Tottenham and Liverpool are looking to bring about structural changes at the club. There is a growing trend among the English clubs to adopt the ‘European model’ of hierarchy. But are the English managers prepared to accept the change?
In the last few years, the hierarchical structure of English clubs has changed a lot. Gradually, the European model of administration has been introduced at the clubs, something which clubs in Spain, Italy and France had adopted long back. Many clubs in England did make these changes in the past, but they were only exceptions to the general structure used in other clubs.
The meaning of the term ‘Director of Football’ varies from club to club. The exact role and responsibilities of a man in this position is debatable. The director of football might simply be a figurehead at the club (usually famous former players or former managers are appointed in these roles). In this capability they don’t interfere into the administrative part of the club as much they do in the marketing department. Sometimes, retiring player or managers (who are fan favourites) are assigned in these roles, like Sir Matt Busby was after he retired from his role as a manager at Manchester United.
The Director of football might also act in the capacity of a technical director, where they primarily advice the board on footballing issues. Some are also appointed as a general manager, a term mostly used in continental Europe. The general manager has a wide range of responsibilities, right from securing transfer deals to giving their inputs day-to-day club affairs.
Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool are planning to adopt the European model at the club. Spurs have been linked with AS Roma General manager Franco Baldini for the role of the technical director at the club. Tottenham missed out on some of their transfer targets this season and Daniel Levy wants to appoint a ‘specialist’ who would help him in securing future deals. Baldini was appointed Fabio Capello’s assistant, when the Italian was in charge of the English national team. However, Baldini has distanced himself from the speculations and since then another name has been linked with this role – former Barcelona technical director Txiki Begiristain.
Tottenham manager Andre-Villas Boas has also recently approved Levy’s plan of appointing someone in charge of the transfer activities of the club. AVB said –
“I have worked with one at Porto and Academica and had no issues with that and I certainly promote that. In the end the structure that surrounds the football club is down to the chairman.
“I certainly think he is looking to further evolve in terms of the structure that surrounds the club.”
Chelsea have also successfully adopted the role of a technical director in their managerial system. Michael Emenalo, who was promoted to this role back in 2011, has done a good job at the club ever since. Chelsea’s transfer strategy has changed since his arrival. The club began to concentrate more on youth in the transfer market and the likes of Romeu, Oscar, Azpilicueta, Marin, Moses, and Hazard have arrived at Stamford Bridge. But the biggest positive for Chelsea has been the change of other clubs’ stance towards the London club in the transfer market. Earlier clubs weren’t comfortable dealing with Chelsea and eventually, the Blues had to bid aggressively and at time pay over the top to secure any signing. But since Emenalo has took over, he has nearly changed Chelsea’s image in the transfer market and now other clubs are more willing to negotiate. As mentioned earlier, Andre-Villas Boas didn’t have any issue with Emenalo handling the transfer market, although AVB did provide his input, and since AVB’s departure, di Matteo hasn’t had an issue as well.
For a club like Chelsea, where managers are sacked every now and then, the role of a technical director brings a certain amount of stability in the team, atleast in terms of the transfer policy. Normally the appointment of a new manager, brings about mass alteration in the squad. So technical director in this case would make sure that the transfer policy of the club remains constant despite a change in the managerial position.
However, Villas-Boas and di Matteo are exceptions in terms of approving the appointment of a technical director. Most of the managers are not comfortable working under someone’s jurisdiction. A technical director’s role often undermines the ability of a manager.
One of the most highlighted dispute between a manager and director of football in the recent past, is that of Kevin Keegan and Dennis Wise at Newcastle United. Keegan, the former manager of Newcastle United, had lot of rows with Dennis Wise regarding the clubs transfer targets. Eventually, it was Keegan who had to leave the club.
Jose Mourinho also didn’t approve the arrival of Avram Grant in a similar role at Chelsea. Eventually Mourinho left the club and Avram Grant was appointed as the manager. In recent times, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini publicly voiced concerned about the club’s lack of transfer activity this season under Brian Marwood, and still continues to do so.
The role of Director of Football is hardly popular among the managers. Can one imagine the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger working under someone’s ‘guidance’ at the club? Ferguson and Wenger have too much power at the club, but the fact is they have been successful; their achievements at their respective clubs demands such respect and authority. But the question is – is it a case of too much of power for a single man?
The basic concept of a technical director is to bequeath the managers of the extra burden of dealing with the board, dealing with the transfer market and other administrative responsibilities, so that they can concentrate on something they were hired for – to manage and train the players. But most of the managers obviously believe that the above responsibilities are part of their job. It is the manager who should decide which player he wants in his team and whom he wants to sell.
But some managers do willingly give up the headache of handling the transfer market. Although they do provide their input regarding which player they want at the club, but they leave it to the technical director to handle the dealings. The problem arises when the technical director is allowed to interfere into the team’s day-to-day activities, how the team should play and even as far as team selection. This is something Liverpool are reportedly trying to bring about at the club.
No one has been yet assigned in the role of ‘Director of Football Strategy’ since Damien Comolli was dismissed in April this year. Strangely in Comolli’s case, under him Liverpool were able to sign the players they wanted. But the problem was with the price they paid for acquiring those players. Liverpool were criticized for spending heavily on the wrong players. But the question that should have been asked was – how much say Comolli had in selecting the players and how much say Kenny Dalglish had? Both way, two of them have left the club since, and Brendan Rodgers was brought in with new hope and direction.
But Rodgers’ first transfer window in charge didn’t quite go according to plans. Liverpool missed out on most of their targets, while Andy Carroll was loaned out to West Ham without the club signing any replacement. Brendan Rodgers is believed to be furious with the owners for failing to land the player he wanted and recently held a meeting with them to express exactly what he felt.
To avoid a repeat of such a catastrophic transfer window, Liverpool are reportedly planning to deploy a ‘technical committee’ made of ‘football people’. Former Dutch coach Louis van Gaal and West Bromwich Albion’s technical director Dan Ashworth are some of the names that have been linked with this role. The technical committee will not only oversee Liverpool’s transfer activity, but is expected to take on a much broader role. Former Barcelona coach Johan Cruyff is said to be advising Henry in forming this committee. The committee will handle the transfer market, but will also look into the contract negotiations of the players, they are also expected to be involved in ‘directing’ team selection to things as basic as ‘how’ the team will play.
Brendan Rodgers, who during signing up for Liverpool, made it clear that he won’t be working under any director, is said to be furious with this decision. The former Swansea manager is said to opposing it and although nothing official has been announced yet, it seems unlikely that Rodgers will stay at the club if such a dominant committee is put in place.
Most of the managers in England are against working under any supervision, but it is really down to where the line is drawn with respect to authority of a manager and that of a technical director. If the roles aren’t definitive enough, the authority of a manager is undermined. The fact remains, if a team loses, the first blame is always directed towards a manager and not the technical director. England is and should adopt the European model, but must maintain caution. Managers in England will take time to get used to working under a director.