Arsenal’s new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat spoke to German publication kicker about his new role.
Lewis Ambrose has translated the interview for us, see below.
Note: If you’re a publication using this translation, please credit Arseblog News with a link back to the original article.
On Friday you started your job at Arsenal, on Saturday there was already a game against Man Utd. Have you had time to realise what drastic changes there are in your life, Mr. Mislintat?
I was already made aware the last time I walked through the Dortmund office – or my last home games against Tottenham and Schalke. It hurts to say goodbye, but I’m curios about what comes now. It’s a conflicting feeling.
Why start at Arsenal in the middle of the season?
You have to leave your old club cleanly and start at the new one with a bit of time. October, November, December are the best times. It’s the quietest time for transfers. You’re there to build a portfolio (of targets) and it isn’t yet (the time for) decision-making.
The Premier League considers itself the strongest in the world. Rightly so?
The chance to find out will be very interesting. I saw games in England where I wouldn’t recommend a player from either side to Dortmund. On the other hand, Arsenal dominated in Cologne for 70 minutes even though Arsene Wenger had rotated the entire eleven from the derby against Tottenham. It’s hard to say if the Premier League really is the league all others should be measured against. At the very top the Spanish clubs have won the important trophies in recent years, not the English ones.
What do Arsenal expect from their new ‘head of recruitment’?
When I check the press in England and Germany, people probably think I’ll find an (Ousmane) Dembele in every transfer window. I’ve been put on an inconceivably high pedestal.
You’ve been billed as a ‘transfer-guru’. Are you under more pressure than at Borussia Dortmund?
When I started at Dortmund, the most that was asked of me was whether I could do analysis or opposition analysis well enough. I was lucky to start at the beginning of a new era.
In what way?
I had ways to develop myself that wouldn’t have existed had I arrived at a club with an strong structure. I could establish myself and grow into my role. Today Arsenal have signed me with brutal expectations, it’s impossible not to be aware of that.
So: With Mislintat, everything will just fall into place?
Signing me isn’t a guarantee that you’ll make good transfers. That needs an outstanding team who are driven, hard-working and really really on top of the task to find the next Ousmane Dembele or Dan-Axel Zagadou.
In future will you look at different markets than up until now?
Definitely in England, where we haven’t closely looked at Dortmund, other than at youth level. The Premier League is my ‘local market’ now. Beyond that it depends on conversations with Arsene and the sporting needs of the club. Which qualities, characters should we sign? Which replacements are needed? Which contracts are expiring? Firstly I need to figure out how things currently stand and learn the philosophy to exactly deliver Arsene what is needed.
Your reputation is for finding young, promising talents for Dortmund. Will your task change at a club as rich as Arsenal?
I can’t completely assess that just yet. Arsenal are already a club that resembles the transfer approach of Dortmund.
Will the club go another way because Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea simply have more to spend?
Or perhaps because Arsenal want to…
Spending huge sums of money is up to the owner’s approach and Arsene Wenger’s.
Will you assist Arsene Wenger directly?
Of course, and gladly. Arsene and CEO Ivan Gazidis are the people I’ll report to.
Wenger was divisive early in the year. Isn’t it inevitable a manager of 21 years will be worn out?
Sir Alex Ferguson was in his job longer. At the end of May, Wenger won the cup. For the seventh time in 21 years. On top of his three league title wins. I find it really difficult to deny his success. I’m excited to work with him! I can only learn from someone who has proven his quality over decades.
Jens Lehmann is part of the coaching team at Arsenal and Per Mertesacker will lead the youth academy from the summer. You’re head of recruitment. Why is German know-how so popular?
I don’t know but I have nothing against it. The setup will definitely make communicating easier for me to begin with.
Did you feel like a ‘secret boss’ at Dortmund, as Stern once wrote?
That completely goes against my philosophy. If you ask anyone from my old team, nobody will say: Sven is the boss. I’m a clear advocate for open communication on an equal footing, complete honesty and hard analysis – that’s my behaviour. That’s what made my old department at Dortmund so good.
