Raul Sanllehi: The genius behind Arsenal summer signings
Background photo: David Holt, CC BY-SA 3.0
Arsenal's failure to finish in the Premier League's top four last season had many questioning the team's credentials. Things were crumbling after a humiliating 4-1 defeat to Chelsea in May's Europe League final. The start of 2019/20, however, has ushered in a completely different outlook. This is mainly due to the Gunners' improvement made this summer. That transfer activity was championed by the club's head of football, Raul Sanllehi.
Six additions arrived at the Emirates. David Luiz, William Saliba, Kieran Tierney, Dani Ceballos, Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe cost a combined £137 million. Arsenal weren't supposed to have such an advantage in the market. Someone obviously pulled the strings. That man was Sanllehi. An astute negotiator like him has been missing since David Dein departed 12 years ago.
Born in Barcelona, Sanllehi worked as a Nike executive before becoming Blaugrana's director of football in 2007. He helped Barca through a rebuilding stage, playing a key role in their subsequent success. His notable deals include bringing Neymar to Camp Nou, as well as Alexis Sanchez and Luis Suarez.
On joining Arsenal in February 2018, Sanllehi was adding a wealth of experience. His contacts spread globally. Friendly with FIFA president Gianni Infantino along with many other key figures, his major firepower is in knowing the world's top agents. That ensures deals get done.
Few could have predicted Sanllehi's rapid rise up Arsenal's chain of command. His initial title was head of football relations before filling Ivan Gazidis duties in September. The South African left for AC Milan.
Sanllehi was tasked with taking the club forward. So far, he's proving up to the challenge.
One major step Sanllehi has taken is to bring in Edu as the football director. The former Arsenal midfielder eases the Catalan-born's burden, allowing him to fully focus on player recruitment and fend off other interested parties. Edu has experience in such a role with both Corinthians and Iran. The two complement each other nicely.
There was a major shakeup at the Emirates in February. Sven Mislinat left as Gunners' head of recruitment after less than 14 months. Sanllehi wanted someone who would quickly help bridge the gap to top Premier League sides. Mislinat's approach was more of a long-term process. It's thought Edu is better compatible with the club's new vision.
Concerning new signings, Sanllehi has Huss Fahmy as a skilled negotiator. The two worked together to convince Pepe, a winger who attracted interest from other notable clubs this summer, to opt for North London.
The fact Luiz, Tierney and Ceballos all turned their backs on potential Champions League football to link up with the Gunners clearly shows Sanllehi's pull. His capability of luring Unai Emery's desired targets bodes well for the future.
Arsenal's transfer success is so far translating on to the pitch. They're second in the table after beating Newcastle United eight days ago then Burnley on Saturday. With Sanllehi controlling matters, it won't take much longer before they fully close the gap to the league's finest. The genius from Barcelona deserves much praise.