The English fear of “Directors of Football”

Baldini, the former England assistant, has been seen as a failure at Tottenham in his first season.  Source: The Guardian

Baldini, the former England assistant, has been seen as a failure at Tottenham in his first season. Source: The Guardian

A director of football, it’s a topic that often crops up from time to time in English football and each time it’s met by people denouncing the idea right off the bat. Horror stories from other clubs who’ve tried, failed and started again with just a manager in charge has put so many people off the idea. But why are so few teams adopting the style? And if they do, can it work and bring success?

The definition of the role is a little bit vague but the director of football I’m talking about is someone who controls player recruitment in association with the manager, the scouts and the staff. He’s the one who draws up the shortlists of players that work in his manager’s, or the owners, preferred style then goes out to get them. It’s a position more commonly known abroad as a sporting director or a general manager which can also be the name of the role in England but the buzzword here is director of football.

A few teams in the Premier League already use the model, with Tottenham Hotspur being the most well-known due to press coverage but they are growing in number. Crystal Palace, West Brom and even Manchester City to some degree have used this idea to varying successes.

Sammer has been superb for Bayern.  Source: Bayernnews.org

Sammer has been superb for Bayern. Source: Bayernnews.org

The fear lies in the failures and that’s where it scares some sides off the idea of diverting some control away from a manager. Examples like Dennis Wise at Newcastle, Damien Comolli at Liverpool and to some extent Franco Baldini’s current job at Tottenham leaves teams with the fear that managers would be upset or even worse, the man gifted the treasure chest may waste the cash.

However, if you look to the other leagues in Europe it’s clear that it can work and it can bring a lot of success. Barcelona have had a director of football for many years now, Matthias Sammer at Bayern Munich is pointed to as a factor in the club’s resurgence in Europe and Florentino Perez has been the one to pick the newest Galactico at Real Madrid for a long while.

It’s also something that’s regularly employed across the pond in US sports, with one man tasked with getting a team together and another in their job to coach them. It’s obviously still working in tadem, they both rely on each other to get results or they both get it in the neck but it something that’s expected to work and it has brought plenty of glory to a variety of teams.

Txiki Begiristain is well-respected, bringing success to Barcelona and Manchester City.  Source: BBC

Txiki Begiristain is well-respected, bringing success to Barcelona and Manchester City. Source: BBC

The main reason they work is the same as a football team in general, when everyone is on the same page pulling in the right direction then it can be plain sailing. The issues are two-fold, managers in England that want to be their own man like in the good old days and owners that want an extra cook but usually enforce it rather than lay down the foundations which regularly lead to friction.

Eventually one of the more high-profile “director of football” deals in England will work out, it’ll then be in vogue and it’ll be like the rest of football where the very best managers can be their own man. City winning the league might not be enough due to it being a bit more low-key, although Txiki Begiristain would have seen over success both at them and Barcelona, but soon enough there will be one big success story in England. When it happens, this won’t be a topic any more but until that happens, fans and media alike will still be sceptics to the idea of someone else other than the manager being responsible for playing staff decisions.

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