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Arsenal FC Appoints Edu Gaspar as Technical Director

By Elias Wagner
Published on July 11, 2019

After announcing the transfer of Gabriel Martinelli last week, Arsenal has a new Brazilian recruit for their fans.

This time, it’s a former player returning to the club in a new executive role.

The Invincible midfielder Edu Gaspar will be taking over as technical director and will be working closely with Head of Football Raul Sanllehi, first team manager Unai Emery, and the youth coach setup.

But what has Arsenal acquired exactly, and how will Edu fit in at the club?

I will try to answer these questions as I go along, but first, I would like to take a look at the Brazilian’s post-playing career.

What Has Edu Gaspar Been Up To?

After being a part of Arsene Wenger’s most successful team between 2001 and 2005, Edu moved to Valencia. He only managed 61 appearances for the Spanish outfit as he was hit by a lot of injuries.

Towards the end of his career, he moved back to Brazil where he spent a year playing for his boyhood team Corinthians.

After calling time on his playing days in 2010, Edu was invited by Corinthians to replace William Machado as the director of football there. He spent three years working in this position and was then appointed by Carlos Queiroz to assist him with Iran’s campaign at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The former midfielder then moved on to his most successful venture to date. He agreed to become the general coordinator for the Brazilian national team and work for establishing a culture within the squad and helping them with technical advice.

This proved to be quite the move since Brazil won the Copa America this year.

It was the team’s first trophy since 2012, and a lot of the backroom staff and players credited Edu for the success. It is quite clear that the role fits him as he was able to transfer the playing experience and the know-how he acquired with his role at Corinthians.

Unai Emery seems to already have benefitted from the addition of Edu since it is believed that he played a huge role in convincing young talent Gabriel Martinelli to join the Gunners.

But Edu will probably be tasked with a lot more, so I’ll be looking at what his responsibilities will be with the London club and how he will handle them.

What Does Edu Gaspar Bring to Arsenal?

To answer this question, we first need to look at why Raul Sanllehi decided to give Edu the job. It was evident that Arsenal needed another body to govern transfer affairs and scouting and tutoring of the players.

Sanllehi called the appointment of Edu “the final piece of the executive jigsaw,” but why is he so confident that he’s got the right man?

Sven Mislintat was hailed as a great recruit and was to be tasked with the same responsibilities. However, the former Borussia Dortmund backroom architect lasted only a year in London. We will probably never know the exact reason, but I’m prepared to venture a guess here. Mislintat mostly handled scouting for Borussia and knows he is good at it.

He brought numerous talents to the club like Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa, Mats Hummels, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. And he did it by spending a lot less than other clubs were splashing out on the market in order to get the same value.

There is no doubt that the guy has a keen eye for unpolished diamonds, and he has the track record to prove it.

The problem was that he wanted to go to the next level. Although Arsenal hasn’t won any major trophies in the last 15 seasons except the FA Cup, they remain one of the biggest and most professionally run clubs in Europe. Everyone who has worked there has spoken about how classy and well-thought-out everything is behind the scenes.

Sven has surely seen it as well and identified the club as the perfect opportunity to expand his portfolio. Arsenal desperately needed someone to help Unai Emery in transitioning from the Arsene Wenger era, and Mislintat wanted to be more than just a scout. However, Sanllehi didn’t think that the German was quite cut out for the job.

This is why I think the sudden break-up happened. Mislintat wanted to get a bigger role at the club, while Sanllehi didn’t offer him the technical director position.

It might sound a bit naïve to think that miscommunication of that proportions can occur in top-level soccer management, but we actually don’t know if this was even discussed prior to Sven’s arrival. It might be that the German approached his boss after they had agreed he would primarily handle scouting.

As I said, we’ll probably never learn the truth, but the fact of the matter is that Mislintat left and is now at Stuttgart.

So is a repeat of that scenario possible with Edu?

Well, everything’s possible, but there are some key differences between the Brazilian and Mislintat, and I have listed them below.

  • He will provide Unai Emery with another angle

The days of the all-powerful soccer manager seem to be gone. More and more clubs are opting to decentralize executive responsibilities, and practically no one in Europe follows a Sir Alex or an Arsene Wenger approach anymore.

