Edu’s Job is on the Line this Window
A long time ago, football fandom was all about hoping your coach was good enough, buys good players and the team does well. However, over the years, especially with the retirement of legendary managers like Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson from their respective clubs, the decline that followed and the rise of savvy clubs like Liverpool, Tottenham, Ajax, Dortmund and Leiceister, fans are beginning to realize that football is not just affected by the instructions of a coach.
Nowhere has this been more starkly obvious than at Manchester United after the sale of the club to the Glazer family. They hired a slew of top managers after Ferguson but results refused to trend upward. They made some expensive acquisitions of good players but it mostly didn’t work out. Paul Pogba, their academy product was re-aquired for a world record transfer fee, embodies the mismanagement.
There is now an understanding that the most important long-term aspect of a club is not its coach but the owners. In a world where football institutions are falling into private billionaire portfolios like so much real estate, who owns what is very important to the standings.
Ownership in of itself is not a magic elixir: it is more the commitment and the ambition. Fenway Sports Group do not have as much money as Qatar’s national investment fund but they are fiercely committed and ambitious to make Liverpool one of the best clubs in European soccer. It is this commitment that leads to good decisions in terms of hiring management talent. They want the best people possible in charge of running the club. That role, majorly, belongs to that of a sporting director.
A sporting director is responsible for the long-term future of a club. He or she is in charge of planning the finances and hiring other management staff. He is the operating brain of a club, connecting different parts and processing feedback into a coherent picture that helps with decision-making. There’s Michael Edwards at Liverpool who is responsible for hiring Jurgen Klopp and establishing their influential analytics department. There’s Zorc at Dortmund who is responsible for identifying some of the best upcoming coaches and running the famous Dortmund scouting network. There’s Daniel Levy at Tottenham who has made the most effective use of limited finances and has since completed the construction of a new stadium. There’s Monchi at Sevilla who is constantly overachieving with player recruitment and player sales. All of these guys determine the long-term prospects of their respective football clubs. This was a role that Arsene Wenger and Ferguson once took on alongside their coaching. Wenger had a famous eye for talent and was great at developing young players. Ferguson, who had more resources, successfully rejuvenated old squads with new, Championship-winning blood.
Today, Manchester United have no sporting director. Instead, the owners installed Ed Woodward, a banker, to run the club. His improper management has been well-documented and only recently, with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer having a growing influence on recruitment, has the club improved. Not a lot of modern clubs use this old-fashioned style anymore. Coaches are just that. No more Wenger or Ferguson type managers. It takes an overly-talented individual to be a management visionary as well as a great coach. It’s much better and easier to split the job into two: a visionary director and a visionary coach. Ralf Rangnick is one of the last breeds of this type and even he has been outed at the Redbull clubs he helped established.
Arsenal have gone with the modern trend and hired a sporting director. While Raul Sanllehi and Ivan Gazidis have not worked out (their dodgy quality is indicative of the commitment of the owners to hire the best talent at the club), and now the hope is that Edu will.
Edu has been sporting director of Corinthians FC in the Brazilian league. His management led them to great success and he was subsequently hired to oversee the Brazilian national side, along with Tite. Arsenal, as they did with Arteta, have considered his limited but sterling pedigree, his association with the club and its values, and have hired him. Edu has had a rocky start to life at Arsenal. There has been a lot of incoming and outgoing behind the scenes. Before his arrival, a lot of power joustling and shifts had been going on and the on-pitch results were bad. His first job, presumably, was to stabilize the club so some continuity can be found. His second and probably most important short-term job was to clear out the bloated wages acquired by his predecessors. There was, of course, recruitment to consider. And then long-term planning for the club.
Edu’s job was not made easy by the fact that Ivan Gazidis, who had hired him, left, and the pandemic suddenly ripping up the financial outlook. His relationship with the head coach seems good and he was able to convince the owners to shell out on Thomas Partey. But despite the acquisition of good talent in Gabriel and Partey, the window was very bad in terms of outgoings. Not enough players were moved on and that eventually affected Arsenal’s pursuit of top talent in Houssem Aouar.
However, this January window is a chance at restitution. There are too many players collecting big wages that have no future at the club. If Edu is able to move them off, he is setting Arsenal up for a big summer window. As much as 700,000 pounds a week can be freed between now and the end of the season. And that is not including the possible sales of first-team contributors like Alexandre Lacazette, Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka and Mohammed Elneny.
Edu’s job as technical director is on the line this window. The responsibility is fully on him to reduce Arsenal’s wages. A pandemic is no longer an excuse to not do so. Arsenal must unburden themselves in order to run well in the summer. January is but a precursor to what can happen in July. Selling well right now means an exciting summer window.