Frank Arnesen reveals all on working up until the last day of his gardening leave under Daniel Levy at Tottenham and how Roman Abramovich’s yacht helped convince him to make controversial move to Chelsea
- Arnesen has wealth of experience at Spurs, Chelsea and now Feyenoord
- He unearthed the likes of Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy, Stam and Robben at PSV
- Arnesen was suspended by Spurs in 2005 for expressing a desire to move
- The Dane was pictured on Abramovich’s yacht before his move to Chelsea
After a year at Tottenham, following his landmark appointment, Frank Arnesen had his own experience of Daniel Levy’s determination to get his money’s worth.
‘As you know him, he squeezed this lemon, he wanted to get everything out of me, so he was on the phone to me one, two hours every day,’ Arnesen chuckled as he reflected on working right up to the last moments of his Spurs gardening leave.
In six years at Chelsea Arnesen then worked for Roman Abramovich, discovering a man who was supportive, passionate about Chelsea’s academy and never forgot anything.
Frank Arnesen has wealth of experience at Spurs, Chelsea, PSV, Hamburg and now Feyenoord
‘There no tricks there [with Abramovich],’ he remembered. ‘You have to be sharp always.’
Arnesen’s spells under two of English football’s most talked about bosses are just a fraction of a long career in senior football as player, pundit, coach and sporting director that began in the mid-70s and currently sees him working at Feyenoord.
The former Denmark international has seen, heard and learned plenty in that time making him an ideal contributor to new book called A Few Wise Words.
He is one of 22 individuals from various industries to pen their advice, transferable to all walks of life, about what it takes to be successful.
Arnesen was suspended by Spurs in 2005 for expressing a desire to move to rivals Chelsea
One of the book’s themes is the importance of having a passion for what you do. The process of putting his thoughts down on paper also left Arnesen reminiscing about how his for football came from his father John.
Such was the love passed down, Arnesen remained in the game after retiring in 1988, first as a pundit, then no2 at PSV, working under the late Sir Bobby Robson, before becoming the Dutch giants’ sporting director.
Success in the role, Arnesen says, is not just determined by the talents unearthed – the likes of Ronaldo, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben in his decade at PSV – but also what is left behind.
He cited the scouting network he set up at PSV, some of whom later followed him to Chelsea, as an example.
At Spurs, who he joined in 2004, becoming the Premier League’s first official sporting director, Arnesen’s appointment of John McDermott turned out to be a parting gift.
Arnesen unearthed the likes of Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy (above) and Arjen Robben
McDermott spent 15 years at Spurs, overhauling an academy that helped produce England captain Harry Kane among others, before returning to the FA earlier this year.
Arnesen stayed at Spurs himself for just a year before Chelsea called with an opportunity that was too good to turn down.
Arnesen was not allowed to leave for Spurs’s rivals immediately though. Nor did Levy let him put his feet up during as he saw out his notice period.
‘The last day, and this is something nobody really knows, I went to the training ground to pick up some things and say goodbye,’ the 64 year-old said.
‘Then Daniel and [club secretary] John Alexander called me and said “Frank, we’re not there and you’re still allowed to sign the contract for Grzegorz Rasiak” so even on my last day it was me signing the contract!’
There was huge controversy surrounding Arnesen’s Chelsea switch, amid claims of an illegal approach and the Dane being pictured on Abramovich’s yacht before his move, prompting Spurs to dig their heels in over compensation.
The Dane was pictured on Roman Abramovich’s yacht before his move to Chelsea
“I said to Daniel “it’s the best transfer you’ve done! You get me for nothing and you got £5m” come on,’ Arnesen laughed.
The reality of the situation, Arnesen insists, is there was no big fallout with Levy or Spurs.
All relevant parties knew what was going on including that he was on holiday in Sardinia when he met Abramovich.
‘The day before [the meeting] I got a call from Roman and he said “you’re in Sardinia, I’m in Sardinia, can I call you tomorrow?” I said “ok.” The day after he called “Frank how are you? Are you good?” “Yes,” I said. “Ok, look out the window.” I look out the [hotel] window and saw his big ship!”
