Director of football, director of demise?

by , September 15, 2008

Is there no place for a director of football in England? Recent situations such as Alan Curbishley’s tenuous position at West Ham and Kevin Keegan’s at Newcastle would appear to have already answered the question.

However, the shambles at Newcastle can be linked to more than the confrontation with Wise, Ashley and Keegan. In answering this, I can offer the example of owner, Mike Ashley caving into the demands of the fans to bring back Keegan in the first place to keep up his ‘I’m one of you fans’ routine. He talks a lot about running Newcastle as a business in his recent statement in light of the recent mass protests against him at St James’, but if he was running a business and not a popularity contest, I am sure he would have acquired a top manager, which I am personally not sure Keegan is anymore and steered well clear of Wise. As for Curbishley, the loss of faith in him at board level could be seen as the reason for his control over players being taken away.

All of these are of course my opinion and therefore do not begin to solve the issue of the question. So to the question at hand, I would say no, the director of football is not the director of demise. The reason for this is fairly simple; take Italy as an example, there is a general manager or sporting director. The responsibility of the general manager and chairman is to handle all transfer issues. The manager’s job is to make the signings gel and work in the team. In Spain the system is the same, at Barcelona for instance, Frank Rijkaard works in tandem with President Joan Laporta and technical director Tkixi Beguiristain and they are one of the best clubs in Europe.

I guess the retort to that is we have the best teams in Europe in our Premier league, thus the role of director is obviously inferior to our system. Dave Bassett said this of the director of football position, ‘You’re a buffer. The director of football is answerable to the board but there to assist the manager. He’s experienced in football and there to help the board members who don’t have that experience.’

In many cases in England however, only contention has existed between the director of football and the manager. Harry Redknapp, Alan Curbishley, Kevin Keegan and Mourinho all examples of managers not wishing to share power. These men are old fashioned managers who believe that the only way is their way. This is the reason the director of football doesn’t work in the English league, managers here just don’t want to relinquish the running of the club to anyone else. This is probably a fair request considering it is the managers head on the chopping block here, where as on the continent the president and director of football can be liable as much as the manager if a signing does not match up to expectation.

I am also of the persuasion that overall power should lie with the manager or head coach as they may be called in such a set up, to that end, I disagree somewhat with the director of football having too much say in appointing a manager, it almost gives them a boardroom persona rather than the link between board and manager they are meant to be. In the end, the director of football should be working for the manager more than the other way around, if the director of football is in charge of scouting and looking after the academy, then it should also be their job to find the type of player the manager says he requires as at the end of the day, the setup is done so that the managers only concern is how the team functions.

To this end I do think the director of football role would be a very welcome addition to English football, however, this role should be as follows: To provide the manager with players in the position the manager asks for either from the academy if a player is ready to make the step or from elsewhere with the aid of scouts.

With regards to balancing books as the case may have been at West ham, then it should be the managers decision what players are to be let go, and those players vital to the team – first team members – and those the manager wishes to monitor should not even be considered for sale.

It is then for the board to balance its books with the manager satisfied with the players he has designated to keep. These are but two of the things that I would suggest to make the director of football position viable, the other major one is accountability, if the director of football is tasked with bringing in players, then he should be the one to be held to account should they not be able to integrate into the team not the manager solely.

At the end of the day the manager has stated what type of player he wanted. Should he then go and buy a player who is injured constantly and thus cannot perform for the club for example, it should not be the manager who has his job on the line. If directors of football are to work in our game, which I think it can do, the manager should still be the focal point of the team.

It should not be the same weighting as on the continent where the manager has to deal with whatever the board and director of football say, but rather, the manager should have all his time to improve the team, and the confidence that his director of football will be signing players he requires and working to insure that all he has to look at on match day is which of his players he will pick and not looking behind his back to see whether both him and his players will be on the books come January.