Interview

'We're very sure Mikel is going to do a great job'

We sat down with head of football Raul Sanllehi and technical director Edu discuss Mikel Arteta's appointment as our new head coach.

Click the 'Play' button above to watch the full interview - while we have a full transcript below:

Edu, Raul, we have a new head coach - Mikel Arteta. How pleased are you with this appointment?
 
Raul: Very pleased. We're very pleased, we are convinced that, after a very thorough process, very disciplined and all together, we came up with this conclusion. We are very sure that Mikel is going to do a great job, the job that we expect from him.
 
Before we delve into what makes Mikel the right person for the job, can you take us through that process? How did it unfold?
 
Raul: Sure, sure. It's been of course led by Edu, our technical director, he's the one that made the first filter of the coaches that had the technical expertise to project in the field what we wanted from our style of football. But from there we had to define many other, very relevant, dimensions that we wanted to cover. It's been overwhelming, the big names that have offered to come to Arsenal, proving once again how admired this club is and how football people see this as an incredible opportunity. That has been really rewarding in the process. Within the possibilities that we analysed, we were clear that if we didn't find the perfect candidate then we would wait longer. But we found the perfect candidate with Mikel, he basically ticked all the boxes that we wanted to confirm, so we feel very strong about it.
 
Edu, what is it about Mikel's ideas that really excites you?
 
Edu: Almost everything, to be honest. After that, we went to talk to the candidates and to understand how they feel, and how they think about the squad and the club as well. My first conversation with Mikel by phone was fantastic. To be honest we didn't talk about the squad, we talked about what I really believe is the basis, the organisation. We talked about human beings, we talked about discipline, that was our first conversation. Then when we met after that, in a very important meeting, he started to show us his knowledge about football, his ideas...
 
Raul: His passion.
 
Edu: Yes, his passion as well, which was brilliant. His connection with the club as well was important for ourselves. So many, many things made us feel very, very comfortable with that decision.
 
So you had a real personal connection straightaway?
 
Edu: Very, very, very real, yes.
 
Raul: I would like to mention, because this is very relevant for us, the connection between the head coach and our technical director is crucial for our model. And that was one of the things that you can only know once you have the meeting in person. I was fortunate enough to witness that moment and I can assure you that the connection is absolutely there, very strong. They view things in the very same way and, of course, there are going to be discrepancies along the way, but that's healthy. The good thing is that the mutual respect, it's clear when you see them interacting together.
 
Edu: And what is nice as well is when you see all the candidates, when we started the process, all of them were very good coaches and very good people and they have a very good experience in football but we have been talking about... it's a feeling. Because when you’re in the meeting, they of course all have very good experience, and then let’s see because maybe we are going to say, ‘Oh, we have a connection’ and that started from the beginning with Mikel.

So what is it about Mikel, as a coach, as a personality, that you think makes him the right person?

Raul: I would say, globally, everything. From the beginning of the conversations to the end of the conversations, he kept exposing his approach to Arsenal, what he wanted to do, his vision on how to translate to the field on what he wanted to do in practice, and how he wanted to interact with everybody at the club. How much he understood about the teamwork, what we are about here, the people who are involved in the football decisions, but especially let’s go to the real essence: what is going to happen on the training field and ultimately at the Emirates and every game that we play. Everything that he said, everything he planned, his views that he showed us, were fantastic, they were really spot on, so the more we got to meet him, the more we got to talk to him, the stronger we were convinced. We were convinced initially, but now it is certainty almost that we have. You never know about the future, but we certainly know we have the person that ticks all the boxes to give him that responsibility for taking us where we want to be.

We have a number of people here who have a long-standing association with the club. Edu, of course, Freddie, Per, Steve Bould as well. Mikel has that connection with the club, that history with the club. How much of a factor is that, is that important?

Raul: It is very relevant. It is not a dealbreaker, but it is very important. It is an asset that only a few have and it gives him an edge, it gives him an additional step. We saw that with Edu. He has been with us for only five months, but it is like he has been here forever. The initial understanding of the club is crucial, knowing the people here at Colney and at Highbury House is very, very important. The connection with the fans is also very important. These are assets that somebody who has not been linked with this magnificent club does not have. Of course, it is something very positive, highly regarded, but as I said it is not a must-have, but it is a very nice additional asset to have.

Edu: Even for the adaptation, because for someone to come here to the big environment, a lot of people around, a lot of departments at the club, so of course he knows everything about the club so to start like that, like me, when I started here, we were at home. When we talked to him in the meetings, he knows almost everybody here already, so that is important to start with as well.
 
I mentioned Per and Freddie just briefly there, they have stepped up in recent weeks. How much respect do you have for the job they have done?

Raul: Respect falls short. Recognition, gratefulness, it has been amazing. Freddie has driven such a difficult moment, he has driven our club, he has helped us keep it safe. We are very, very pleased with the work both of them have done. As I have said, it was a very difficult moment and it was. Privilege for us to know that we had Freddie and Per helping us for this short time. Having Freddie here, having been around the squad so he knew the players, it made it very soft something that could have been extremely traumatic, so absolute recognition and as I said thankfulness for the great job they have done.

Edu: Even more because the time which we were in where we changed the coach was new for Arsenal, so we never had that before and we never had interim coaches before for history maybe. I really like the way Freddie got that responsibility because he straightaway changed and said 'I want to be there to help the club'. That is beautiful, that came from someone who loves the club and we have to respect that a lot because we know Fred and even more we have respect for him. Of course Per too, because he is our academy manager, and when Fred came to talk to us about someone to help him, he asked for Per because he knows he dressing room, he knows the club, he has a big knowledge of football as well. And Per said 'Yes, of course I am going to be there to help the club, I want to help Freddie through that period.' That means we have very nice people around, professional people, people who love the club and that is very important.
 