Arnesen needed little further persuading once aboard and during lunch with his wife Kate and Abramovich having already agreed to accept Chelsea’s ‘carte blanche’ offer to become chief scout and head of youth development, overseeing everything up to the age of 21.
Arnesen said: ‘We had some very, very good people there which I already saw were world class … Neil Bath, Lee Congerton and Jim Fraser.’
Occasionally Arnesen assisted under-18s boss Brendan Rodgers while Joe Edwards, now part of Frank Lampard’s backroom team, was making an impression back then as a teenage coach.
His bid to promote youth at Chelsea proved difficult despite Abramovich’s backing
Mike Forde, Sam Allardyce’s former Bolton performance director, was a significant Arnesen addition after introducing data analysis to Chelsea’s scouting setup.
Chelsea’s recent FA Youth Cup success – they have reached 10 of the 13 finals since 2008 – also started during that era.
However, Arnesen’s main priority – getting academy prospects into the first team – proved difficult despite Abramovich’s backing, sparking criticism of Chelsea’s spending at youth level compared to the return.
‘It is fantastic to see Frank Lampard [now] has an eye for that. We changed manager all the time,’ argued Arnesen, who used the loan system to keep Chelsea’s prospects developing and also help the club recoup some of their outlay.
‘Business-wise it was fantastic though the only thing was the players didn’t come through. That’s why it was frustrating.
‘We wanted them into the first team which we didn’t get so we made sure the guys got the most out of their talents. We had to be creative and it went on to be a business model that many clubs have used.
‘The only guy who has to know is Roman and he was very happy. He was satisfied with the way we did it so I said it does not matter what everyone [outside] is saying because they don’t know what we are doing inside.’
Another problem emerged 18 months into his time at Chelsea when an expansion of his role out him in charge of all recruitment and on collision course with Mourinho.
The situation and subsequent tension that promotion caused was later mentioned as a factor in Mourinho’s 2007 exit.
‘It was good and then you start to work a bit together and get some differences which is normal,’ said Arnesen.
‘We just didn’t talk to each other at one stage. No problem. We said hello and when we had our meetings we had our meetings. For me it was not a big thing. I have a lot of respect for him for what he has done so that’s it.’
Arnesen decided to leave Chelsea in 2011, taking up a new challenge at Hamburg.
Looking back now, the capture of a young Nemanja Matic, given the career he went onto enjoy, was one Arnesen was proud of.
Daniel Sturridge was another ‘huge talent,’ Arnesen said. ‘I loved to see him, when he was in and around the box.
‘He has no backlift with his left foot and didn’t need time – he smashed it. Could he have done more? We don’t know, because it is a whole person we talk about.’
Missing out on David Silva, before he went on to become a Manchester City legend and Chelsea signed Juan Mata, was a source of regret.
‘I thought I had that in the pocket but that was one that slipped out of my hand,’ Arnesen said, before adding cryptically, ‘I thought he could be fantastic for the club but in the end we didn’t take him because I don’t know … well, I know, but it doesn’t matter.’
Meanwhile Gael Kakuta and Josh McEachran were two hopefuls whose Chelsea careers did not pan out as Arnesen hoped.
‘Kakuta came on at Stamford Bridge [against Wolves in 2009] and the crowd were on their feet for 20 minutes,’ he said.
‘The next three months he was never on the bench. Sometimes he saw things the other players didn’t see.
‘Josh I loved very much. I expected much more from him. He was a very, very good player. Intelligent.’
Arnesen remembers the sneering undertones of a radio interview on his first day at Spurs due to scepticism at the time about sporting directors and the perception they step on managers’ toes.
Times have changed now with the role a more familiar one in English football. But his task, now sporting director at Feyenoord alongside Dick Advocaat, remains the same as always.
‘To make sure the structure is there,’ he said. ‘That when I leave here I can say “we have done well, made some good results” and leave some legacy in the organisation which is what I want to do.’
Frank Arnesen is one of the contributors of A Few Wise Words – a new book that reveals stories of success and inspiring advice from twenty-two exceptional individuals. Now available from Amazon and leading booksellers. www.afewwisewords.com
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