Inter Miami hires former Barcelona, Arsenal exec Sanllehi as president of football operations

The Barcelona influence on Inter Miami continues as the club announced on Monday the hiring of Raul Sanllehi as president of football operations.

Sanllehi, a native of Spain, was director of football at FC Barcelona from 2008 to 2019, where he worked closely with Inter Miami coach Tata Martino, as well as players Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.

From Barcelona he went to work at English Premier League giant Arsenal and he spent the past three and a half years as CEO of Spanish club Real Zaragoza, of which Inter Miami owners Jorge and Jose Mas are co-owners.

Sanllehi, 57, will serve as co-president along with Xavi Asensi, who was promoted from chief business officer. Asensi, whose new title is president of business operations, also came from Barcelona. They will both report to Jorge Mas. Chris Henderson remains as Sporting Director and Chief Soccer Officer.

Asked what attracted him to Inter Miami, Sanllehi told the Miami Herald: “This is a very exciting project with great owners to work for that have shown total commitment with huge investments not only in facilities like the Florida Blue (training facility) and Chase Stadium and what’s coming in Freedom Park, but also with the players. I know Jorge and Jose quite a lot from two years with Zaragoza, so, the chance to work with them is what made it most attractive.

“The club is very young but proving it’s thinking big. I love the motto: Freedom to Dream. That says a lot about the philosophy of this club and totally matches with my way of approaching life.”

He also was intrigued because Copa America is being hosted by the United States this summer, the Club World Cup will be held in the USA next summer and the World Cup will be co-hosted by USA in 2026. Also, FIFA opened a headquarters office in Coral Gables last year.

“Right now, the U.S. is the place to be if you want to be in football,” he said. “And the quality of life in South Florida, everything is perfect.”

Sanllehi said he has a good relationship with Henderson and great respect for the work he does, and is looking forward to working alongside him. Henderson will remain entrenched in the sports side of the club while Sanllehi focuses on the overall management of the club.

“I have a very clear idea of the model to run a football club,” he said. “We developed that in Barca. I applied that in Arsenal, and in Zaragoza. My role is to make sure the whole football operation runs smoothly from the academy to the first team, making sure we create an identity through a development pathway. The best clubs, Ajax in the ‘70s, Bayern Munich in the ‘80s, Real Madrid in the ‘90s and then Barca, all were based on majority academy players.

“Inter Miami is at an inflection point. We made a historic jump. We have the new stadium coming and we need to make sure the organization can support the new stage.”

Sanllehi will begin his new post upon receipt of U.S. work authorization.

“Developing a championship culture requires great talent and hard work both on the pitch and within the organization that supports our players,” said Mas. “I want to welcome Raúl to our journey of building a Club our fans can be proud of and look forward to continuing to work with Xavi.”