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Raul Sanllehi: Why Arsenal must ignore Wenger and beat Man City to Barcelona powerbroker

COMMENT: The message to Arsenal's board is simple: do it! If he objects, ignore him. If there's hysterics, blank it. This is too good an opportunity to ignore. Raul Sanllehi is in play. No matter the opinion of Arsene Wenger - Arsenal must get him to London.

At any club. Any Premier League club. The departing Barcelona football director would enhance it. Sanllehi is a talent spotter, deal maker and marketing guru rolled into one. And thanks to a US education, a fluent English speaker.

After more than 15 years with the club, news of Sanllehi leaving Barca deserved bigger and better press. And we're not talking out of sentiment. This is a man whose expertise is so valued he's survived three Barca presidencies. A football man. One who still packs his boots away in his luggage whenever he's off overseas. As comfortable inside a dressing room as he is in a boardroom. And now he's available.

It was Sanllehi's decision. After going through the regimes of Joan Laporta, Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu, and after 15 years wheeling and dealing on behalf of Barca, Sanllehi has decided on a fresh start.

The offers are there. They have been for a while. Manchester City, where good friends Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain now pull the strings, have been badgering him for 18 months. Sanllehi worked with Txiki at Barca, just as he did with Andoni Zubizarreta and current sports chief Robert Fernandez. City want to bring him to England. All that experience. All that expertise. The contacts. Even for a club of City's size and ambition, Sanllehi, as an individual, would enhance it.

In Barcelona, they say it's already a done deal. City will be his next destination. But with nothing settled, Arsenal and PSG are also being mentioned.

In Paris, despite the presence of summer appointment Antero Henrique, the link is obvious. Neymar would love to see Sanllehi running things at the Parc de Princes. For all the animosity between the Brazilian and Barca, his relationship with Sanllehi remained rock solid. It was the Barca director who, seven years ago, persuaded Neymar and his father to reject the overtures of Florentino Perez and Real Madrid and commit to the Blaugrana. And it was Sanllehi's presence who Neymar demanded in New Jersey this past summer as a final attempt was made to settle their differences.

At Arsenal, the link isn't so clear. But Sanllehi has made friends at London Colney as Barca's chief negotiator whenever there's been business to be done with the Gunners.

That management overhaul Ivan Gazidis, the chief exec, promised Gooners last summer is still being worked through. A position of technical director has been created - informally - and remains unfilled. The push back from Wenger as aggressive as it has been public.

"I don't know what director of football means," he declared in May. "Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left? I don't understand and I never did understand what it means.

"I'm the manager of Arsenal Football Club and, as long as I'm manager of Arsenal Football Club, I will decide what happens on the technical front. That's it."

But that shouldn't be it. Not when Wenger is about to enter the final 18 months - if all goes to plan - of his life as Arsenal manager. Gazidis and co must realise, even on the "technical front", they need to look beyond the Frenchman and prepare the club for a new era. And those new foundations being laid should include an attempt to bring Sanllehi to London.

If the board are genuine in their ambition to 'modernise', then bringing in Sanllehi must top their agenda. A man who can count both Neymar and Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, as friends. Who is as comfortable in a family's lounge room in Brazil talking about their son's future, as he is persuading UEFA to accept Catalan as their language of choice.

"Keeping him involved for so long has been one of the great successes," one La Masia source told Tribalfootball.com when discussing Sanllehi's commitment through several presidential polls.

At Barca, they know what they're losing. It's why Sanllehi's departure will lead to a reshuffle, with greater responsibility going to Robert and fellow GM Pep Segura. A move to bring Wouter Lambrecht in from the European Club Association as legal director is also planned. In other words, three men to cover the void Sanllehi will leave.

City? Arsenal? For this column, it'd be exciting to see Sanllehi take charge of a club the potential of West Ham. To lift their scouting. Re-organise their management structure. And put a serious, considered transfer policy in place. That's not to mention what he could do for the Irons' global profile given his successful marketing and merchandise background forged first with Nike and then with Barca.

Whatever happens. Wherever he goes. Raul Sanllehi will improve the next club he joins. You hope it's in the Premier League. And for Arsenal, you hope - this time - they won't be listening to their manager.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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