There are teams of scouts, fitness coaches, analysts, and usually several directors who help out on different fronts.

This is in no small part due to the nature of the modern era but also because there are now a ton of things that are monitored each day. Everything from training performance to dietary habits is constantly supervised to make sure the players are in an optimal condition to excel and deliver top performances on the pitch.

The same goes for transfer dealings and man management.

While Arsene Wenger handled the bulk of those responsibilities after David Dein left the club, nowadays, managers prefer to concentrate on getting their tactical ideas across to the players and let others take care of routine preparations, negotiations, and identifying possible transfer targets.

Unai Emery is definitely one of those people.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, especially with how the club was run with Wenger at the helm. Arsenal needed to transition, and it was vital that a new way of handling matters was introduced. So it should be a plus that Emery is not as stubborn as Wenger.

Right from the off, the Spanish manager was open to listening and strictly followed the targets Sven Mislintat identified for him. The captures of Guendouzi and Torreira were classic Mislintat business, and both had a very positive first season at the Emirates.

Now with Edu in the fold, Emery will have someone who will not only help with transfers but has vast technical and tactical knowledge at his disposal. That’s something that Mislintat lacked.

Edu was a top soccer player and knows how the big pros think. He has played with legends such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, and Robert Pires.

On top of that, he has spent four years under the tutelage of the greatest Arsenal manager in history and has worked under Carlos Queiroz, who spent many years as a number two to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

Simply put, Edu is a soccer repository, and with the willingness of Emery to listen to advice, this can turn into a huge benefit for the club.

  • He has experience as a director

This is something that shouldn’t be underestimated. Yes, Edu has played alongside many great players in the Brazilian national team, Arsenal, and Valencia, but he also has a track record as an executive.

As we already discussed, he was the director of football at Corinthians and spent some time as the general coordinator with Brazil.

I’m all for giving someone his first steps in a new venture, but Arsenal doesn’t get to have that luxury right now. The team needs to produce results fast as fans are not quite convinced that Emery and his players have what it takes to challenge the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.

With that in mind, it was absolutely essential that the club went for someone who already knows the inner workings of managing soccer matters.

It’s true that Edu has only worked for a Brazilian team which is nowhere near the size of the big European giants, but he has also had contacts with David Dein in his playing days. Dein was Wenger’s right-hand man until the Arsenal board ousted him for rejecting the move to the Emirates and the club’s proposed self-sufficient model.

Dein wanted to bring in a foreign investor and even had plans to move Arsenal to Wembley. He didn’t receive much support from the other executives at the time and felt like it was time to move on.

However, Edu was in his prime when Dein was still around. He is bound to have had many talks with him, and knowing the nature of Edu Gaspar, I bet he listened very closely to what Dein had to say.

So, yes, Edu is not the most experienced director out there, but he has already held a similar position and has been around one of the most successful executives in Arsenal’s history who is credited with securing players such as Bergkamp, Vieira, and Henry among many others.

  • He has good contacts in Brazil

Ever since the Wenger-Gazidis duo left the club, there has been a lot of talk of Arsenal expanding their network of contacts.

Sanllehi was brought in mostly because he has very serious ties with Barcelona and their global operation. It has to be said neither Wenger nor Gazidis was rubbing shoulders with the big players’ agents, and this is of great importance in the modern market.

Have you ever wondered how Juventus got Paul Pogba from Manchester United and more recently secured young star Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax?

You might say they are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, but that’s not always how these deals work. One thing that connects both players is the fact that their agent is Mino Raiola.

Raiola is one of the biggest power players on the market and has pushed tons of superstars in the direction of clubs which he likes doing business with. Another prime example of agent power is Jorge Mendes who engineered Cristiano Ronaldo’s then record-breaking transfer to Real Madrid.

So, whether we like it or not, agents have grown very powerful and sometimes are the sole deciders of the fate of their players.

Arsenal never really got on that train, and that hurt them a lot in the post-Highbury period. You can say they were short on cash after moving to the new stadium, but they had to have a plan in place to ensure the club was on the list of the big agents, and they did not.

Both Wenger and Gazidis were hopeless on that front, and this is the main reason why so many players managed to run down their contracts and leave for nothing. It was also why the club struggled to bring in any pros from the A lists.

