Interview Left Arsenal after 24-year stay
Courtesy of ‘El Progreso’
The list of stars discovered by Francis Cagigao is almost endless.
The former scout discovered the likes of Lauren, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Vela, Hector Bellerin, Robin van Persie and Gabriel Martinelli, yet after 24 years with Arsenal the partnership between scout and club has been broken up.
Now, Cagigao has sat down with MARCA to discuss his time in north London.
How do you feel leaving Arsenal after almost a quarter of century?
I have taken it naturally. When I came to the club 24 years ago, I never thought it would last that long. There is a reason for everything in life and also a beginning and end; you have to accept it. Right now, I’m thinking more about the future than the past. I feel privileged to have worked in an institution that contributed a lot to me and I also was able to add to a little.
The club has fired 50 staff members, despite being one of the richest in the world. How can this be explained?
That’s not a question for me, it has to go to others. Sometimes we focus a lot on why things happen when it is simply the harsh reality of life. There are things that do not have explanations and others that, even trying to explain them, can’t be understood. I have reached an exit agreement and now I have to move forward.
You worked with Arsene Wenger for 21 years. Did you ever feel he was walking on a tightrope at the club?
I never felt like he was on a tightrope, although in the end there were some tense moments. What he did at Arsenal and what [Sir Alex] Ferguson did at [Manchester] United is almost unrepeatable. He is a legend, someone who is very capable and was an unknown when he arrived. He left a legend.
What aspects of the French coach aren’t well known?
Arsene is competitive, an intelligent person who knows how to listen and reflect. He surrounded himself with very good people and knew how to embrace the culture and traditions of both Arsenal and English football, and then make progressive changes. He was methodical and always knew what to do with every step he took. He had a very important competitive gene; without that then it’s impossible to achieve such longevity in a league as difficult as the Premier League. Perhaps something that wasn’t reflected in his image was his sense of humour and that he was in love with the recruitment process. Global scouting started with him 24 years ago. I was interested in working with young people and seeing them develop.
With Wenger, sometimes you had the perception that the team played very well but couldn’t win titles. Was that feeling accurate?
There was a before and after during his time at Arsenal and this is due to the cost of the stadium. Before the change of stadium, the club won three Premier Leagues, seven FA Cups and reached the Champions League and UEFA Cup final. In all those years they practically didn’t drop out of the top two places in England. Then the club made a massive investment into the Emirates Stadium and it was time to pay that debt by selling players, who were seen as assets. We went from a group that Wenger made, ‘The Invincibles’, to a much younger group. Talent sales were necessary to pay for the stadium. Some competitiveness was lost, although we still won a few trophies. In Wenger’s last 10 years he had to fight against clubs who had a lot of resources.
You saw Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique at Barcelona, Marco Asensio at Real Mallorca and Fede Valverde before Real Madrid, but why did Arsenal not sign those players?
Those who sign the players are the clubs, not the scouts. Signing a footballer, or registering him, is a long process where many people are involved. Everything begins with the scout recommending a player to the technical department. There was contact with Messi, that’s true, that route was investigated. Three players from that team were recommended, but in the case of Messi it was seen that there was a work permit situation in English football that was going to be impossible to solve.
What is the recruitment process like?
The recruitment process is similar at almost every club. You have to separate when we talk about young players or more established ones. With the more established there is a greater possibility of seeing him live and analysing him in person. In the case of a young gem, resources are more limited. That is where the risk factor comes in, although the economic factor is lower, despite the fact young players are becoming increasingly expensive. The natural process to sign a player is: identification, recruitment and registration, with the necessary people at the club involved at each stage.
Fabregas, Bellerin and Martinelli are some of the stars you brought to Arsenal. How far can the Brazilian go?
In Martinelli’s case, he was someone we had been monitoring for a long time. He had several trials at Manchester United and even Barcelona, but we made the decision to sign him and it was very successful. He has quality, a great personality and hunger to stand out.
When you and Arsenal approached La Masia, you were taking on Barcelona?
We had a philosophy, a tradition and clear pillars. We had an expansive team and we needed a clear idea of the game. That’s why we looked at players with a very clear profile, but it’s not true we put too much focus on one specific club. There were players who caught our attention at the time and that’s it.
Is the relationship between Barcelona and Arsenal still good?
I think so. There have always been transfers between these two clubs and that shows that it’s good.
One of these players was Cesc Fabregas, with whom you keep a total friendship – he even made an emotional post after you left Arsenal. How do you get such a connection with a player?
He came to England when he was very young. In those moments it could be said that he was somewhat of a pioneer. It was the first time that something like this has happened. You had to be focused on him because he was 16 years old and had moved to a new country. During the first few months I tried to take care of him a little more because it was necessary. This is something that is done with all young players. Cesc acclimatised quickly and in six or seven months he made his first-team debut.
Of the players who almost signed for Arsenal but didn’t, who hurt the most?
In addition to the two mentioned [Messi and Pique], there we many. There have been others, one or two cases per season, but I can’t say any names.
In recent years, have you always had a positive balance in transfers and sales?
I think in this regard the answer is yes. You aren’t always going to be right, each one works within their means and then you have to try and get as good a team as possible, but there are always cases where some footballers don’t integrate or get injured. Not only sporting profitability is sought, but also economic profitability. In many cases, Arsenal have worked well in that regard.
