Former Arsenal manager Raul Sanllehi believes the club have made a “mistake” since leaving Emirates Stadium.
The 56-year-old Spaniard has had his say on the Gunners’ current management, offered his thoughts on the Kroenkes’ US owners and opened up on his exit, saying the club had ‘betrayed the model’.
Sanllehi first joined Arsenal in February 2018 as their new head of football relations, moving to the Premier League after 14 years at Barcelona, before being promoted to head of Gunners football following the departure of CEO Ivan. Gazidis.
Towards the end of his time at the club – after Unai Emery’s doomed reign as manager – he set up a new model, a four-person ‘dream team’ to divide the management of Arsenal into distinct roles. and separated.
In those roles were head coach Mikel Arteta, technical director Edu, head of football operations Huss Fahmy and academy director Per Mertesacker, with Sanllehi guiding them all – in his words – “like the director of the orchestra”.
In an interview with The Athletic, he recalled a meal the five of them shared in December 2019, where Sanllehi toasted, saying, “Now it’s ours. It’s exactly the model I asked. If it doesn’t work, we have no excuse.
However, in March, by his own admission, ‘everything fell apart’ as he was forced out of the club as part of cost-cutting measures which saw the manager lay off 55 people before being himself. terminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, he says, things appear to be back to the way things were under Arsene Wenger, who was still manager when he first arrived in north London.
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He saw how Arsenal operated under the legendary Frenchman, who had his thumbs in all the pies in the running of the club, and apparently didn’t like it – wanting to take the pressure off the manager’s shoulders.
But now Arteta seems to have become that central figure behind the scenes, and Sanllehi has explained why he thinks it’s a “mistake”.
Although he admitted that – so far – it was working for them, with the Gunners topping the Premier League table after an impressive start to the season and a successful summer transfer window.
Sanllehi, now sporting director of Real Zaragoza, a Spanish second division team, said: “In the model there are four points: the head coach, the sporting director, football operations and the academy, and they have to be very well coordinated.”
“Arsenal had decided to leave Arsene Wenger – a boss who did everything.
“We had a good manager at Unai but it was crucial for Arsenal to qualify for the Champions League and losing the Europa League final to Chelsea meant we stayed there which made the second year a hell for Unai.
“It was the one-boss model. All due respect to Arsene – what he did for Arsenal is unique and probably at that time the best way to do it – but you had to grow, and that’s what happened.
“The sporting director setup was very new in England. I had to explain it. His top priority is the first team, but he also needs to be in contact with the academy and know the transfer market.
“When things aren’t going well, you change head coaches. But the technical director is the one who protects the sporting philosophy of the club and safeguards the model.
“I’m in the middle, like the director of the orchestra. Here are the drums, cymbals, violins and trumpets. They’re great, but if you don’t coordinate them, they can look awful.
“At Arsenal, as head of football, I put Huss, Edu, Mikel and Per – the perfect cross.
“I don’t agree when clubs call the first-team coach ‘the manager’,” he added.
“The first-team coach is the first-team coach, that’s enough. Today the workload is overwhelming and I need him to focus on the first team.
“Anything that distracts you from this is not your responsibility – the travel arrangements, the pitch, the salary budget, the medical service. We will ask other people to do it. The team coach first is focused on the short term – you just have to win tonight’s game.
“They’ve betrayed the model a bit now.
“Going up to the manager at the top, it’s a mistake, but it’s their mistake.
“I wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. But it’s okay, it’s working out for them so far.
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