Monchi Arsenal

Last time we spoke I came to you detailing the qualities of former winger and Gunners cult hero Marc Overmars. As current technical director at Ajax, Overmars has made a name for himself off the pitch. Certainly, he would bring the qualities Arsenal not only want for the new role but need. But recent reports in MARCA, Calciomercato, and other outlets have given fresh optimism that Monchi will be on his way to Arsenal. Has Sven Mislintat’s replacement truly been identified?

An underwhelming playing career

Like so many big names in the game, Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo’s playing career was one of relative obscurity.

Born in San Fernando, Verdejo is a born and bred Andalusian. To his credit, he navigated and subsequently graduated from Sevilla’s youth academy. But despite some measure of promise shown during his development, the local goalkeeper spent his 11-year career with the club as no more than a squad option and backup.

He would go on to retire in 1999 at the age of 30, but his ‘football footprint’ was about to begin. A year after he hung his boots, Sevilla failed to avoid relegation from La Liga and were in the midst of a financial crisis. Monchi was soon after appointed the new sporting director, kicking off a career at board level that few have matched.

Taking care of his own

Upon accepting his new role at Sevilla, Monchi was tasked with putting the club back on track both financially and on the pitch. It was the perfect place for him to perfect his philosophies.

It wasn’t until 2002-03 where Monchi made his first of countless under-the-radar purchases; Dani Alves from EC Bahia for just €500k. Before Alves arrived on Spanish soil, a son of Sevilla was already being nurtured at the club; José Antonio Reyes.

Though Reyes continues to divide opinion in north London to this day, he is cherished in the city of his birth. It was his €20million sale to Arsenal in 2003 that helped Monchi begin his work in earnest.

Reyes’ departure gave Monchi some semblance of spending power in the market. The result were the signings of 22-year-old Júlio Baptista (€3.5million from São Paulo) in 2003, and 20-year-old Adriano (€2.1million from Coritiba FC) in 2004.

Monchi continued to promote youth development via the academy as well. Sergio Ramos, Jesús Navas, and Antonio Puerta all broke into the first-team.

Selling high and spending low was becoming a highly effective habit he had developed. The summer of 2005 provided the first example of this. Both Ramos and Baptista were sold to Real Madrid for a combined €47million; a profit of 1300%.

That money did not go to waste, either. Monchi negotiated the market incredibly well and eventually, Sevilla would be the destination of Luís Fabiano, Frédéric Kanouté, Ivica Dragutinovic, Julien Escudé, and Andrés Palop. Each of those players would become vital to Sevilla’s success. All would feature prominently during the run to their first-ever Europa League win that very same year.

Sevilla’s turn-around was complete.

Success begets greater success

The Europa League win during the 2005-06 season was Sevilla’s first taste of major silverware since 1945. Monchi received a great deal of credit for their success, and the same would take place when they won it again the following season.

Monchi was at it again in the summer between the pair of continental successes. The acquisitions of Schalke’s Christian Poulsen, and Club Ferro’s Federico Fazio for a grand total of €800k, once again paid off in spades.

The rotating door of talent would continue to remain open in the south of Spain, and it wouldn’t be until the 2013-14 season where the taste of silver would be experienced once more.

Former Valencia CF and UD Almería boss Unai Emery was brought into the club in January of 2013. After a failed stint in Russia at Spartak Moscow, the Basque headmaster was looking for a bit of revival of his own. The soon-to-bud relationship between Emery and Monchi would be the tonic to cure all ills.

At the beginning of his first full season in charge, Emery – together with Monchi – would bid farewell to a swath of talent. Álvaro Negredo and Jesús Navas would both depart for Manchester City for €45million. Geoffrey Kondogbia, purchased from RC Lens for just €4milion the season prior, was sold on for five times that figure. Gary Medel went off to Cardiff, while homegrown product Luis Alberto was jettisoned to Anfield. Monchi would respond with signings that would return the Europa League to Sevilla.

The crucial business conducted that resulted in purchases for Carlos Bacca, Kévin Gameiro, and Vicente Iborra set in motion a period of dominance under Emery’s management. Monchi remained loyal to his market approach during the entirety of Emery’s tenure. On only two occasions while at Sevilla did he eclipse €10million in spending on one player; the aforementioned Bacca, and Ciro Immobile.

Monchi’s market approach and Emery’s system culminated in three-straight Europa League wins. Though they were not challenging domestically, this modus operandi was still highly successful.

Monchi and Moneyball

It was during this period where it became clear that a staunch principle of “Moneyball” was at the heart of his philosophy to squad building. In a 2014 article for ESPN, Spain correspondent Graham Hunter, in an interview with Monchi, shed some light on how Sevilla were able to build a squad to compete in Europe.