Raul: We knew both of them live and breathe Arsenal. We didn't need them to prove it, but they did anyway. They absolutely proved, without any doubt, that their commitment to Arsenal is beyond their job description. Let me repeat it, I'm very, very grateful for the work they have both put in.
 
Let's get back to Mikel. You like his philosophy, you like his ideas. How long does he need for those ideas to take effect?
 
Raul: I think we should look into short-term and medium or long-term. For the medium or long-term, he has a very clear path of where he wants to take us and he's gone through that with us. We see a perfect commitment on our ideas, so we're very comfortable on that sense. The short-term, or maybe the medium-term, that's the challenging one and that's why we also like very much his plan for arriving here, talking with the players. He has very clear ideas already on what changes need to be made immediately to affect our results, the sooner the better, to reach our objectives for this season.

You said last summer that the Champions League was the expectation. Now we're halfway through the season and it hasn't gone as well as planned, what are your expectations right now?
 
Raul: We're not yet halfway through the season. I make that point because we do strongly believe that we have time still to amend and to reach our objectives. It is, for the short-term, being in the Champions League because we're a Champions League club and we need to get back to where we belong. That's the Champions League. Of course that's not the ultimate ambition. We want to win titles. We are preparing the squad to do that. This is not an immediate thing. We are building a squad that can give us many, many years of glory. If you look at the age [of players] under 23, we're probably one of the strongest, if not the strongest team, in England and we are getting the right pieces to complement that, to get the whole picture. We have Edu leading that in a very good way, putting in many hours analysing not only what we have, but the market. We're confident.

January is approaching. Mikel will sit in many press conferences between now and then, and he will be asked about the transfer window, as is normal. You said last year that it's not a strategic time for us. Is that true this year as well?
 
Raul: Well it is in general. Globally, it's not the strategic window. By definition, that's the summer window. That's when you plan the season ahead. Last summer we did an incredible effort where we were very grateful for the support we got from our ownership to really go one step further and make, as I said, a real investment to increase our expectations for the season. The winter window is much more tactical. Now we're going to have conversations between Edu and Mikel to see what things we can do or what we should do. But again, the strategical window and the one that Edu and his team are always working for in the longer term is the summer window.
 
There's been an acceptance around the club that things need to improve. Can you pick out one thing that you think you've got wrong that you'd like to put right?
 
Raul: As you will recall, last season I kept saying that we were missing one crucial piece in our jigsaw which is the technical director. Unfortunately because of his job commitments to the Brazilian federation, he could not join us until after the Copa America, so he has just started and I think that's what we were missing. We need that connection from the club, as an institution, with the dressing room with a very strong bridge. That's the one that Edu will build now with Mikel. I'm very confident to the point of saying that now we know what we were missing and now we know what we have. Going back to the beginning of my explanation, after seeing them interacting together in the very early stages, you can really tell that bridge will be very solid. That's definitely going to help both sides, but especially the dressing room and the squad to perform.
 
Edu, what would you add to that?

Edu: So, as Raul said, I think we are in the moment to keep improving ourselves. I think one important part from myself is to help the club with its mentality and to change our mentality again because a team like Arsenal cannot be fighting for less than a title and the Champions League. Our club has to think like that and has to work to these ideas. We need to work like we’re working to see the team and to see the club fighting for big things. Of course, to achieve that we need a big discipline, big respect for the club, of course we need a good coach, and a good model. Now I can see we have almost everything to achieve our ideas, but of course, everybody has to push it and everybody has to work to improve every day and improve the ideas. Then, I hope we can be there as soon as possible, because as I’ve said, our idea is to be at the top. We cannot think less than that.

Raul: This winning culture, Edu has witnessed it and has experienced it here himself as a player here, so he’s the best person to know what we’re aiming for. He’s very clear on that.
 
Finally, I want to ask you about our fans. They are passionate, they love the club, they are desperate for the good times to come back. They want their Arsenal back, as they sang last year. What’s your message to them?

Raul: First of all, that we share the frustration right now. We are below our initial expectations, but this has only started and we still have time to amend. I want to share first and foremost our message of hope and of conviction that we are going to amend this and we are going to achieve our objectives. We both strongly believe that. Having said that, you were talking about the great energy of our fans. It’s incredible. What our fans can do for this team is unique and we’re counting on them. They’re improving even in those hard times we’ve been having lately. They’ve been supporting us in the Emirates and they’ve been coming to the away games and they are very, very loud. Our players and us, we all appreciate that very much. We need them. We need them more than ever. It’s easy to cheer when things are going well. It’s much more difficult to do it when things are not the way one expects. It’s outstanding the response we’re getting from them.

Edu: I think as well, to be realistic with the situation we are in now, of course, we’re not comfortable to be where we are at the moment, but we’re convinced, because as I’ve said before, we have almost everything to be again where we need to be. That’s important. The feel again, the smell again, the passion what we have inside and what they [the fans] have outside, and let’s connect again because we need them and they need us as well. So let’s work as a team, as always. I’m looking forward because I can see a beautiful future for the club.

Raul: I’d like to add to this, to complement, that I agree completely on everything you said. One of our most relevant principles and values in this club is togetherness. Togetherness in moments like this is more relevant. The unity will make us much, much stronger and the energy that our fans can bring to us is the fuel that this team needs to achieve what we all together want.

 

 

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