A chapter in his story was coming to an end. But not how Edu Gaspar had imagined it would.
It was the club where he had spent his teenage years and made his name as a young midfielder, before going on to enjoy memorable spells with Valencia and especially Arsenal.
When he returned, he had been dreaming of a glorious homecoming to top off a successful career.
But things did not go to plan.
The injuries that had plagued Edu since his time in Spain came back to bite him. Successive managers, Mano Menezes in 2009 and Tite in 2010 and ‘11, did not see him as an integral part of their starting XIs.
Rather than continue on the sidelines, he decided that, aged just 32, he would hang his boots up altogether.
Little did he imagine then that just nine years later he would be back at Arsenal as the most senior member of the football staff.
During his playing days, Edu had always been a little different. He had learnt English and Spanish fluently and had built a number of successful non-football business ventures.
He was the representative of an American flooring company in Brazil and had invested in several construction projects. That, he believed, was where his future lay.
But an unexpected opportunity to return to football would soon present itself.
Corinthians had recently created a new position at the club, a director who would work alongside the first-team squad.
“The role had already been created,” says Guilherme Prado, the club’s communications manager at the time. “It was filled by William Machado, who had been the captain. But he did not stay long.”
Macahdo was sacked and, just 40 days after bringing his playing career to a close, Edu received the offer to become the technical director at one of the biggest clubs in Brazil, with all the responsibility and pressure that brings.
“Edu had a very good relationship with the [club] president [Andrés Sanchez] and the president thought he had the profile [for the job],” Prado recalls.
Edu has since gone on to work for the Brazilian national team and, especially after Brazil’s Copa America win, that assignment has been more widely discussed.
But with the clear differences between the worlds of club and international football, it is this earlier stage of his career as a director that offers the most insight into how he will fulfil his function at Arsenal.
Despite his inexperience, he took to the new job like a duck to water.
Prado explains why. “Edu has very good interpersonal relations,” he tells me. “People who work with him like him. He has a lot of relationships within football, and that helps a lot. He spent a lot of time with the Seleção and a lot of years in England and Spain. It helps him find solutions.”
Diego Salgado, a journalist for the Brazilian site UOL Esporte who covered Corinthians at close quarters during that period, believes that Edu “helped to create a greater connection between the directors and the coaching staff. His relationship with Tite, for example, was always very intense.”
At the beginning, though, Edu knew he would have to work hard to make that connection. He was in the unusual position of being the boss, or at least the equal, of a man who had spent the previous few months leaving him out of the team. The former midfielder would need to win his manager’s trust.
In an interview with Brazilian magazine Exame in 2018, Edu recalled how he went about it; “When the coach asks or a simple detail, do it. If they ask for something complex, do that too. If they’ve asked for an attacking midfielder, sign an attacking midfielder. From there, you start a relationship in which he can count on you.”
As well as constructing positive personal ties, Prado says, Edu was ready to import new concepts into the often-backwards world of Brazilian football; “He created a team of scouts at Corinthians, something that nobody had in Brazil.
“This helped him collect information about which players to sign and let go. He innovated.”
Immediately, his new methods and excellent relationship with the head coach brought success.
When he took over in March 2011, Corinthians had just missed out on the Copa Libertadores proper, going out of South America’s premier continental tournament in the qualifying round. But by December, they had been crowned national champions for the first time since 2005.
Salgado points to two fundamental Edu signings, those of Emerson Sheik and midfielder Alex.
In an interview with ESPN Brasil at the time, the new Arsenal director explained how he went about choosing those players.
“We have a system that checks what the player has done in the previous three years,” he said. “If the guy has played 90 minutes week in and week out, if he’s been subbed off a lot of times, if he’s got a lot of yellow cards, scored a lot of goals.
“Then we intensify”, he continued, “trying to minimise the risk that we might have.
“We find ways of doing this, with information, following the player closely. Not just, ‘Oh, that guy played well, let’s bring him in.’ No, we have to see the player’s behaviour, which is very important for our group to be unified.”
With the principles fully in place, the following year would be even better. Corinthians won the much-coveted Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history and went on to lift the Club World Cup in Japan, beating Chelsea 1-0 in the final.
The latter, a competition looked upon with disdain in Europe, is highly valued by South Americans and Edu received widespread praise for the minute detail with which he planned the club’s trip to the Far East.
In 2013, the Tite and Edu double act went on to win the São Paulo state championship too, before Tite took a sabbatical in 2014. When the current Brazil manager came back the next year, the pair once again led the club to the national league title.
Now, the challenge for Edu is forming a partnership with Unai Emery that is as successful as the one he enjoyed alongside Tite.
With his knowledge of the club, excellent man management and meticulous transfer market methods though, Arsenal have brought in a man with all the necessary qualities to succeed.