For some years now, we’ve all known the score. Under Arsene Wenger, you had Pat Rice, and then Steve Bould. Alongside the manager and his direct assistant, the backroom was made up of Boro Primorac, Tony Colbert, Steve Rowley and Gerry Peyton. Essentially if you’d played Football Manager down the years, this troop were your go-to names for team info at the beginning of any Arsenal save.
Of course once upon a time, David Dein was a prominent figure. He brought Wenger to the club, twisting the arms of the board members in the process, and watched for a decade as everything clicked into place through Wenger’s intelligence and hard-graft.
The post-Dein years have been nowhere near as successful. Wenger has ‘lone-wolfed’ it to a large extent, never enjoying as successful a working relationship alongside Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis.
From the outside, Gazidis has always seemed a difficult one to crack. My personal impression is of a man who feels handcuffed by a manager who demands full power and control – the way things have been since Dein’s departure.
Last season Gazidis stated that poor performance was the ‘catalyst for change’, a statement which held seemingly very little water after a summer in which we appeared to have precisely no plan after Wenger’s contract was renewed. Links with Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappe appeared to be pipe dreams, while Shkodran Mustafi was apparently off out the door after just a year at the club. Contract rebel Alexis Sanchez was then offered to Manchester City far too late in the day, with the club having said all summer that he’d be going nowhere.
All in all, it was a complete mess and by the time the AGM came around, and we were all able to digest every available ounce of information, Gazidis was not painted in a good light. Frankly, he still might not be by some.
But there’s a but ….
This afternoon, Raul Sanllehi’s arrival at Arsenal was unveiled. Joining in a Director of Footballing role, Sanllehi will bring with him 15 years’ worth of experience working in a similar capacity for Barcelona. The Spaniard’s association with the club coincides with Sven Mislintat also joining recently, having left his post at Borussia Dortmund.
In fairness, Arsenal have added a number of people to the backroom over the last 12 months. The highly rated Ben Wrigglesworth arrived after being part of Leicester City’s Premier League winning squad, while Jens Lehmann re-joined the club in the summer in a coaching role. Per Mertesacker, as we know, will retire as a player in May and take charge of the academy.
But the arrivals of Mislintat and now Sanllehi appear quite significant. These are men coming in to perform roles that Wenger has previously taken charge of. They’re also highly respected in their fields, and have no association to Wenger previously. From the outside, these look like changes with the future in mind, and Gazidis likely plays a big part in that.
The American is far from perfect, but these forward thinking moves suggest that the club is, for the first time, starting to think about life after Wenger. Many have called for these sorts of plans for years now, so it does seem exciting that there is movement now and credit must go largely to Gazidis for that. These characters are unlikely to be the sort who simply fall in line and although we need them to work well alongside Wenger to begin with, all being well they should far outlast the manager in their respective positions.
So despite the contract situations of important players still up in the air, and on-field performance not being quite where we’d like it to be from a consistency point of view, these off-field moves are important for where we go as a club next, and are the first nods towards a post-Wenger Arsenal.
After becoming accustomed to the same team for so long, the forming of a new team of people with differing ideas intrigues and excites me.