Edu will discover soon if he really did read the runes. The technical director told Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal board a couple of years back: ‘Guys, 2022-23 will be the season we are going to be much better.’
Edu’s forecast formed part of a new, five-year plan for Arsenal, devised after Unai Emery was sacked in late 2019.
Change, driven alongside Arteta, has been ruthless and expensive and, at times, painful.
‘If a guy is performing and has a big salary, that’s not a problem,’ Edu says. ‘When the player is 26-plus, big salary and he’s not performing, he’s killing you.
‘You don’t have a valuation to sell the player, the player is comfortable — Arsenal, London, beautiful, everything is fantastic — and a good salary. How many players with that kind of characteristics did we have in the past? Eighty per cent of the squad.’
Not any more. On Edu’s watch, around 40 players have been shipped out. Some, including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil, were paid to leave. Several more will go this summer.
Since last year, 10 outfield players have arrived. None older than 25.
‘Try to avoid one more year with the problem in the dressing room,’ Edu says. ‘Take it out. Even if you have to pay because that guy is sometimes blocking someone.’ He considers it an investment.
‘How many players in the squad have those characteristics today?’ Edu says. ‘Now, as part of the plan, we create value in our players because I don’t want to face that situation many times more. Now, if someone wants, say, Gabriel — OK, come here. No problem.
‘If we sell Bukayo Saka — that’s not going to happen but it’s just an example — we as a club have to prepare his replacement straight away. Someone has to be in the squad or we have to manage the market well.’
That scenario is not unthinkable, given Saka has yet to agree a new deal amid interest from clubs including Manchester City. ‘It’s normal,’ Edu insists. ‘He’s happy, we’re happy, so it’s just: sit down and find a solution.’
Edu was speaking in Orlando, shortly before Arsenal’s pre-season tour ended with an impressive victory over Chelsea. Oleksandr Zinchenko, their fifth summer signing, made his debut in the 4-0 win.
‘A club like Arsenal is not building to fight for fourth place, I’m sorry,’ says Edu, 44, who first signed for Arsenal as a player in 2001 before returning to be technical director in 2019. ‘We cannot accept it. That’s why I was really, really hurt when I arrived.
‘I said, ‘That’s not the mentality of this football club. What is happening? Everybody is comfortable, everybody is OK, OK, OK…’ F*** you. ‘OK’? No. I don’t want to lose games.’
Edu adds: ‘I want to see the physios, the masseurs, the scouts, everyone with that kind of feeling: ‘F****** hell, now we are going to really go for things’. And I think we are changing, we are putting good mentality in the squad.’
Last season, Arsenal’s push to return to the Champions League — one year ahead of schedule — fell apart.
‘I felt in some important moments we needed players like those we are signing,’ Edu says. ‘We need a bigger squad with personalities, with some behaviours that say, ‘I will kill someone but I don’t lose the game’.’
Hence why character ranks above all else in Arsenal’s scouting. Winning is now a habit for players like Gabriel Jesus, with whom Edu worked while he was general co-ordinator of Brazil.
‘I said, “Gabriel, I’m here to try to sign you. But not the Gabriel from this season”,’ Edu recalls. ‘You’ve lost your shine’.’ The forward’s reply? ‘You’re right.’
Not everyone can be persuaded. Both Lisandro Martinez and Raphinha went elsewhere this summer and Edu once walked away from a deal after money kept cropping up in talks with a player at Borussia Dortmund. ‘If I smell something wrong — ‘Thank you very much’, I go,’ he says.
Without them, Arsenal’s five-year plan approaches crunch time. They veered on to this new path after Emery left in November 2019. Not long after walking into Arteta’s house, Edu knew he was the perfect fit to be the new boss.
‘We had a great relationship straight away,’ he says.
The plan should bear fruit this season. Unfortunately, Arsenal’s top-four rivals are strengthening, too. ‘It is difficult, which is why we have to be realistic. But also, why not? They may be good teams but they are not unbeaten like 2003-04,’ laughs Edu, a member of that Invincibles side.
‘I learned from Arsene Wenger,’ the Brazilian says. ‘He tried to look after you and your family. He was focused on taking care of people.’
Edu’s attempts to emulate Wenger’s on-field success go on.