Why did Raul Sanllehi leave Barcelona and join Arsenal? It’s a question few cared to ask when he first arrived and seemed to be some sort of transfer whizz, but since last summer, many questions raised their head, most of them very uncomfortable.
“He’s a discreet person, who does not like interviews, pictures, who always stands out from the cameras when a new recruit is presented,” said Sergi Solé, editor-in-chief of the Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo who gave some initial insight into why Sanllehi came to Arsenal, a club seen by many as one in decline before his arrival.
Raul Sanllehi, Solé believed, “wanted to take on another challenge and assume number one status.”
If that was his goal, he certainly achieved it. And quickly. Until he was relieved of his duties, of course. The reason? An internal investigation by Edu into the Nicolas Pepe transfer which seems to have involved some serious dodginess.
#afc In terms of new structure – Edu and Arteta will identify targets. Huss Fahmy will go out and get deals done.
— Simon Collings (@sr_collings) August 15, 2020
When Sanllehi arrived, out went Arsene Wenger, Ivan Gazidis, Sven Mislintat and a load of coaches, scouts and academy people. Even Sir Chips went.
In came Edu, Kia Joorabchian and a more agent-based approach to signing players. Arsenal switched from the stats-based model Wenger had so long been a champion of to the grimier world of deals with friends and friends of friends.
Joorabchian, for the record, is Edu’s agent as well as Cedric Soares’ and Willian, while he also acts as an intermediary for David Luiz.
Most of this after Stan Kroenke took the club private, depriving any shareholders of the right to challenge the club on what they were doing.
Fans, worried that the club is losing many of the core values that held Arsenal apart from others, were right to be concerned.
At Barcelona, Sanllehi started out in the marketing department before moving to the post of director of football where he was put in charge of negotiating contracts and ‘convincing players’.
“He is a very smart guy, very smart, according to a former employee of Barça,” Solé added.
“He forged [relationships] with football personalities like Sandro Rosell (whom he worked with at Nike, where he worked for several years) and saw this [Arsenal] as an opportunity to evolve in a world that lacks good managers and guys who can negotiate well.
“He has a lot of knowledge about the finances, the economy, the accounting, the tax laws of each country … He would be perfectly able to tell you the tax rate in Germany, Italy, convert to gross and net.”
While at Nike, he started building contacts in South America before moving to Barcelona in 2002 and remaining there until 2018 when he joined Arsenal.
At Barca, he oversaw their Lujan school in Argentina before helping establish Barcelona in Brazil where he was the ‘main protagonist’ in landing Santos. Then Neymar.
“He worked with the entourage of Neymar, traveled with the selection of Brazil to better know his character. Neymar and he had a very good relationship, they were friends,” Solé continued.
One of the biggest testaments to Sanllehi’s effectiveness was the fact he was kept on by three different Barcelona presidents who often like to clean house and bring in their own people. But each time the president changed, they kept Sanllehi at the club.
At Arsenal, he imposed himself behind the scenes very early on. Perhaps he imposed himself too much.
It was Sanllehi, say France Football, who convinced Stan Kroenke to hire Unai Emery rather than Luis Enrique, who was said to be the American’s first choice although it has also been claimed he was initially Sanllehi’s choice too.
Unai Emery’s agent? AC Talent, the same group who represent Pablo Mari. That might help explain how both ended up at Arsenal, especially the Spaniard who seemed to come out of nowhere at the last minute to land a job that seemed to be going to Mikel Arteta.
Arturo Canales, the AC of AC Talent, came to Arsenal to sell the idea of Emery to his ‘close friend‘ Sanllehi and he bought it. Then Mari.
France Football also claimed that, in tandem with Emery, Sanllehi ‘provoked’ the departure of Mislintat.
FF added it was Sanllehi behind the blunt statement issued by the club over Laurent Koscielney’s refusal to travel on pre-season tour, adopting “methods sometimes more aggressive than those that were customary for years in North London.”
It is not the Arsenal way.
“He’s a tough guy in negotiations and he’s the one who decides a lot of things at Arsenal. And he’s a very business oriented person,” said an unnamed agent a year ago. Perhaps he tried to decide too much on his own.
Sanllehi came to Arsenal wanting to be the number one and it seems that, in just over a year, he achieved that goal and then had it snatched away from him for pushing too far, too soon.
Where we go now certainly looks like it will be an interesting ride.
How dirty we continue to get on the way remains to be seen.
- This post was originally published in September, 2019.
- This post was updated on 15 August after Arsenal and Raul Sanllehi parted ways.
- This post was updated on 16 August after Raul Sanllehi issued his statement.