In mid-July 2000, Edu Gaspar arrived at Heathrow airport alongside his compatriot Sylvinho to sign for Arsenal from Corinthians. After an 11-hour flight to London, he was exhausted and didn’t want to go through the immigration line for non-EU members.
He decided instead to leave his Brazilian passport – which he’d used to check in for the flight – inside his suitcase and use his Portuguese one in order to avoid spending much time waiting for the control.
Heathrow officials him held for more than three hours because his inconsistent documentation had raised doubts. Eventually, he was refused entry to the UK and forced to book a return flight to Sao Paulo right away.
Back then, Edu was a young man – just 22. He’s now 40, much more experienced after a successful career on the pitch and currently working as general manager of the Brazil national team.
His last mission with the five-time world champions will be this summer’s Copa America, though. He’s expected to once again undergo immigration checks at Heathrow and move back to north London once the competition in Brazil ends on July 7.
Having made 127 appearances for the club between 2001 and 2005, including 30 Premier League outings during the team’s 2003/04 undefeated campaign, FFT understands that Edu has agreed terms to return to Arsenal as technical director.
First signing: done
According to sources close to the former central midfielder, a deal was sealed and communicated to the Brazilian FA early in March, before the national team’s friendlies against Panama and Czech Republic. Since then, he has asked colleagues to brief him about Arsenal’s situation and got to know Unai Emery’s group better.
Among other things, Edu has also approved the signing of Brazilian highly-rated teenager Gabriel Martinelli from minnows Ituano. The 17-year-old was named the Sao Paulo State Championship’s best newcomer and is due to become the Gunners’ first recruit for the next season.
Brazilian football’s governing body have confirmed that Edu was approached by Arsenal, but, as expected, denied the information that he will leave his position following the Copa America. FFT has learned, however, that it’s just a way of avoiding disrupting preparations for the tournament. Tite’s reign as head coach will be in serious danger if Neymar & Co. fail to bring the trophy to their headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.
Despite refusing to confirm Edu’s departure, the national team are already looking for a new director and have established the main criteria for their target: a former footballer with administrative experience.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Brazilian broadcaster Esporte Interativo this week, the most talked-about man at the Emirates Stadium right now didn’t rule out a move back to London.
“There was a talk with Arsenal, there’s interest, and I was very clear [to them],” he explained. “I’ve told them that I’m 100% focused on the Copa America and won’t discuss anything because of that. If by any chance they still want to talk with me after it, I’m available to sit down with them. Otherwise, my head is concentrated on the Copa America.”
An issue of credibility
The chance to reunite with Arsenal comes at a moment when Edu’s work is under the most pressure since he took the job in June 2016. His appointment sparked some criticism back home, though, due to the fact it had been a suggestion from coach Tite – the duo used to work together at Corinthians. In a way, it meant that Brazil’s boss got to pick his own chief.
But helping take the team to sixth place in the South American standings and guiding them to Russia 2018 by winning nine consecutive games – finishing 10 points clear at the top of the table – was everything Edu could have hoped for in his first months. His reputation was as high as it could be.
He was praised by players for improving travelling conditions, had the financial backing to spend whatever money he needed to not let a sixth World Cup win escape the Seleção, and built one of the biggest coaching teams Brazil have ever had. For the first time in a while, there was nothing anyone could complain about when it came to support.
But Brazil were unable to emulate their displays from qualifying and were sent home in the quarter-finals against Belgium. The honeymoon was over.
Nightmare in Russia
Folha de Sao Paulo, Brazil’s main newspaper, reported that players’ relatives complained to Edu about Neymar’s family privileges – while 120 of them had to stay in other hotels around Sochi, the PSG ace’s closest ones were allowed to book rooms inside the team’s camp. When Edu mentioned the protests to Neymar Snr., he allegedly threatened him by saying he’d better win the World Cup – or he would have him replaced by Palmeiras’s Alexandre Mattos.
There were also reports of Neymar Snr. bringing women into the hotel and having a party. When asked if he could confirm it, he repeatedly responded that the party had been with “the reporter’s mother”.
Before Russia, Edu had always been available to chat with journalists in informal conversations. However, with pressure growing during the World Cup campaign, he disappeared and only returned once his presence demanded by the media following the 2-1 loss to Belgium.
But how he wished he’d never agreed to speak that day. That’s when he said the sentence that has been defining his work since then.
“From the moment I started to live with Neymar more, I saw that it’s not easy being him. He’s a boy. Oh no, not a boy, I’m sorry about the term. He stopped being a boy,” he said, while rushing to correct his words. “It’s not easy being Neymar, it’s difficult being in Neymar’s shoes at times.”
It was regarded as one the national team’s worst press conferences in recent times – ranked straight behind the one that followed the 7-1 thrashing to Germany in 2014.
Besides all of that, Edu has also been heavily criticised for failing to find strong teams to play Brazil in friendlies – although arguably that also has a lot to do with commercial partners Pitch International.
He has been responsible for overseeing all age groups as well, but under his command the country’s youth national teams have never been so neglected.
He won’t, then, come without baggage when he arrives at Arsenal in July. Gunners can only hope he uses the right passport this time.
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