When Raul Sanllehi was appointed Arsenal’s Head of Football Relations in February 2018, later being promoted to Head of Football Operations following the departure of Ivan Gazidis as CEO, it was supposed to spark a new era of contact-based negotiations. Fast forward two years, however, and the 51-year-old is on his way out.
Reports have come out over the week suggesting that Tim Lewis and KSE sacked Sanllehi following an investigation into the £10 million paid to Nicolas Pepe’s agent following the Ivorian’s move to the club from Lille. The club today confirmed Sanllehi's sacking.
In his first year in as Head of Football, Sanllehi brought in Pepe, as well as Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli, Dani Ceballos (on loan,) William Saliba and David Luiz. This influx has also been supplemented with the signing of Willian from Chelsea in the past few days. While this seems to be a positive rap sheet for Sanllehi, his dealings with a certain Kia Joorabchian has certainly raised eyebrows.
Joorabchian is the epitome of Arsenal’s contacts-based approach to transfers. He is the agent for Willian, Luiz and Cedric, all players Arsenal have signed since the start of the 19/20 season. While somewhat interesting, but nonetheless ordinary, it’s the Willian signing which has fans upping arms. This signing seemed to be to appease the agent (signing on fees would testify to that,) and has also allowed Joorabchian to become more vocal about the club, criticising Arsenal’s former head of recruitment Sven Mislintat.
Joorabchian dealings aside, Sanllehi received the moniker “Don Raul” from Arsenal fans for his off-season signings. As Unai Emery’s reign of terror in the 19/20 season stretched on, Sanllehi stuck by Emery for what many people said was too long. Reports also circulated that Barcelona’s former Director of Football was open to giving Emery, a manager who was clearly out of his depth in the Premier League, a new contract. This decision had fans in outrage.
While Sanllehi’s exit may mean a return to the analytics & scouting approach that Arsene Wenger and Mislintat used at Arsenal, it may have also have more profound, damaging ramifications for the club.
This would be Arsenal’s third hierarchical structure in as many years. First the Wenger/Gazidis duopoly, then Sven Mislintat’s analytics-based approach, and now Sanllehi’s contacts-focused ethos.
For Arsenal, a club that is already in a state of rebuilding, changes at boardroom level are the last thing needed right now. For the good of Arsenal Football Club, stability is needed. Consistency is needed.
Following Sanllehi's sacking, Vinai Venkatesham, Edu and KSE need to put a plan in place as to how Arsenal are going to move forward in a stable manner. The right decisions have to be made, especially now that we're in the middle of a transfer window.