Raul Sanllehi has a pedigree of doing huge business on behalf of Barcelona and negotiating with the toughest agents out there.

Edu may not have dealt with the European super agents, but his work in the Brazilian national team and Corinthians will allow him to be one step ahead when it comes to negotiating for young South American talent.

This has already been proved by the capture of Gabriel Martinelli, who had no shortage of suitors but chose Arsenal mainly due to talks with their new technical director.

I expect there will be more business of that sort in the near future. Arsenal hasn’t had much luck with the Brazilians they’ve chosen so far such as Wellington Silva, Denilson, and Julio Baptista.

However, Edu himself was a big transfer for Arsene Wenger alongside Gilberto Silva. Edu knows full well what a midfield general Gilberto was for the club and will surely be looking for players that fit that profile.

We’ll see if I’m right about this, but everything points to the fact that there will be a heavy emphasis on the South American market and Brazil in particular. With the ties Edu has, Arsenal may well get ahead of the competition for the next big things to come out of the Campeonato Brasileiro.

  • He knows the club and is a true Arsenal man

I saved this one for last, but it is probably the thing that sealed the job for Edu Gaspar. Speaking to the media after the appointment, Raul Sanllehi emphasized on the fact that he was not only looking for someone with the right credentials but also someone who knows the club and its identity.

Edu fits perfectly into this as he was a vital piece of Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles team. Not only was there enormous quality and flair in that squad, but people like Tony Adams, Ray Parlour, and director Ken Friar were still at the club.

Those are figures who understand Arsenal’s history and the way the club should conduct itself. This attitude has inevitably rubbed off on the foreigners, as it was something that the English core took big pride in back then.

This is exactly what Sanllehi was looking for in his technical director as he tries to build a modern superclub by going back to what made it successful in the past.

Edu might not be the biggest die-hard Arsenal fan, but the fact that he ticks all the other boxes and that he has commented many times on his special feelings towards the club makes him an ideal candidate.

He will be received well by the fans and will be given the freedom to work both with the first team and the youth setup on that front.

Conclusion and Final Words

In this day and age, all the rage in soccer is about distributing the load among different directors, and it seems to be working.

Just look at what Jon Rudkin has done at Leicester since his appointment in 2014. He has been able to get the right personnel and successfully convinced them to tie their future to the club.

This all brought about the biggest surprise in Premier League history, and although they will probably not replicate their title-winning season anytime soon, the club is still a formidable Premier League force. In fact, they have recently signed Youri Tielemans on a permanent basis and acquired Ayoze Perez from Newcastle.

Both are huge talents and were surely wanted by bigger clubs, but Rudkin managed to seal the deal.

Another example of a successful technical director is Richard Hughes, one of the masterminds of Bournemouth’s rise to the EPL. He has built a tight relationship with manager Eddie Howe and is his main advisor on transfer policy.

His appointment saw the Cherries go from a mediocre League 2 team to a regular Premier League outfit.

On the flip side, Manchester United decided to give Ed Woodward all the power after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and this did not pan out well for them. The truth is that it is very hard to find a person who can do a good job on both the commercial and the technical front. Woodward is undoubtedly a good businessman, but he knows close to nothing about transfer policy and player mindset.

That is why I believe clubs have woken up to the idea that these responsibilities should be shared, and we will be seeing a lot more technical director appointments in the future.

When it comes to Edu’s case, I think that Sanllehi and his team made a very sensible decision. There is nobody else on the planet who ticks all the boxes quite as Edu does, and this move has all the needed ingredients to be very beneficial for the club in the long run.

I like the fact that the Arsenal executives want to recreate some of the atmosphere and attitude of the glory years and also help Unai Emery manage the overwhelming load associated with managing a soccer team in the EPL.

Although there are many problems that will need to be resolved before Arsenal can challenge for the title again, I think they made a huge step in the right direction with the appointment of their former Brazilian maestro.

This concludes my look at Edu’s appointment as the club’s first technical director. I would love to read your thoughts on the matter whether you agree with my assessment or not.

If you’re keen on more Gunners material, feel free to check out our early preview of Arsenal’s chances next season along with some betting odds that might interest you.