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Is Marc Overmars the right man for the Technical Director role at Arsenal?

Marc Overmars Director of Football Candidate Arsenal

It’s fair to say that the 2018-19 Premier League season has not been one to remember for Arsenal. In the wake of Monsieur Wenger stepping down, it has been a rollercoaster affair, to say the least.

The appointment of Unai Emery was met with relative positivity, though muted. The spirit and passion shown from the new Basque headmaster did much to win most sections of the fanbase over. Despite struggles in his first two matches at the helm, support for the former PSG manager grew. To say that going on a 22-match unbeaten run did much to bolster his supporters is an understatement. And then, frustration set it in; a 10-match stretch of league fixtures that featured patchy form.

Arsenal are now in a dogfight for fourth and the Europa League places below. All too familiar territory. To make matters worse, Sven Mislintat, the highly-touted Head of Recruitment was on his way out.

In an article by the Guardian’s Amy Lawrence, it was cited that Mislintat had chosen to step down. Despite being highly regarded inside the club – regardless of his recluse nature – his decreased role left a sour taste. His chances of becoming the new Technical Director had diminished, leaving him without a pathway of advancement. It was another disappointing revelation in a string of headline-grabbing tomfoolery.

In light of said events, defacto chief head Raul Sanllehi was now faced with filling a void that it appears he wanted. If Mislintat was not given the role, it was by Raul’s doing. Who then would the club turn to. Would it be one of our own in Francis Cagigao, the man who gave us Cesc Fabregas?  Or perhaps someone on the outside with an established track record at the highest level?

In the first of a three-part series, we take a look at a few potential candidates for the role and why they should be considered. Up first; Marc Overmars.

A career at the top

From humble beginnings to the very pinnacle of European football. A small town boy, Marc Overmars went from obscurity with SV Epe to winning the Champions League with Louis van Gaal’s Ajax Amsterdam. The previous year saw him crowned best young player at World Cup ’94. It was a whirlwind few years for the lightning-quick winger dubbed “TGV.” Though his time at Barcelona did not reach the same heights of the earlier parts in a career cut short by injuries, it was his tenure at Highbury that leaves fond memories.

A diminutive winger, the multi-faceted Overmars took Arsenal by storm, scoring 12 goals and adding 12 assists (league) in his first season at the club. The year would be capped off by a league title alongside Dutch international teammate Dennis Bergkamp. Overmars helped shape the very future of wide players in the Premier League.

His relationship with football has not diminished since his retirement. In 2005 he joined the supervisory board at Go Ahead Eagles, the club where he made his professional breakthrough. A football man, his insights into the game were highly valued at the club. An Algemeen Dagblad article by Dutch journalist Dennis Jansen once cited Overmars’ love affair of Go Ahead and how his passion for the club was a catalyst for its revival; a testament to his loyalty and desire to succeed.

Overmars would eventually begin coaching at youth level with Ajax in 2011, and a year later, becoming technical director. It was at the hallowed grounds of this legendary European giant that Overmars made his name off the pitch.

Overmars as Ajax technical director

A quick review of Overmars’ time as Ajax technical director would give one the impression of a mixed bag. Ajax were in the midst of a dominant spell in the Eredivisie, and by the time of his hiring in the summer of 2012, they had completed their second league win in as many seasons under Frank de Boer; another former teammate of his.

The clubs’ on-pitch form would continue after his hiring. de Boer would win an additional two league titles, making it the first time de Godenzonen won the league on four consecutive occasions in its history. Unfortunately, the trophy cabinet has been baren ever since.

Yet another former Dutch teammate of Overmars (de Boer’s as well) was making waves at domestic rival PSV Eindhoven; Phillip Cocu. Over the last four years before the current 2018-19 campaign, PSV outstripped Ajax as top dog, winning three of the last four league titles. Though not directly responsible for results, Overmars did receive a certain degree of flak regarding player recruitment and sales.

In his first two years at the club, Overmars presided over the sales of Jan Vertonghen, Gregory van der Wiel, Christian Eriksen, and Toby Alderweireld. While selling your best assets is a fact of life for any Dutch club, Ajax did little to replace the quality level lost. As a direct result, PSV stole a foot on Ajax and they’ve yet to relinquish it.

A few years would pass, but it was in 2016-17 that Overmars and new general director Edwin van der Sar presided over one of the most impressive summers in recent memory; for any club. On the back of no fewer than nine player sales – including Arkadiusz Milik, and Jasper Cillessen – Ajax welcomed an incredibly bright crop of young players.

