Arsenal: Raul Sanllehi and agent fees a major problem

Arsenal, David Luiz (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Arsenal, David Luiz (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images) /

Arsenal paid Kia Joorabchian £6 million in agent fees when they signed David Luiz last summer. They then signed Joorabchian client Cedric Soares in January. Raul Sanllehi and his agent-based approach is hugely problematic.

Arsenal have changed the way they conduct their transfer business. When then-Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis assembled a team to deal with the post-Arsene Wenger era, he brought in Raul Sanllehi and a new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, to handle the overall management of the club, before then sliding a head coach into the set-up — it is crucial that Unai Emery, Wenger’s successor, was announced as a head coach and not a manager.

This new set-up quickly fell apart. Gazidis departed within a matter of months. Mislintat very quickly followed. While Gazidis’ work in north London was almost entirely wasteful and ill-advised, Mislintat is a revered scout and recruiter, renowned for his eye for talent and analytical approach. But as the power struggle played out, Sanllehi and his connections won out.

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Sanllehi’s influence at the club grew and in a post-Gazidis managerial reshuffle, he was unveiled as the new Head of Football. Edu Gaspar arrived last summer as the technical director, but make no mistake, while Edu has influence at the club, it is Sanllehi who is calling the shots.

This has been most evident in Arsenal’s recent transfer business. They signed Denis Suarez from Barcelona, Sanllehi’s former team, last January on a six-month loan. They compounded that loan error by adding Cedric Soares this January, another wasteful six-month loan completed on the desires of Sanllehi’s contacts, this time his friend and super-agent, Kia Joorabchian.

And then there is the deal to sign David Luiz, which is certainly grabbing the most attention at present. After Arsenal were thrust into an impossible situation following the tantrum and exit of Laurent Koscielny, Sanllehi turned to Joorabchian once again. Luiz, Joorabchian’s client, subsequently jumped across the London divide in an £8 million move.

This weekend, the Athletic reported that Luiz did not sign a two-year deal as initially reported and cost much more than just the £8 million transfer fee, which was widely accepted and praised at the time of his signing. They claim that Luiz has cost a total of £24 million for just one year of his services. This includes the £8 million fee, £10 million in wages, and £6 million in intermediary fees, which are the agent fees, the majority of which will have slotted very nicely into Joorabchian’s back pocket.

The Luiz deal has been widely criticised since these details have been revealed. That criticism is a little shortsighted. An £8 million fee is excellent business and even £10 million wages is not entirely disastrous, especially given the circumstances in which Arsenal completed the deal. They were entirely desperate, and Chelsea and Luiz knew that. They were always going to have to pay over the odds. Even a one-year deal with a one-year club extension is a very smart contract, giving the club an easy out if Luiz underperforms.

Where the deal is not so smart is in the £6 million agent fees, which currently account for a quarter of the total cost. That is hugely concerning, especially when considering the other deals the Gunners have made in conjunction with major agents, especially Joorabchian. There is a reason other major clients of his, namely Willian and Philippe Coutinho, have both been heavily linked with north London moves this summer.

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The Luiz has been wrongly slandered. In reality, it was — and still is — a smart transfer. But it provides a window into the agent-orientated way in which Arsenal are now managed under Sallenhi. And that is a major problem.