Ian Herbert: Frantic deadline-day transfer business by Arsenal and Manchester United shows value of a technical director

Manchester City began working on this summer’s transfer window in October

Ian Herbert
Wednesday 03 September 2014 13:11 BST
Danny Welbeck was signed by Arsenal at the last minute amid chaos about who his agent was
Danny Welbeck was signed by Arsenal at the last minute amid chaos about who his agent was

A lot of names popped up in that frantic finale to the transfer window, including one who went on national radio claiming to be Danny Welbeck’s agent. The player says he has never heard of him. But it was two quiet men who showed the way at Manchester City and Chelsea – the clubs whose summer business demonstrated to Manchester United and Arsenal that deadline-day chaos is not the only way of doing things.

They were City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain and the Chelsea technical director, Michael Emenalo. Their clubs’ calm pursuit of targets established long before the transfer window opened provided a contrast to the opportunism of Arsenal – who took Welbeck on a five-year deal after he presented himself at their London Colney training ground, seemingly to seek sanctuary from the prospect of signing for Tottenham – and Manchester United.

Begiristain – a gregarious Spaniard and former Barcelona winger – has never given a British media interview and Emenalo keeps an equally low profile, but both deconstruct the notion that technical directors are an unnecessary interference in English football. City owe the success of their system to Brian Marwood, who helped Abu Dhabi to establish the structure. Five years ago he brought in players who caused City to be decried as big spending but whose purchase seems like good value now. Yaya Touré cost £24m, approximately the same price United have paid out for a season of Falcao’s services.

The director of football model went pear-shaped during what can only be described as City’s “Italian period” – the Roberto Mancini years, when he demanded poor value purchases such as Javi Garcia and Maicon. But the relationship between Manuel Pellegrini and Begiristain has been a different story. City began work on this summer’s transfer market last October and secured each of the targets they had laid out – Bacary Sagna, Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando. Everton’s Ross Barkley was identified as a desirable further addition, though the packages that City were confronted with – £50m at one stage – reflected the huge difficulties attached to buying the best British players.

It has been a similar picture at Chelsea, where Emenalo and Marina Granovskaia – Roman Abramovich’s senior adviser, who joined the board last summer – create the same capacity to initiate rapid and pre-planned player acquisitions. When Jose Mourinho arrived back at the club last summer, some doubted whether Emenalo had a future at Stamford Bridge, but he has established a working relationship with the Portuguese which saw the club make the early move for Diego Costa. The striker’s immediate impact has left Arsenal’s supporters wondering why they were not in that particular picture.

They have signed Welbeck instead. Though there is potential for him to resolve the relative lack of goals that haunted him at United – if Arsène Wenger only plays him through the centre – there was real chaos about his acquisition. He says he has never heard of Jonathan Hope, the man who went on the BBC to talk about how he was brokering the deal.

United executive Ed Woodward delivered the kind of squad that Louis van Gaal, now on holiday, will believe he can work with. But figures by the Sporting Intelligence website show that the club paid out a net £122m this summer, over £70m more than the second biggest spenders, Arsenal. Running one of the biggest clubs in the world and developing the relationships with football people that are integral to squad restructuring is a tall order for one man.

Some at United feel that Van Gaal could not work with a technical director. But his successful relationship with Marcel Brands, now at PSV Eindhoven and technical director at AZ Alkmaar during the Dutchman’s successful period there, reveals a precedent. “Van Gaal is not that hot on buying players,” says one Dutch source. At Arsenal, the respected chief scouted Steve Rowley, a Wenger contemporary, provides the know-how. But it takes an eternity to make a decision. The quiet men showed this summer that there is another way.

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