Last year we really needed to sell because we were coming off the back of two pretty disastrous seasons economically and there was a debt of about €22million,” Monchi said. “If a club like ours is even slightly badly run or planned and faces a debt like that, then there’s a fair chance that it’ll sink them, and they’ll never properly rise to this level again.

The problem is that because we sell well, clubs try to make us pay over the top for their players – but those clubs don’t realize how much we are committed to paying in salaries. For example, for a club like ours to have players like Bacca, or Marko Marin or Kévin Gameiro, the quality of player that other equivalent clubs don’t and can’t get, we have to offer pretty high average salaries.

That means that often when we sell players it’s not to reinvest in signings or the club, it’s to pay some of the salary bill. These days it’s not feasible to have the salary bill we had when we signed or renewed Dani Alves, Freddie Kanouté, or Luis Fabiano.

So, we have to reinvent ourselves.

One would have wondered – at the time – how Sevilla tangled with debt issues if they had negotiated the market so well. Buying low and selling high worked quite well, after all. As it had turned out, the debt accrued came from high wage bills. Selling assets for high fees provided financial relief and then the cycle continued.

For this to work on a yearly basis, Monchi had to deliver consistently to keep the first-team supplied with talent of a requisite level while not setting Sevilla’s financial situation ablaze. Moneyball principles were at the heart of everything Monchi had moulded at the club.

The market in football is questionably inflated. It is a problem that has persisted and worsened in recent years. A Forbes interview with Omar Chaudhuri, Head of Football intelligence for UK-based 21st Club, focused on the growing trend of finding hidden talent at low cost that can produce requisite performance levels on the pitch. In other words, Moneyball.

Chaudhuri mentioned stat analysis bias that exists depending on the league in question, but also how player valuation fluctuates. He cited that a single goal scored at the 2018 World Cup saw a 15% increase in a player’s market value, regardless of how they got on at club level. Premier League player premium was also mentioned, despite there being little correlation between Premier League experience and better performance over players from outside leagues.

A university study conducted in Norway in 2017 – titled Wage expenditures and sporting success – also supported Monchi’s approach to wages. The main findings of the analysis concluded;

…there is a significant correlation between wage expenditures and the sporting success measured in terms of final league standing and results in cup competitions.

Generally, our findings indicate that wage expenditures seem to have a smaller impact on sporting success in Norway and Sweden than in the bigger European leagues (e.g. England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Monchi was right on the money (I do love a good pun).

The combination of finding players at low(er) market value – often from smaller leagues, or smaller clubs in Europe’s top echelon – and then offering higher wages to seal contract negotiations was at the very heart of Sevilla’s Europa League success.

To date, Monchi has dealt with clubs from 20 different countries across Europe, South America, and North America. He has often targeted value players at smaller clubs, and when he does deal with bigger club profiles, he finds market bargains or unwanted assets. During his career, he has spent more than €20million on only two occasions. Impressive, to say the least.

Monchi and the Eternal City

The summer of 2016 saw the beginning of the end of the love affair between Monchi and Sevilla. Unai Emery had taken a monumental leap in his career in taking up a new post at Paris-Saint Germain, breaking up the formidable pair. Monchi requested to leave the club during this same period but was told by the board it would not be allowed unless he paid his buyout clause.

He would eventually leave the club in April 2017, and in that same month, signed for AS Roma. He immediately went to work doing what he does best; sell high to buy low.

The sales of Mohamed Salah, Antonio Rüdiger, and Leandro Paredes fetched Roma €100million. Other residual sales of 11 players added a further €54million to the accounts.

Monchi would look to buy younger, lower-priced talent that he always had; not to forget player potential as well. Rick Karsdorp (Feyenoord), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Sassuolo), and a loan deal for eventual signing Patrik Schick (Sampdoria) highlighted his first summer at the club.

The crown jewel in the opening months of his Roma tenure came when he closed the deal for Istanbul Başakşehir’s Cengiz Ünder. The combined outlay for the four youngsters was €42million. Brilliant business indeed, with undoubted financial benefits down the road if/when any of them were sold.

Other signings took place as well; eight in fact. Veteran players the likes of Héctor Moreno, Maxime Gonalons, Aleksandar Kolarov, and Federico Fazio were also brought in. It was a typical Monchi summer if there ever was one that saw Roma finish second in Serie A in the resulting 2016-17 campaign.

Monchi would repeat the blueprint this past summer. Three big sales – Alisson (Liverpool), Radja Nainggolan (Inter Milan), and Kevin Strootman (Olympique Marseille) were cashed in for €125million, not including residual sales. The same combination of promising youth and established role players were brought to Rome yet again.

Patrik Schick was officially purchased, while Nicolò Zaniolo, Bryan Cristante, Ante Coric, and Justin Kluivert comprised the second wave of young talent coming into the club in as many summers. The promotion of Luca Pellegrini from the U19’s should not be forgotten either.

