How Edu Can Bring Success to Arsenal Again
Edu was reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad when Gilberto Silva said to him: “You will become a manager in the future. You have the perfect profile.” Almost two decades later his then-Arsenal teammate’s prophecy has been proved right. Edu has returned to the club as technical director tasked with restoring the success he enjoyed there as a player, including as a member of 2003-04’s Invincibles.
Edu may not be a manager in the traditional English sense but his management and executive skills have earned him three technical director roles since he gave up playing. The midfielder retired while with Corinthians in December 2010 and three months later received an unexpected invitation to take that position at the Brazilian club.
“He didn’t know what to do after he stopped playing football,” says Duílio Monteiro Alves, one of the directors who invited Edu to work for the São Paulo side. “However, he had all the qualities to become a great director. He is very different: polite, speaks many languages and has great experience in Europe. It was the best choice.”
The first months were testing, though. Corinthians had great players such as Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos but had been eliminated from the Copa Libertadores a month earlier after a painful defeat by the Colombian club Tolima. One of his first aims was to restore calm to the dressing room and explain to the squad how he would operate.
“When he took over he was very clear,” recalls Chicão, the club’s former defender and captain. “He said that he was a director but he would remain a friend to the players, that he would work hard to bring peace to our team. We couldn’t bring these problems on to the pitch. He promised this and did it.”
Edu formed a great partnership with the coach, Tite. Together they won the Copa Libertadores, Brazilian championship, Club World Cup, Paulista championship and the Recopa. It earned the pair promotion to the national team in 2016, working alongside Sylvinho, a former colleague of Edu’s at Arsenal, and Matheus Bachi, Tite’s son.
“Edu knows how to delegate roles,” says Bachi. “The first time I worked with him he asked me to write a report. I did it very well and from then I earned his trust. We were a team. We had a staff to analyse any potential talents for Corinthians. He read the reports, studied all the players and then gave a list to Tite to decide who to sign. Everyone had their input into the decision.”
Mauri Lima, a Corinthians goalkeeper coach under Edu, was also impressed. “He was the best at organising everything in the background and creating a good atmosphere for our players to shine. When he won the Club World Cup in 2012 with Corinthians I called him to congratulate him on his amazing work. At Corinthians we worked together for six years. He oversaw a revolution. I’ve never seen a bad relationship between him and any coach. He has the confidence of the president, players and all members of staff.”
When Edu left Corinthians to take up the role with Brazil, he was criticised by Andrés Sanchez, the club’s president. Sanchez, when questioned by the Observer about his stance, says: “I don’t talk about him. Let him be happy.”
The friendship ended when Edu’s new job was announced a few days after he had denied he was negotiating a deal with the Brazilian football federation, the CBF.
As a coordinator for the CBF, Edu was less successful. Brazil’s youth teams underperformed, eliminated early in the South American Under-17 and Under-20 championships in 2019 despite being full of talented prospects. Two years ago the Under-20s failed to qualify for the World Cup. Before Edu the youth teams could call on three technical scouts, whereas now there is one professional. For one year under his control the Under-20s did not have a coach.
For the senior team the problems started with the organisation for the 2018 World Cup. Selecting Brazil’s training base in Sochi created a problem because of the long distances to each match. During the group stage Brazil clocked up 7,000km, more than three times that of Argentina.
Edu was widely criticised for seeming to pander to their star player, Neymar. At the end of the World Cup Edu said: “It isn’t easy to be Neymar. It’s very hard. He is a little boy. Sorry, he is an athlete. He is an athlete that deserves my praise.” He added: “I feel pity for him in some moments, because what this boy suffers isn’t easy.”
Rogério Caboclo, the CBF president, lost confidence in Edu and the switch to Arsenal was timely for both parties. To many the challenge for Edu at the Emirates is harder than at Corinthians and with Brazil, because of the state of the Premier League club. For the third year in a row Arsenal have failed to qualify for the Champions League and they conspicuously lack the financial power of rivals.
Yet in Edu’s native Brazil there are key figures in the game who believe he can help create an environment to improve Arsenal. The former Corinthians president Roberto de Andrade says: “Edu knows the business very well, the game and everything around it. I think he can do something different. In Brazil it’s harder than working in England. Like Arsenal we didn’t have so much money and he helped us to form a great team.”
Gilberto agrees but calls for patience. “It’s worrying when you can’t compete with other clubs for good players but Arsenal need to sign around three or four players,” he says. “A big difference from the national team, he will now face daily pressure. You play every week and you are tested every day. But little by little he will adapt.”
Edu’s appointment has the approval of Arsène Wenger, and Gilberto sees similarities with his former manager. “Arsène doesn’t like to rush decisions. He had his own style, he took care of everything. All was very measured, despite having so many things to consider. I see the same in Edu. He is very careful and calculates every step. I think he will have success at Arsenal.”
The job reunites Edu with Unai Emery, the pair having worked together at Valencia in 2008-09. The club then had David Villa, David Silva, Marchena and Raúl Albiol but Edu was one of the most important voices. “He is a real leader,” says the former Valencia goalkeeper Renan. “Because of his history and daily attitude, he has that impact .”
The Guardian Sport