The success of Arsenal
In our previous piece on this topic we looked at some of the facts of life in football, such as how much money the club has and the ability of the club to engage in long term planning. And as we tried to show clubs can also act emotionally rather than logically sometimes taking notice of the media and fan pressure to respond to issues that make headlines, rather than follow logic and “the plan”.
I think Tottenham behaved liked this with sacking Nuno Espirito Santo, and short term use of Cristian Stellini, Ryan Mason, and Fabio Paratici. Arsenal however took the opposite route in retaining Mikel Arteta as he was allowed to follow his long-term plan even when the club missed out on Europe for the first time since the arrival of Arsene Wenger.
And there is a comment in The Athletic that amplifies this, where they comment on the fact that “Tottenham appeared to be negotiating a loan move out of the club for Matt Doherty to Atletico Madrid, only for them then to realise they had already exceeded the maximum number of outgoing loans, meaning Doherty’s contract needed to be cancelled.” He went to Atlético Madrid on a free. That sort of chaos doesn’t help the club at that moment, or convince others that Tottenham is a good club to work for.
Those repeated bungles are interesting because they are the exact opposite of the detailed and exact work undertaken by Arteta to stop Arsenal being the most yellow-carded club in the league, and take them down to being one of the least, while at the same time nurturing the talent that he saw within the club’s youth ranks. (If you want to read some more on the oddities of yellow carding in the Premier League you might like to try here). There was also the ability of Arsenal to see the talent in Martinelli and sign him from Ituano in the summer of 2019 under the reign of Unai Emery.
That transfer is notable because in an article in the Manchester Evening News Martinelli spoke of how he had had multiple trials at Manchester United and they had said that they didn’t want him either at that moment or in the future. Four Four Two had a look at the story as well in an interview with the player which was reported in One Football who said, “There was a partnership between Ituano and Manchester United which allowed me to go there every year, for four years, to train with boys my age or older. That was nice, because I got a first taste of what English football was like.” But, “They didn’t make an offer, so I returned to Ituano and kept doing my job there.”
And this sort of thing is odd because clubs are awash with “football directors, technical directors, sporting directors, heads of recruitment and sporting advisors” as The Athletic puts it. And it appears that such people are supposed to create and maintain the club’s overall vision through the way it finds and keeps players.
But in reality it looks as if quite often clubs think that simply appointing someone (almost anyone) as a sporting director is enough. Just as if saying “we need a goalkeeper, let’s have him” is enough.
And of course the success of one or two directors of football can suggest to the simplistic minds of some club directors that the secret is to have a director of football, rather than a brilliant director of football who knows the club and knows the league.
The Athletic cite Victor Orta as “one of the most talked-about sporting directors in English football” who brought Marcelo Bielsa to the club in 2018, and who discovered the potential in Ben White and brought Raphinha for £17m selling him two years later for double that amount. Yet apparently the fans turned against the man because he didn’t find a way to fill every single position in the team with a new superstar.
But a major part of the problem at Leeds must be the constant turnover of staff, which can be contrasted with the situation at Arsenal of Edu. Having played for Arsenal, he moved on to working for the Brazilian FA before becoming technical director at Arsenal in 2019. In November 2022 he became Arsenal’s first ever Sporting Director.
It is not that everything is always sweetness and light – Edu and Wenger reportedly had a falling out after Edu refused to sign a new deal with the club. But clearly Edu did have a liking for Arsenal, and his return has been very much to everyone’s benefit. He played for the club from 2001 to 2005, and of course Arteta played for Arsenal later. The two men are just three years apart in age, and there is obviously a bond between them.
And it is no coincidence that Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Magalhães and the repeatedly rejected (by Manchester United) Gabriel Martinelli have joined Arsenal and improved the club dramatically.
This is what makes clubs successful, and is in real contrast to the era of hyper-change that has gripped Tottenham of late.
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