Matthew Santangelo of Football Italia and These Footy Times, who has featured for the Guardian and AS Roma, was kind enough to give me his thoughts on Monchi’s tenure;

Monchi’s scouting philosophy and approach focuses on finding value, regardless of region. Casting a wide net in an effort to secure value and talent versus splashing heavily on recognizable names. The former Sevilla director has a keen eye and sense of the market, and how to budget in clubs with relatively moderate financial restraints. Cengiz Ünder for roughly €13million from Istanbul Başakşehir is one of the shrewdest signings of late as it shows the depth of his network, eye for talent, and value that can easily balloon in short time. Over two seasons, Roma could easily demand €50-60million for Ünder based on his growth, skill set and ability to show up in the Champions League.

On the surface, it does look like Pallotta hired Monchi to help lay the foundation for a sustainable model. You won’t see Roma make any large signings without selling. They sold Salah, bought Schick. Sold Alisson, spread the money around on plenty of new faces like Kluivert, Cristante, and N’Zonzi.

When asked about Monchi’s relationship with the Roma hierarchy and whether or not Monchi has carte blanche or is following a club directive…

Roma is in a weird spot because they still have to monitor their finances closely and will probably sell a piece again this summer. My guess is either Manolas (release clause is cheap in today’s market) or Ünder. Pallotta does allow him freedom but at the end of the day, Monchi understands well the financial position of the club. There is real understanding.

Despite the size and pedigree of Roma both domestically and around the continent, Monchi’s tried and tested methods developed at the Sevilla proving grounds had proved highly effective at a higher level. But could it and work it work in the Premier League…

A Spanish triumvirate at Arsenal

The wealth of evidence comfortably resting in Monchi’s corner is – by and large – irrefutable. His track record is excellent. Like anyone in his line of work, Mislintat included, there will be questionable decisions and outright failures. But the vast majority of his growing catalogue of successes undoubtedly qualifies him for the new role at Arsenal.

By now it’s clear that, under Kroenke hegemony, Arsenal will be a club run under a directive of self-sustainability. Mislintat suited this to the ground, as does Overmars. The good news, as we have already amply pointed out, is Monchi clearly does as well.

On if Monchi would suit taking up office space at London Colney, Matthew Santangelo again weighed in;

If a club like Arsenal prefers to go the route of more calculated spending risks moving forward, versus splashing and trying to compete with the likes of City, United, and Liverpool, then Monchi could be the right guy for the job. Arsenal could be forced into a limited spending summer and need to sell better moving forward. Monchi can lure in an expensive talent like Kluivert that is well known in Europe, while also making the sneak signing of a little-known talent with the potential to turn a profit down the line.

At Sevilla, and now currently with Roma, the financial status of the clubs was highlighted in his transfer order of battle. Sevilla needed to avoid slipping into a financial coma while Roma had to run a fine line. But while our operating on a smaller budget compared to our rivals will hardly come as a culture shock to him, the current state of our squad is another question.

One of the hallmarks we saw take hold during Monchi’s time at Sevilla, and then adopted immediately when he took up his post in Rome, was the selling of big-assets for high fees. This did not take hold until a few years into his tenure in the south of Spain but did so in the Italian capital. This is a potential problem that may well crop up should he trade the Appian Way for Piccadilly Circus.

Unlike his previous charges, Arsenal are amidst the fact that their most capable first-team assets in terms of ability are all heading into the latter stages of their careers. Of these prime players, only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette can fetch substantial financial returns. The nature of Mesut Özil’s contract rules him out completely, as does – likely – Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s, while Lauren Koscielny is – quite literally – on his final legs. This would leave Monchi, Emery, and Sanllehi in a bit of a quandary.

Should the idea of selling in the summer come to pass (much of this is based off whether we reacquire Champions League football), then it is likely that we would have to bid farewell to a younger, more promising asset? Lucas Torreira or Granit Xhaka come to mind.

The futures of Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith-Rowe could also come under the microscope. Both are promising young players that could – when surveying the market of comparable talent – fetch a sizable combined fee. This is an unfortunate reality of adhering to a sustainable structure. But if anyone could negotiate the market after having to jettison first-team assets, it’s Monchi.

One would assume that, in using his vast network of contacts (something that Sanllehi champions), that replacement signings akin to our recent deals for Torreira and Guendouzi would be forthcoming.

While this may not sit well large sections of the fanbase who still clamour for big name/money signings, stretching your bank account to add value for money in multiple areas would keep us in better financial standing. It would also allow us to utilise a tried and tested method of Monchi’s of buying valued talent for lower fees but tempting them with a higher wage packet than other potential suitors can offer.

Regardless of what happens moving forward, the club – particularly Sanllehi – must do its utmost to land in a position of strength in the market if they are to progress on the pitch. Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo provides that in spades.