In every issue of the matchday programme this season, we hear exclusively from significant figures at the club on our Official Voice pages. Recently we heard from our director of football operations, Richard Garlick, who joined the club earlier this year.
I started work at Arsenal in May, so I was straight into the thick of the transfer window in my first couple of months here. Since then it’s been nice to have a bit of breathing space, and my day-to-day role has broadened across the club.
While the transfer window was open, my job was virtually 100 per cent supporting Edu, Mikel and Per around player acquisitions and sales – whether that was men’s first team or academy, renewing contracts and finding solutions for players that we were selling, or sending players out on loan.
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The first week I was here I sat down with Mikel, Josh, Vinai, Tim Lewis and Edu and we went through the summer plan. Then it was straight into executing that plan. During that time, I was acting as the pivot between the legal and financial teams, and the football side of the club. It was about taking the agreed plan and putting it into practice.
I’m a qualified lawyer, I was in private practice for 10 years, then moved to West Brom, where I was their legal counsel and club secretary for four years before my role evolved into a wider football role. So I understand how to convert a transfer plan on paper into one in reality from a financial and legal point of view.
Typically, as the transfer deals progress further, that’s when my involvement grows. We get to the point where we have contracts ready to sign, that have been agreed by the board, the finance department and the legal department. Then they are presented to the player and his agent to complete the signing.
From a personal point of view, I was pleased with how the window went. I think there were 57 transactions in total, including renewals, academy registrations and the transfers in and out.
The first-team plan was executed very well, I’d say 90 to 95 per cent of what we wanted to do got done. It was a difficult market, but we had a plan and we stuck to it. We have got a lot of good people behind the scenes at the club. They are very diligent, very professional, very hard-working so it all came together well in the end.
Since the window has shut I’ve become more and more involved across other aspects of the club. In a nutshell I’m here to support Edu, Mikel and the first team staff on a day-to-day basis. So that might mean helping with logistics in the international break, and working with Gary O’Driscoll in getting players back from red-listed countries. Or it could be looking at the fixture calendar and how we work round the World Cup being in the middle of the season next year.
It’s anything concerning football operations, or things that impact on players, rules and regulations and that sort of stuff. It’s a mixed bag, and obviously Arsenal is a big club, with three different sites, so it’s been important for me to get across the club and meet people too.
Now I’ve got a bit more time to build relationships and understand more about how things work at Arsenal and how I can bring my areas of expertise to help the club. I’m based at London Colney, but I try to get to the other sites as well.
One of the things I was asked to do when I took on the role was act as an executive point of contact and support for the women’s team as well. It’s important that Clare Wheatley, the head of women’s football, has someone on the exec team that she can speak to and bounce ideas off. So I have executive oversight of the women’s team as well. Women’s football is growing, and we have invested quite heavily in the squad and staff this season. It’s really exciting to see where the women’s side of the game is going and it’s great that club is looking to take Arsenal Women forward with a clear purpose and vision.
I’m also involved on the operations side for the academy. My office is opposite Per Mertesacker’s at London Colney, so we often talk about youth development. When I first joined he talked me through his vision for the academy and how he wanted to move it forward. He wanted my support in executing that vision, pointing out what the challenges might be, and helping him with the pro contracts for the younger players.
This club has a really good track record of bringing players through, but that gets harder every year, so we are constantly looking at how we can evolve it. Part of that is being aware of any changes in regulations in the game, or new rules imposed by Brexit, the Premier League or the FA regarding the recruitment of young players both domestically and abroad.
It has to be joined up with what’s happening in the first-team too, and you can see that with the players we brought in over the summer. They are all of a certain age and profile, and they all complement what we have coming through the academy. My role in all of that is supporting the strategic plan that’s in place.
After my eight years at West Brom I spent a few years at the Premier League and academies were one of my responsibilities there, so I’ve seen it across the league and how different clubs operate. The ones that succeed are the ones with a clear DNA and a clear plan that they stick to.
That’s what Per is doing with the guys he has brought in. Kevin Betsy has come in as the under-23 coach for example, and everybody is buying into the same philosophy. When everybody is on the same page like that, then you have every chance of it being successful.
I’m there to support them and also bounce ideas off them, because I don’t believe there is a definitive playbook for success. It depends on your own circumstances and situation. Things like your location, your competitors, your facilities, your staff. Also the way the first-team operates can help, because here you see that Mikel gives plenty of opportunities to young players, and that’s a huge advantage for us.
Recruitment is obviously vital at youth level too. The move now is to invest at younger age groups, but you have to be flexible, and add more senior players where we have a need. Which is what we did with Mika Biereth from Fulham in the summer. But long-term – and a lot of clubs are doing this – you need to recruit at younger age groups, because the statistics show many of the players who go on to become professionals have been at the same academy since they were eight or nine years old. Yes, you have some movement, but there is a very high number of players that have been on the same pathway through a club and had that stability in their football education.
Having said that, you still need to be clever with your investment and recruitment at a slightly older level too. Arsenal have a good track record of doing that, and that will continue too.
We are obviously between transfer windows at the moment, but an area that’s ongoing is contract renewals, and we are always looking ahead at players who might be coming to the end of their deals. Both in the near future but also 18 months or two years down the line. This applies to the men’s, women’s and academy teams. I won’t go into any names, but certainly I sit down with the board, Mikel, Edu, Per, Jonas and Clare and we discuss those players and what our plans are. We get a plan in place, then we start to execute it. That’s happening now for next summer, and the one after that. It’s a longer-term view. We have a strategy for each player depending on their situation.
As well as all the internal meetings and discussions I have at the club, a big part of the role is also speaking to external bodies such as the FA and Premier League. Depending on what the agenda is for the next Premier League meeting, I might go along with Vinai if it’s football ops related. Obviously, I worked there for three years, so I know a lot of people at the Premier League and at the FA which can be very helpful!
For any football operation issues – the latest changes in VAR interpretation, fixture congestion, number of substitutes, things like that – I would have a conversation internally within the coaching team and can follow up on any queries with the Premier League or FA.
Overall it’s been a busy few months since I started, but really rewarding too. I always wanted to get back into club football after working for the Premier League, and obviously Arsenal is one of the great English clubs. When I got approached about this opportunity I was really excited. I already knew a lot of the people here, and it was simply one of those opportunities that don’t present themselves that often.
I felt it was a good time to be coming here. I know there have been a lot of changes over the past few years, but I saw it as an opportunity to make an impact, to help stabilize and move the club forward.
There have been some challenges of course: post-covid, restructuring internally and so on. So a lot has been going on, but what I’ve found out so far is that there are a lot of good people at the club. A lot of talented people who all share the same vision of making this club a success and getting us back to where we were before, but also in a sustainable way. The ownership is very supportive as well.
We have to be patient of course, but I learnt a long time ago in football that you can’t get too low when things aren’t going well, and you can’t get too high when things are going well. It’s so important to keep some perspective, not lose sight of your goal and how you want to achieve it. Keep your cool, stay level-headed and have focus.
There have been plenty of challenges so far, and I’m sure there will be more in future. I think the big areas we are looking at right now are firstly fixture congestion; there are a lot of competitions vying for space and there are only so many weekends in a year.
Then there is the welfare of the players generally, including mental health, concussion protocols and things like that.
And finally I’d say a big challenge the club faces is in terms of staying competitive. How do we stay fresh and relevant? How do we stay ahead of the rest? How do we continue to be innovative? Whether that’s how we engage with supporters or how we recruit players, there’s always a way to innovate and stay ahead of the curve.
We need to keep moving forward, and that’s crucial because if you stand still in football, you get left behind.
This article first appeared in the matchday programme
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