So, Diamond Eyes, our great jewel finding coup, has left after just over a year and in the absence of anyone spilling the beans In a spectacularly unprofessional manner, we, the fanbase, are left to speculate why.
With all the upheaval at the club and the dissatisfaction with the owner, this feels like a big blow, particularly when we are being told that the Arsenal piggy bank has more moths then money.
However, in all the Mislintat gloom (including over at a currently unusually pessimistic Arseblog) it’s worth remembering that Arsenal had been linked to Dembele, Hazard and a whole slew of other world beaters for years before they went to big clubs. We just couldn’t afford them, didn’t go through with it, or they chose to go elsewhere.
All the guru thinking surrounding the situation is understandable given the post-Wenger adjustment and that broader feeling of slightly impotent disappointment.
Sven is a famously data-driven deep driller when it comes to scouting – so if no one else arrives with a similar skill set, we will be missing a trick or two. But it’s important to reflect without succumbing to hysteria.
If you take a world’s best 22 over the last 5-10 years, AND the best young players in the world today, many were heavily linked to Arsenal BEFORE they were fully established or moved to big clubs. Almost every ‘Top’ squad in the world has a smattering of players we watched repeatedly or bid for before they signed for big clubs or for big fees, and before they were really established.
Ramos, Van Dijk, Varane, Messi, Ronaldo, Zlatan, Pique, Dembele, Mbappe, Di Maria, Draxler, Modric, Matuidi, Rugani, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Laporte, Sanchio, Martial, Pogba, Suarez and the lists go on. With friendlier work permit rules, a greater willingness to play ball with ‘super agents’, or a few more pennies in the bank, any number of those players could have enjoyed lengthy stints at Arsenal. Or other cases, such as someone like Hazard, who was all set to join after three seasons of him and Wenger flirting in the press, until Chelsea enjoyed the flukiest Champions League run and ultimate victory since Steaua Bucharest when it was still the European Cup.
The club knew about all these players (and were frequently and publicly linked with them) and hundreds more that turned out better than what we had. Hell, anyone who has played Football Manager as much as I have knows about most of the world’s top up-and-coming players long before they get any big moves. If coming up with a shortlist of people to watch, analyse, and bid for was the key, then there are a lot of 14-year-olds out there who could run part of our recruitment from their bedrooms.
The problem at Arsenal in the last 10-15 years hasn’t really been talent spotting. It has been a lack of decisiveness, a risk-averse philosophy, financial restrictions and not being the most attractive option.
Hell, we all feel like Wenger lost his talent scouting mojo years ago, but he was still having tea with Mbappe’s parents before the kid had kicked a ball for Monaco’s reserves.
So, much as the loss of Sven’s diamond eyed evidence-based approach is a blow for the club’s Gazidis-planned modernisation attempts, there are three things to remember.
Any head of recruitment is still (or should be – note the club’s whispering campaign against Sven since his departure was announced) reliant on the scouts that work for them (or they might as well just play football manager)
There is nothing to stop the club bringing in someone else extremely competent from a range of people. I don’t think it will happen, but if Monchi turns up, we’ll get our alternate guru fix there.
The club has remained consistently effective at identifying players. They’ve just not been able to sign the next ones or the right ones. Being able to afford them or presenting themselves as an appealing destination will be more down to the first team’s success and a visible pathway than who the head of recruitment is.
After all, the fan base weren’t worried about losing Wenger’s overall very good record at talent spotting, or his global contacts, because he’d made a few mistakes in the market in recent years and couldn’t really coach tactical flexibility.
So why should we mourn the loss of someone who has been at the club a year and beyond his Dortmund contacts is primarily known as a talent spotter?
And in practical terms, if the club is bringing in a technical director as it wants to, its vital that they have a say in who is heading the recruitment side. The reasons are obvious.
We’ve only just stepped away from our monolithic model of all decisions going through Wenger, which resulted in many a transfer falling through as a result of his prevarication. We are also part of the way through the process of revamping our backroom staff, with a number of scouts etc still being replaced following summer departures.
As such, with the club no longer being run by two people, one of whom having had a massive say in hiring the other, the process of building a successful broader team was always going to take time.
Of course, it would have been easier had Wenger been more flexible and willing to oversee such a transition sooner, or if Gazidis has actually put Arsenal first and seen through his catalyst-based change rather than jumping ship for a pay rise. It’s always simpler to make broad changes as a singular figure who doesn’t require consensus than as a new collective trying to discover their hierarchies and working relationships. And it seems none of our current set up are quite as skilled in silvery tongued obfuscation as our departed leaders.
Ultimately, it may be the case that Mislintat is the best in the business and his departure is a big loss on an individual level. However, any individual brilliance is irrelevant if it is one component of several that can’t work together.
We can speculate all we want about Raul instigating a coup-like power grab, Sven walking due to lack of funds, disagreements between him and the manager, or his nose being put out of joint as a result of not getting the technical director gig. We can even give credence to the rumours about him never speaking to his scouts.
Ultimately, if he was unable to build a successful working relationship with the other major figures on the football side at the club, it’s better that he leaves now, regardless of his competence or if any friction is or isn’t his fault. He can be as brilliant as he would aspire to be, but if he’s an island, it’s ultimately irrelevant. A little friction can be productive, but too much discord leads to paralysis.
As Arsenal fans, we are going to have to get used to this type of upheaval for the short to medium term. The club’s equilibrium is still in flux because the change we are undergoing is seismic. One only has to look at the blood-letting, both metaphorical and physical, when regimes with a singularity of leadership end in the political sphere. Power vacuums take time to settle, evolve and be filled, particularly when the structure of things change. Its like introducing a republic following the toppling of a tyrant.
The key thing, while we may be worried by the uncertainty of the management structure, backroom staff, managerial tactics etc, is to continue to support the players. We cannot meaningfully oppose anything at the club, bar perhaps the Kroenke ownership, because nothing is settled into a position of clarity. Everything is in flux…which was inevitable. We wanted change. Times are changing. There were always going to be bumps on the way, and we shouldn’t allow our confidence to be knocked by every bump.
And while maybe we all wanted someone like Sven, the club really needs to find the next Sven, who can innovate, grow and create loyalty with Arsenal.