The conflict with Thomas Tuchel incited your departure from Dortmund. With hindsight, are you thankful?
There are a lot of things I’d have preferred not to happen. The same probably goes for Thomas Tuchel. Ultimately, it harmed all of us.
In the statement about your move…
…that topic has already become too big. I only said that that time instigated thoughts that I could still do something different. There was not one ‘bad’ reason to leave Dortmund. Only that I didn’t want to look back at 65 and wonder what could’ve happened with Arsenal and in London.
Did Borussia Dortmund do everything to keep you?
I think so. I’m not mad at anyone. The opposite: I find what Hans-Joachim Watzke said at the AGM incredibly bold. To take responsibility for this development during such a difficult phase for the club, he has my utmost respect. By allowing me to leave, Watzke and Michael Zorc gave my work over recent years the highest recognition.
Watzke says letting you go is the result of his mistake that you were treated ‘like an outsider’ for 18 months. Was this acknowledged too late?
Only too late in the public. Internally, there were talks between him and myself – also between Zorc and myself – quite a bit earlier. We all made our peace on this issue. There’s a strong understanding on both sides.
Had you hoped for more support when Tuchel banned you from the training ground and refused you access to the team?
That’s not possible in professional football.
Counter-question: what would come of it?
A clash between Zorc/Watzke and Tuchel.
Exactly, I shouldn’t be that important.
So does this apply to you: No prophet is accepted in his own land?
That’s too harsh, far too strongly worded. What is often true is this: the recognition comes later in the place you you grew up.
In your 11 years there were a few dozen transfers you were involved in. Which players did you have to fight for the most?
If we’re talking about the transfers I was most pigheadedly stubborn: Shinji Kagawa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Thomas Kroth had tipped us off. Then there was Sven Mislintat, who hadn’t been in the job very long, advising his bosses: ‘there’s a Japanese guy in their second division, let’s sign him!’
I had to do a lot of persuading. We were in Japan six times to watch him. Kagawa signed for just €350,000.
We scouted him as Robert Lewandowski’s replacement but in our eyes he wasn’t that. He really didn’t embody Lewandowski’s strengths, because he’s a completely different type of striker. So it took longer to make the decision to sign him, initially to play out wide.
Which transfers didn’t come to fruition and left you annoyed?
The trouble between Tuchel and myself was ignited over Oliver Torres from Atletico Madrid. He’s a genius in possession and I wanted to sign him. For me he’s one of the best ‘numbers eights’ with the ball, he orientates himself excellently, albeit with small weaknesses. For me, with half a year to prepare, he was the perfect Ilkay Gundogan replacement.
Critics say the current BVB squad hasn’t been put together in a very balanced manner. Do you leave Dortmund with a bad feeling that you were very involved building the squad?
I’m leaving with a worse feeling than when I first requested to leave. We were top of the league then.
Can you imagine returning to Dortmund at some point?
I was born in Dortmund, I’m a Dortmund kid, I studied here. Of course I won’t rule it out but I’m not leaving with the intention to return. I’m following my path to develop further and I want to keep learning. At Arsenal I want to do the very best job I can do. I’m excited for the challenge and can easily imagine myself at Arsenal, in London, for 10, 12 years as long as my family and I feel at home there.
Is there an agreement, as Dortmund allowed you to leave, that you won’t sign any Dortmund players?
No. I have the utmost respect for my old club. In all aspects. But, the fact is, we’re rivals now.
In 2018 you could be returning in the Europa League. Will that turn into mixed emotions?
Firstly, I’d be so excited to go to the stadium that was my living room for 11 years. But let’s be clear: after that, I’ll want my new club to win.
What are you most afraid of as you start in London – driving on the left or football at Christmas as a father and family man?
For my first year I’m lucky: we play on 22nd December against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and then not again until 28th December. Then Arsenal play on New Year’s Eve.