Since Wenger was removed as manager at Arsenal, a restructure of the club’s hierarchy ensued. For two decades Wenger was Arsenal’s obvious number one. The one with the answers and the one who made the decisions. Now, up seems down.
“One day, Jorge Valdano (former Real Madrid) made me the following reflection, ‘At Barcelona the leader is Messi; at Madrid it is (president) Florentino Perez, and the Atletico Madrid leader is Simeone,” Emery has said.
He also admitted that Neymar was the leader of his PSG side, saying, “In each club you must know what role you play and what role you assign to the rest of the group. My opinion is that at PSG the leader is called Neymar.” He also named Guardiola as the number one man at Man City.
Other examples from successful teams are Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis.
A clear leader – a visionary – in the form of a coach, manager, president or other, can be essential in reaching the very top of football.
But does Arsenal have such a leader? Who is it? Who has taken the power from the void of Wenger’s 22-year-long reign?
The usual suspects
Ramsey’s surprise contract breakdown last week, in the aftermath of Arsenal CEO Gazidis’ announced exit to AC Milan, who was believed by many to fill this void, suggests that someone else at the club has taken command.
Pulling the contract offer away from Ramsey, our current longest-serving player, doesn’t smell like the cooking of Gazidis or the Kroenkes, or anyone else with many years at Arsenal. This smells like fresh blood.
Gazidis recently announced his replacements for CEO: chief commercial officer, Vinai Venkatesham, will become the new managing director, and Raul Sanllehi, now head of football relations, will become head of football.
They are two possibilities. Venkatesham will be the new managing director, but coming from the business side working in the commercial sphere, him pulling the strings on footballing decisions would come dangerously close to Man United’s structure with Ed Woodward. We don’t want that.
Sanllehi, as head of football, makes more sense. His responsibilities will be far more football-oriented than Venkatesham’s. And having a successful past at Barcelona, in a very similar position, makes him stand out.
Emery replaced Wenger as head coach, not as manager, meaning less focus and influence on the what goes on outside the training ground. He is the most important person to the club’s immediate results on the pitch, but not Arsenal’s number one man.
It’s much bigger than one man
The structure of Arsenal’s hierarchy of Stan and Josh Kroenke as owner and director of the club respectively, Venkatesham and Sanllehi as managing director and head of football, Emery as head coach and Mislintat as head of recruitment, will be more of a democracy than the dictatorship we’re used to.
Owner Stan Kroenke has most influence of course but as his nickname, “Silent Stan”, suggests, he’ll continue to lurk in the shadows. Sanllehi seems most likely to sit in the decision-making chair concerning all things football, however, as a new-born democracy, the club has deliberately appointed specialists for all to take part in the running of the club. In a way, Wenger and Gazidis have been replaced by five people.
Arsenal don’t have a number one, at least not yet. However, most of what we see on the pitch, like Ramsey’s yoinked contract offer, will be the result of the three-way alliance of Emery, Mislintat and Sanllehi. As far as if Arsenal will win anything in the near future, or regain Champions League football, this alliance will be responsible.
The long-term prosperity of Arsenal will come from team work and shared ideologies through all of this complex hierarchy. What’s worrying though, is that this is a fantastic playground for (dirty) politics.
Alliances can forge or break. There’s room for more and less power. When disagreements occur, who will win and who will lose? Politics.