £27million and loan him back for a season
The Brazilian’s return has been hailed by head of football Raul Sanllehi as ‘the final and very important part of the jigsaw’. At least Edu, 41, knows what is required to make Arsenal successful.
He said: ‘I am one step in front because I really understand the club. The club has to have the same mentality as the players. The mentality of Arsenal, we always had to have winning in front of us.
‘We are at Arsenal, a big club, and we have to understand the situation. Winning… fight for winning, and how do you do that?
‘By working hard, giving everything, giving us a chance] to be better and better.’
Edu (second right) will draw inspiration from the 2004 ‘Invincibles’ team he was a part of
The 2004 Invincibles squad encapsulated that. He remains in touch with many of his former team-mates — Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg who are both involved with the club, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Lauren, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and Jens Lehmann.
He recalls the camaraderie and spirit that were key to their success, along with the sheer will to win and desire Arsene Wenger’s squad possessed.
Occasionally, things would spill over in the dressing room but ‘in the end we would close the door and we would fight together’, he said.
The game, the club and the mentality of the players have changed significantly from that golden era for Arsenal.
After leaving in 2005, Edu joined Valencia, where current Arsenal boss Unai Emery was a coach, before finishing his career at Corinthians in Brazil. After he retired, he was Corinthians’ director of football in 2011 before becoming Brazil’s general coordinator in 2016.
He signed off with Brazil’s Copa America success this summer, allowing himself a few days to enjoy their triumph before flying to London and then out to America with Arsenal for their pre-season tour.
(L-R) Arsenal Managing director Vinai Venkatesham, Josh Kroenke of KSE and Edu at training
There is little time to waste even if Edu will not be fully involved in this summer’s transfer plans, with their limited budget of £45m — beyond backing up the positive reports Arsenal’s scouts had of £6m signing Gabriel Martinelli, a fellow Brazilian.
Edu will eventually have a say in who is signed, sold, kept and loaned out and an input in first team and academy players. ‘I want to be on the inside,’ he said. ‘With them [the players], with Unai, with the staff as well, to try and advise them if they need it.’
And now he is ‘back home’, he wants to make Arsenal great again.
‘Since I started to talk with managing director Vinai Venkatesham and Raul about the job, I felt the energy of the club, the very positive things around it.
‘That’s why I really believe, because I feel we will do good things in the future. Not the future-future, but nearly there!
‘Where would I want the club to be in a year? Focused on fighting for the Champions League again. Of course that’s our target.
‘To make the squad stronger and I want to see the fans enjoying the club as before.
‘I know how they live the club, how they love the club and we have to give them something back so they can enjoy again.’