Directors of Football are often looked upon with scepticism in this country – and with good reason.
Two of the most high profile Directors of Football at Premier League clubs in recent years have been unmitigated disasters, namely Joe Kinnear and Franco Baldini. Admittedly the latter has had more of an impact than the former, but whether that is a good thing remains to be seen.
So, what exactly is a Director of Football? Many clubs across Europe utilise this position to great effect, but is the occupier a friend or a foe?
Officially, a Director of Football (or Technical Director) should bridge the gap between the head coach/manager and senior management including the Chairman and the Board. What this entails day-to-day is unclear as there is no commonly accepted job description.
While successful in Europe, the position tends to cause friction on these shores, with the overlap between responsibilities the main antagonising factor between parties.
The appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football at Newcastle United in June 2013 raised eyebrows across the country and was not welcomed by fans on Tyneside. The last time Kinnear was at the club in 2009, Newcastle were relegated.
During his spell as manager he also famously called Charles N’Zogbia “Charles Insomnia”. During his time as Director of Football, he failed to make any signings and oversaw the transfer of arguably the Magpies’ best player, Yohan Cabaye, to PSG before leaving the club last month. The appointment hardly inspired confidence in the Geordie faithful.
Tottenham’s Technical Director on the other hand, had a very busy time in the summer transfer market. Franco Baldini was hired to work between Andre Villas-Boas and Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy.
“The most important thing is the relationship between the person that bridges the gap between manager and board, and that he is able to be focused on the technical side of things,” said Villas-Boas during his tenure at White Hart Lane.
Unfortunately for the former Chelsea and Porto manager, things did not end happily in North London; he was sacked in December.
The sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid initiated a mass splurge of the £100m received for the Welsh winger on seven new recruits, none of whom have made a significant impact, other than Christian Eriksen.
Spurs have lost their last three matches, a string of results that started with a 4-0 defeat to Chelsea which leaves a top-four finish almost out of reach for the north London club. Not one of the seven internationals signed last summer featured at Stamford Bridge.
With Villas-Boas no longer at the club, the finger of blame is now being pointed in Baldini’s direction. It was ultimately his responsibility for the recruitment of the seven summer signings that many thought would propel them from top four challengers to title contenders.
For all his personal and negotiation skills, Baldini lacks the ability to spot players that fit in to Spurs’ philosophy.
However, from a business perspective, if a coach is happy to focus on the day-to-day coaching of the players and leave the transfer admin to another individual, then the role can work well. This has been proven by Dan Ashworth at West Bromwich Albion and Txiki Begiristain at Manchester City.
Ashworth carried out his work away from the public eye, appointing head coaches as well as recruiting players.
Talking to The Guardian last August, Ashworth highlighted the importance of liaising with head coaches as well as ensuring from the off that potential managers bought into their player recruitment policy.
“The structure allows you to build a bigger picture,” said Ashworth, who left West Brom last year to become director of elite development at the FA.
“We went through a cycle of two or three head coaches and what we couldn’t have is a whole change of player recruitment philosophy, because it’s extremely costly and time consuming. So in the interview process for a head coach, it would be: ‘This is our philosophy, these are the profiles of our players, this is how we recruit, are you happy to buy into that?'”
Txiki Begiristain’s early work at Manchester City has also proved to be extremely successful. His official title is Sporting Director, but he is directly responsible for the signings of both Jesus Navas and Fernandinho – signings made when Manchester City were without a manager after the departure of Roberto Mancini.
Ultimately, success depends on the personalities and egos involved as well as the philosophy of the club. The manager and DoF have to work as they would like their starting XI to: together. If they fail to do so, one or both of them will lose their job and the football will suffer.
No club with a continental-style director of football has won the Premier League title… yet. But if English clubs can begin to master the intricacies of what the role entails and how best to manage the relationships, it won’t be long until it happens – and then everyone will want one.
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