You also bet on the return of Mikel Arteta as coach. Have you been surprised by how quickly he has turned things around?
To say that I recommended him wouldn’t be true at all. Obviously, I was asked my opinion and I gave it. I didn’t advise the return of the coach, that is something for the club to do. Internal recommendations are another thing, but I’m not surprised by how well he is doing because the foundation was good and there was only a couple of pieces left to attach. [Unai] Emery did a good job, but there was a dynamic that wasn’t entirely positive. Now Mikel has come in and, to my understanding, has done what he thought he could do. The results are good. He has talent and ambition. He has had a fabulous apprenticeship with [Pep] Guardiola and is the ideal coach for the club.
What do you think Emery lacked to succeed at Arsenal?
In football, sometimes being on top or winning a trophy or not depends on a very fine line. With him we reached the final of the Europa League, knocking out powerful clubs like Napoli and Valencia with brilliant football. We lost the final and missed out on the Champions League by one point. With the final the team lost a bit of focus in the league and that hurt us. I maintain that he did a great job.
Currently the club has taken a different transfer policy – it seems they are signing players based on who their agent is. Is this positive for Arsenal and the footballing world?
How was your relationship with Raul Sanllehi and Edu, the other two key figures at the club on a technical basis?
My relationship with the people at the club has always been good. If you have been in a place for 24 years, it’s because you’re able to develop relationships and because there has been dialogue. Regarding the last 11 months, I really wouldn’t want to comment on them. Sorry, no comment.
Investigations into the possible fraudulent signing for Nicolas Pepe at 79 million euros continue. Are you aware of any irregularity, or were there some things that were done incorrectly?
Not long ago, Guardiola pointed out that he had respect for Arsenal on the pitch, but not so much off it. How do you respond to this?
This is a question for Pep, not for me.
But do you think it has to do with this new policy?
I have no record of that. These are things that have nothing to do with the work I did.
It’s quite common that in Spain many players have ‘an offer from Arsenal’ and then nothing materialises. Is the club used as a decoy?
Possibly yes, above all there were a few years where there was an explosion of talented young players and a lot of people used it as a platform because we had a coach who had a culture of giving young players opportunities to develop quickly. In some parts of the media, the Arsenal name is overused.
Do you think the Premier League will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic more than other leagues?
It could be, but this situation has hurt everyone. Obviously some more than others, but in the end what remains is the structure of the club. If a team has a good structure and its directors are people with great talent, then obviously they are going to be able to re-establish themselves quickly. However, there are factors which do not depend on the clubs: merchandising, sponsorships etc and all this has been affected. The fast and skilled will come out strong, but football, as is the rest of life, is going to be impacted.
Is it true that Arsenal look to Spain a lot?
When [Johan] Cruyff arrived at Barcelona there was a similar philosophy. For years there was a focus on Spain, but also on other countries. Spanish footballers have adapted to the Premier League very well over the last 20 years.
What memories do you hold dear from your time at Arsenal?
There are so many in 24 years that it is difficult to point out just one. There have been many situations that stick in your memory, a thousand anecdotes, but I like to take stock and stay on a positive note. Although there were moments like the change to the Emirates, because I grew up as a player at Highbury. Another was the invincible year of Henry and co, then the heartbreak of losing the  Champions League final to Barcelona after we played the whole game with 10 men. The important thing is that I feel privileged because I have been able to share time with great professionals. I prefer to look back fondly on the entire time I had there rather than focus on one specific moment.
Is the Premier League the best in the world?
It’s the most competitive, but declaring it the best is subjective. It’s the most intense and perhaps attractive, but I don’t know if it’s the best. The Premier League has been able to sell its product better than anyone, that is clear.
Now everything is full of agencies and data, how has your profession evolved?
My work has become very professional. Before it was a part-time job and now there are entire departments with analysis, data… everything has evolved a lot. I have gone through many roles: analysis of Champions League opponents, head of recruitment in South America, the peninsula and in Europe, even head of the scouting department. Many factors come into play when deciding on a signing, not just numbers. Although it’s true that clubs now have more resources and the big ones have grown massively, although I don’t know if this is a positive or not.
But don’t you think there are a few agencies who run many clubs?
Football generates a lot of money and that is why there are many interested parties. The key is to have a strong structure in the club so as not to depend on other factors when going into the [transfer] market.
Do the footballers feel like merchandise in modern football?
I don’t think so. The clubs have professionals dedicated to the wellbeing of the players. There are people helping footballers to adapt and they are a key part of every club, especially those that bring players from different parts of the world. Those who arrive have to deal with everything new: the climate, culture and language, and they must adapt. At its core football is still the dream of a young person who wants to do something and develop their ability to reach the elite. Most of the players feel privileged, because they earn their living within such a beautiful profession. I like to focus on that more than other negative factors. I don’t think footballers feel like mere merchandise.
Finally, what are your plans for the future? Will we see you in Spain?
After 24 years I don’t want to jump right back in. Now what I’m looking for is peace of mind so that I can make the right decision for the future. I look forward with great enthusiasm. Now I have to listen and I will decide when I see it clearly, although what I am looking for is an exciting project.
- Editorial Sigmar S.A.C.I. Naturaleza / My First Look at Nature, Primeras Imagenes - broché- Paru le 02/01/1996 chez Editorial Sigmar S.A.C.I.
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