Under new manager Peter Bosz, a youthful Ajax team that included academy graduates Matthijs de Ligt, Kasper Dolberg, Justin Kluivert, Frenkie de Jong, and signings Bertrand Traore, Davinson Sánchez, Hakim Ziyech, and David Neres stormed into the Europa League final. Despite falling at the hands of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, and Feyenoord Rotterdam claiming the Eredivisie, 2016-17 was a testament to what Overmars was capable of in a well-run hierarchical structure.

A return to Arsenal?

There are some that would inevitably question the appointment of Overmars should it actually occur. The nature of large sections of the Premier League fanbase leans toward the ideology that to survive in England – in any capacity or role – you must have been at a high level before.

Despite the size of Ajax as a club, their European pedigree, and a continued commitment to producing talent at a level that keeps them on speed dial across Europe, they’re still an Eredivisie club. This is where someone like Monchi would do very little to divide opinion amongst the Arsenal base. Make no mistake about it; Overmars is the real deal.

James Rowe of Football-Oranje and World Football Index was kind enough to share his thoughts on Overmars’ tenure at Ajax.

In terms of getting big money for the young talents he has done very well. The most recent case being Frenkie de Jong, where Overmars also championed the move and stated how good it would be for de Jong’s development. However, some sections of the fans have stated their wish for him to be more proactive in terms of buying after selling.

Another interesting factor was Overmars overseeing Ajax’s recent surge into South American market. Nicolás Tagliafico (Independiente), Lisandro Magallán (Boca Juniors), and David Neres (São Paulo) were are farmed from source. It is a region that Arsenal could look at and profit from. Overmars also succeeded with identifying the best young domestic talent; the deal for Perr Schuurs (Fortuna Sittard) is a prime example.

All in all, Marc Overmars has taken the role very seriously from day one. He has always respected the funds rules and the demands of being technical director, especially at the biggest club in the Netherlands, where there is pressure at a levels of the club to perform to the best of your ability at player, manager, and board levels.

On the surface, it seems that the former Arsenal winger has succeeded in an area where we fall well short; selling on for a large profit.

It has been postulated before – especially during Mislintat’s short tenure – that the best way forward for Arsenal is through that of a sustainable model. It is quite clear that either the club can’t – or won’t – compete with City, Chelsea, and United in terms of spending to improve.

What is needed, then, is a well-established system of buying value players with potential that – if necessary – could be sold for big financial returns. Overmars has done that quite successfully at Ajax.

Over the last three seasons, the sales of Frenkie de Jong, Davinson Sánchez, Davy Klaassen, and Arkadiusz Milik provides the evidence. Klaassen and de Jong were academy products, while Sanchez and Milik were bought for a fraction of what they fetched on the market. All told, the Dutch giants received a combined ₤174m for a total outlay of just ₤7.8m; a ₤166.2m profit overall.

What is most telling from Rowe’s comments is the accuracy with which Ajax brings in promising younger players.

Granted, the club is the gold standard when discussing youth development, but this is something that Arsenal could genuinely benefit from. The combination of purchasing young talent for real value rather than inflated market value and developing talent in-house is certainly achievable for the Gunners.

Our current youth crop would likely stand to gain from his appointment, or at the very least, be sold on for profit as another avenue to generate funds.

Most important of all are two factors; 1. Overmars has shown himself unafraid to sell (while spending has improved dramatically since his first years in the role), and 2. the dedication with which he approaches his work.

Selling players is all well and good, but it is knowing when and how to sell that matters most. Again, this is where Arsenal have struggled in a big way in recent years. There have been far too many examples of the club waiting till the final year of a players deal – the lowest point of their value – to sell them on. Or worse, to let them go on a free.

Imagine how much money Jack Wilshere could have fetched us if we sold him long before we did. The same could have been said for Alexis Sanchez if we showed him the door during the summer rather than the winter window swap deal we settled for.

Given the nature of our chequebook status in comparison to some of our rivals, rectifying our poor sales record is of paramount importance.

As for the manner in which he tackles his responsibilities, it goes without saying. His respect for tradition while making the most of the parameters that he must adhere to show a man willing to work within the system rather than wanting to be the system himself.

Brownie-points would be distributed for the fact that he is a former fan-favorite, understands the club, the fanbase, the history, and the expectations that come with working at Arsenal; all highly-important factors at Ajax as well.

Yay or nay?

In a word; yay. As a former standout player at the club, Overmars would have little issue adapting to life and the expectations of the role.

In terms of his CV for technical director, despite some early struggles, he has come on incredibly well. His guiding hand in the market, a willingness to look to the youth pipeline for the first-team, and the strength to sell even his top assets if it leads to growth all show a man ready for a return to North London.

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