Arsenal Risks Everything With Mislintat Leaving
As Arsenal may soon be embroiled in an unexpected turn of events as news broke that Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat could be walking out the Emirates front door. Not only would this be a huge blow for the club, but a signal of a complete shift in how we go about negotiating the transfer market.
In our acquiring of Mislintat, affectionately known as “Diamond Eye”, Arsenal happened upon what should have been considered a vital piece of the new regime. His unparalleled success in discovering talented and often hidden players from many unlikely sources was a throwback to Arsène Wenger’s early days of tapping into the French market. Such actions by the legendary headmaster culminated in multiple Premier League titles, a success that Mislintat equalled while at Borussia Dortmund.
The owner of a Fußballehrer license after graduating from the Hennes-Weisweiler-Akademie, Mislintat, a son of Dortmund himself, began with the club as a Match Analyst in 1998. Despite taking on intermittent simultaneous roles at VfL Kamen, the German national team, and Westfalia Herne as an Assistant Manager and a Match Analyst, his sole focus as a Scout for Dortmund began in 2006.
Dortmund success with Mislintat
While a part of the scouting department, he aided in the acquisitions of Steven Pienaar, Mats Hummels (loan), Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Neven Subotic. He was then promoted to Chief Scout in 2009, and it was here that he began to build his vaunted reputation.
Over the resulting eight years in the position, he succeeded in heading-up a department which became renown for unearthing hidden gems. Listed below are the standout signings that were meticulously analyzed at Hohenbuschei, Dortmund’s training facilities and Academy base.
This is not to say that Sven has not gotten it wrong, sometimes very wrong. Certainly, no scout is perfect, but the veritable whos-who of Bundesliga players stands as a testament to his track record. But if you ask the man himself, he credits his successful career to one moment in particular; the discovery of Shinji Kagawa.
“The key player for my career as a scout was Shinji Kagawa. When you find a young player in a second division and he joins for small money and can make a difference, that’s a key moment everyone needs in his career.”
After multiple trips to Japan for data compilation and the resulting analysis, Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund would welcome the Japanese international as a key part of their 2010-11 Bundesliga-winning side. It was Kagawa’s first season in Germany and Dortmund’s first league win in a decade. Alongside Kagawa were fellow Mislintat signings Robert Lewandowski, Lukas Piszczek, Mats Hummels, Sven Bender, and Kevin Großkreutz. It goes without saying that Sven played a vital role in building Dortmund’s title-winning sides. The hope for Arsenal – at least amongst the fanbase – is that he would achieve similar success at the Emirates.
Has it all been Mislintat?
The beginning of his tenure began in non-atypical fashion but still included some familiar faces. A month into his new role at Arsenal as Head of Recruitment, he was part of the negotiating team that included Raul Sanllehi and Huss Fahmy which brought in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan; two players he pulled the trigger on while in the Ruhr valley.
He also helped bring young Greek center-back Konstantinos Mavropanos to North London, a player who Arsenè Wenger admitted to never hearing of. Within short order, Mavropanos impressed so well in training that he was included in the first-team squad rather than going out on loan. This was an early testament to Sven’s ability to spot hidden young talent and a quick-fire example of what surely was to come.
This past summer we received further evidence of his stats-based analysis approach to scouting. Youngsters Mattéo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira were purchased for a combined ₤33.7million. Both have gone on to become key components in the early days of the Emery regime, while German international goalkeeper Bernd Leno (₤22million) has proven a solid acquisition with room to grow given his age.
Questions began to surround the transfer business at Arsenal, however, when an opposite approach was taken in conjunction with the aforementioned signings. Veteran defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner (34) and another familiar face in Sokratis (now 30) were also recruited. While Sokratis may have been targeted by Mislintat in years past, he, like Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, was five years younger the first go-around. Given the recent news, perhaps these were bread crumbs we should have paid attention to.
Contrasting styles of recruitment
The difference between stats-based analytical recruitment, and relationship-based recruitment is considerable. The former is what Mislintat built his entire reputation on but is also the most viable avenue for recruitment if you intend on subscribing to a sustainable model.
