Arsenal continue backroom revamp with ex-Barca man
Arsenal have appointed Raul Sanllehi, the former Barcelona director of football, to a new position as head of football relations to complete the club's biggest off-field overhaul since Arsene Wenger became manager 21 years ago.
Sanllehi's arrival follows Sven Mislintat's appointment last week from Borussia Dortmund to be head of recruitment, the summer additions of Huss Fahmy from Team Sky cycling as contract negotiator, and Darren Burgess from Australian rules as director of high performance.
Former goalkeepers Jens Lehmann and Sal Bibbo were also added to the first-team coaching staff this year, while captain Per Mertesacker has agreed to become the academy manager next season after he retires from playing.
The changes are by far the most wide-ranging since Wenger arrived at the club in 1996 and, although they are part of a plan to strengthen the infrastructure and support around the manager ahead of his eventual departure, the Frenchman has agreed to them.
Wenger signed a new two-year contract in May and despite the intense debate among fans about his future, there has been no sign of him losing enthusiasm for the job.
How Wenger works with Sanllehi, Mislintat, Fahmy and chief executive Ivan Gazidis, however, will clearly shape his longer-term future.
Wenger, who is 68 and will break Alex Ferguson's record for Premier League games this season, has always remained all-powerful as manager.
Significantly, he retains the absolute support of majority owner Stan Kroenke, who has also encouraged Gazidis to invest in the football support staff.
Wenger said last night that Mislintat's "international experience" was key to his appointment and that he would work directly with him, rather than Gazidis.
The manager also stressed Sanllehi was someone he knew well.
"I know them all because I've been in the game before them," he said. "We looked for somebody who has experience in negotiations. We have Huss, who is top drawer, but there was still a need."
Sanllehi, who was instrumental in the signings of Neymar and Luis Suarez, will begin work after the January transfer window.
Gazidis began the search for a sporting director figure to work alongside Wenger during the second half of last season.
Wenger openly mocked the director-of-football title this year - and it is noticeable that a different job description has been found for Sanllehi - but he will effectively replace transfer negotiator Dick Law.
The manager, meanwhile, revealed that shedding weight had helped Petr Cech this season.
"He gets older but I think he is fitter than ever," said Wenger of his 35-year-old goalkeeper. "He is slimmer than before and I think he benefits from that. He has lost some weight, two, three kilos only."
©The Daily Telegraph