The question is moot. He’s the only sporting director Arsenal have ever had. I suppose then, that anyone seeking a direct answer to that rhetorical question would have to agree that the answer is yes. Prior to that, in his role as technical director, Edu had already had an impressive influence on the club’s direction. Yes, there was a bumpy start, but the hits keep on coming. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Edu stumbled out of the gate, probably due to a power struggle with former Head of Football Raul Sanllehi, who outranked Edu. It was Sanllehi who saddled the club with Nicolas Pépé. Edu had a role in other flops or duds such as Willian, Sokratis, and Luiz. Then again, for each of those, there’s a Leno or Tierney or Saliba to suggest that Edu had an eye for talent. Since Sanllehi left on 15 August 2020, Edu’s record of signing players has taken off like a runaway freight train.
The list of players he signed since Sanllehi’s departure includes Martinelli, Partey, White, Ramsdale, Ødegaard, Tomiyasu, Magalhães, Vieira, Tavares, Lokonga, Jesus, Trossard, Kiwior, Jorginho, Havertz, and Zinchenko. That’s an outrageous record of success, with only Tavares and Lokonga failing to impress enough to earn a role with the first team.
Of course, one of Edu’s most-visible transfer attempts seemed to prove that he didn’t know what he was doing. We were linked with a move for Mykhailo Mudryk for months, with all signs and sources saying that it was in effect a done deal, only for Chelsea to swoop in at the very end to snatch him from under our noses. Was he out-manoeuvred? Possibly. Was he out-bid? Yes, definitely. When a free-spending club like Chelsea has to resort to dodgy techniques like committing to an eight-year contract to spread out the fee, you have to ask whether they overbid. Mudryk may eventually prove his value, but it isn’t too much to suggest that Edu decided to walk away rather than end up with another white elephant or albatross, depending on your preferred idiom or allusion.
We fast-forward to the signings of Trossard, Kiwior, and Jorginho, each of them astute, valuable signings that added much-needed depth. It can be difficult, expensive, or even impossible to find quality in the January window, but Edu did it. The fact that Saliba got injured should probably have forced Arteta to try Kiwior (or Tierney at CB) rather than persisting with a clearly inferior Rob Holding—but that’s an Arteta issue, not an Edu issue.
Having perhaps learned from the Mudryk experience, Edu seemed to pursue Declan Rice, a Prem-proven homegrown player touted as one of the best at his position, with a more-determined strategy. West Ham originally demanded £120m; they eventually came down to £100m only to insist on bizarre payment structures (full fee spread across 18 months rather than the length contract, 75% up front). Let’s not forget that, along the way, Edu pushed past Man City, they of the 115 alleged financial violations, to get his man. That’s…that’s not supposed to happen. It’s Man City, after all.
At any rate, Edu finally got Rice by agreeing to accept the £100m fee paid in three installments over 24 months. Okay. Not ideal. West Ham probably got more of what they wanted (a lot of money and fast) than we did (our #1 target), at least in the short term. Something tells me Rice will prove his worth in short order. In that short term, we got West Ham to accept a fee that was 83% of their original demand. That’s some solid negotiation.
Showing that Edu can walk and chew gum, the signings of Havertz and Timber happened with such speed that the clickback birdcage-liner sources are probably considering a lawsuit to recoup the loss of potential earnings on splashy headlines followed by “articles” that offer more pop-ups and interstitial ads than actual words or insights.
Still not convinced? How about selling a limited player who’ll turn 31 in September to the only club he wants to play for £25m? We signed Xhaka on a £35m fee way back in 2016. The idea that Edu might be starting to figure out how to sell our unwanted players at solid fees rather than losing them for free first emerged when we sold Joe Willock for £25m in 2021. There’s now talk that we might sell Tavares, whom we got for a measly £8m, for something closer to £25m.
Imagine. A sporting director who not only recruits and signs talented, hungry players but also unloads unwanted or ageing players. This transfer window has been open a grand total of three weeks. Edu’s just getting started.