Our deals done for Torreira, Guendouzi, and Mavropanos, all promising young players and for lower fees and wages (₤35million/₤75k per week wages total; Guendouzi undisclosed), are proof of how a model built on financial stability and resale value of players (key to the model) makes sustainability a tangible reality. In comparison, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi each cost us more than the combined fee paid for the young trio, while the assumed combined wages are the same as the packet of just Hector Bellerín.
Dortmund is the shining example of how stats-based recruitment is the better way forward, and Mislintat (credit should also be given to Michael Zorc) was a vital piece of that set-up. All you need do is research how much they profited on the sale of Ousmane Dembélé to see the benefits.
Player recruitment based on fostered relationships is a whole other animal; one far more volatile that comes with bigger risks, bigger consequences, and a smaller chance of success. The simple explanation being that Sanllehi would reach out to contacts he has throughout Europe to inquire as to what players – if any – were available at specific clubs and what it would take to broker a deal. The link with Denis Suárez is a prime example, a player who both Emery and Sanllehi would be familiar with given his time at Sevilla and Barcelona.
Questionable transfer decisions
Much of this method of player recruitment relies on player reputation, at least more so than the stats-based approach. We ourselves have already utilized the relationship model when we targeted Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, and Sokratis.
On paper, all three were – to varying degrees – solid targets, but appears that little attention was given to the fact that Mkhitaryan was clearly unsettled in England, and Sokratis had been in decline for the past two seasons prior. Fast-forward to our current situation regarding the first-team, and you will see that our defensive record has seen zero improvement despite the inclusion of Sokratis, and Mkhitaryan has failed here – as he did at United – to replicate his Dortmund form that netted him his Old Trafford move in the first place. The argument can now easily be made that links with Mislintat were the basis of the deals (whether if he pushed for them or not is subject to debate), rather than the due-diligence of compiling enough data and analysis to support the moves.
At that particular time in the 2017-18 season, Arsenal was in a position where we needed quick and immediate solutions to try to help us finish in the top four. Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan were both available in the market and we are a club with considerable pull, especially when there is little-to-no competition for signatures. The deals for Sokratis and Lichtsteiner were similar in nature.
Notable Premier League moves that subscribed to the relationship model at other clubs are Pep Guardiola’s signing of Claudio Bravo, Jose Mourinho investing in Nemanja Matic, Antonio Conte recruiting Davide Zapacosta, and any deal involving Jorge Mendes, a man who is on speed dial of every Director of Football of note in Europe. The transfer market is rife with examples on the pitfalls of this model. Arsenal must avoid it like the plague.
In comparison, Torreira and Guendouzi, stats-based signings that were clear long-term investment options, have made an instant impact in the team despite their age and relative inexperience compared to our bigger signings. As for Mavropanos, he remains apart of the first-team set-up and could very easily find himself logging minutes next season depending on the futures of certain players, namely Laurent Koscielny and Calum Chambers.
Most frustrating about the events that are almost sure to unfold is the clear uncertainty in the new regime that will undoubtedly creep into the minds of many. Successful new eras establish longevity in their first few years by establishing a strong bedrock and blueprints geared towards progression; a blueprint we may have just ripped in half.
Arsenal recruitment policy post-Mislintat
What does this mean for our recruitment policy now? Will Sanllehi be the man running that department by proxy? Will Emery push for unexpected overtures in the direction of Ramón Rodriguez Verdejo, also known as Monchi, in a bid to rekindle their partnership that brought Europa League wins to Sevilla for three straight seasons?
If there is anyone capable of replacing Mislintat while not reducing our capacity to recruit young talent at the highest level, its Monchi. The San Fernando-native is credited with helping discover Diego Capel, Alberto Moreno, Jesús Navas, Sergio Ramos, and José Antonio Reyes while also brokering deals for Adriano, Dani Alves, Júlio Baptista, Federico Fazio, Seydou Keita, and Ivan Rakitić. Since his arrival at AS Roma in 2017, he has helped the capital club bring in Patrik Schick, Héctor Moreno, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Cengiz Ünder, Rick Karsdorp, Bryan Cristante, Ante Coric, as well as Justin Kluivert.
Whether or not we are able to prize Monchi away from the Eternal City is a much deeper question. Regardless of that, we are left wondering what is to happen to an essential aspect of the rebuild and progress the club has been touting. Like always, there are more questions and answers. As a result, failure to find solutions could be a death knell in our bid to compete with the cream of the English crop, and consequently, expedite an era of decline.