Inter Miami hires ex-Barcelona, Arsenal exec Sanllehí

Former Barcelona and Arsenal director of football Raúl Sanllehí will join Inter Miami CF as co-president alongside Xavier Asensi, overseeing aspects of the sporting side and executing the ownership’s strategy of player development from the academy to the first team.

Sanllehí will officially serve as president of football operations upon receipt of his U.S. work authorization.

“I have a blend of experience between leagues with LaLiga and the Premier League, and kinds of elite clubs that play Champions League every year, like Barcelona or Arsenal, so I have a vast vision about football,” Sanllehí told ESPN. “I have a very clear model in which I believe that clubs should be based and grow from there. The ownership wants to turn this club into a global football powerhouse, and that’s something that I embrace completely.”

The Spaniard previously worked as the director of football at Barcelona from 2008-2019, playing an integral role in the team during the development of current Miami players Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Luis Suárez and Jordi Alba. Sanllehí will also reunite with head coach Gerardo Martino, after being part of the team that hired the Argentine at Barcelona in 2013.

Sanllehí also served as head of football at Arsenal from 2018-2020, and most recently as CEO of Spanish club Real Zaragoza from 2022-2024. Now, Sanllehí wants to develop Inter Miami’s academy to produce the kind of side he saw while at Barcelona.

“I remember Johan Cruyff in a press conference when he was explaining the reasons why he believed so much in the academy,” Sanllehí recalled. “One reporter asked him, ‘so what you’re saying is that the academy needs to play like the first team?’ And he said, ‘no, actually I’m saying the opposite. I’m saying that the first team needs to play like the academy.’

“And you don’t achieve that in two or three years. That’s over time, because you need to plant the seeds and then protect them so they grow.

“And that was the secret of success of probably the best team in the history of Barcelona with all the players that you know, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Messi, all of them were there. And they were all coming from the academy.

“If you look in history, again, all the main clubs that have been legendary in Europe, they were all based on the academy players. So I really believe that that’s the path.”

The Herons currently boast multiple academy players in the senior team, with Leo Alfonso most recently making headlines for scoring the team’s winning goal in extra time against the Philadelphia Union on June 15.

Benjamin Cremaschi and David Ruiz also played an integral role in the victory, while regularly featuring in Inter Miami’s starting XI under Martino.

On the other end, Asensi will continue to manage the team’s commercial aspect as president of business operations. He joined Inter Miami in 2021 from Barcelona, helping the club triple revenues. His promotion allows for the two to work in unison on different ends of the team’s growth.