Is there really a place for them in the Premier League?
There’s a noticeable desire from Premier League clubs to model their operations on those of their European counterparts. Directors of Football seem to be missing link between a good club and one capable of raising itself one step up the ladder. There’s also a misconception that any good Director of Football who found success elsewhere can immediately have an impact at a new club, specifically a Premier League club. But as with their product on the pitch, European clubs do carry out appointments in a contrasting manner, looking in-house for their best candidate.
Damian Comolli tried his hand at a number of Premier League clubs with no great deal of success, as did Dennis Wise at Newcastle. The problem, in Comolli’s case, had nothing to do with his ability to help shape a football club, rather it was his inability to match the ideals of others in prominent roles at each club.
Many Arsenal fans are of the opinion that the club have been knocked off the rails since David Dein left the club. A man who held a specific role football at the club and worked closely with and advised Arsene Wenger on the issue of transfers, among others. Yes his departure was felt, but Wenger took his time before appointing someone else in a similar capacity. And even then, Ivan Gazidis does not hold the same influence that Dein did for so long. Wenger was smart with his decision to go without a “Director of Football” for so long after Dein left; someone cannot simply step into that role and understand the ideals of the club instantly.
Which is where clubs in the Premier League are getting it wrong and those on the continent are excelling. Despite their size and ability to attract the biggest names, Barcelona pride themselves on recruiting from within, going down a path of candidates who understand the values of the club. It’s the right way to go if any club is going to be successful with someone acting as Director of Football. Guardiola worked closely with the Presidents during his time, as well as Txiki Begiristain. Along with Tito Vilanova, all these men have a history with the club, allowing for greater harmony in the building and improvement of the first team.
Dennis Wise was never going to be a success at Newcastle. As the fans put it, they wanted “the cockney mafia out.” There never seemed to be much dialogue and agreement with the club’s direction and what the transfer policy was until Alan Pardew arrived. Working closely with a number of scouts, he was able to put together an impressive squad that fit the bill of what he wanted and needed. Does that mean a Director of Football can’t work in England? No, but with an example like Newcastle, Pardew and those around him need to be on the same page with regards to their footballing direction and recruitment.
It’s also worth pointing out that managers such as Wenger and Alex Ferguson need to know they are the kings of their castle. There’s little use bringing in people to work under the role of football recruiter if the manager is not willing to offer him a foothold in what goes on day-to-day. David Dein allowed Wenger to remain in control while still offering advice. Wenger’s absolute power never wavered, and he wanted to carry out operations under his terms.
It’s the same case at Real Madrid where Jose Mourinho has cleverly manoeuvred himself into a position of absolute power. Yes the club do have a Director of Football in Zinedine Zidane, who took over from Mourinho’s short-term enemy in Jorge Valdano, but the Portuguese manager still wants to know that the club are running under his terms. He has no intention of working with a Director of Football, highlighting that even the best on the continent can have trouble with this method.
Harry Redknapp has previously rubbished the idea, while Brendan Rodgers says he can’t work with one. The Premier League may not be ready to fully embrace the role of a Director of Football for some time. The clubs and the way they are run are greatly different to the way European clubs conduct their business, yet it doesn’t mean there needs to be a crossover to find success.
Managers need to know they have absolute power in the decisions that go into their playing squad, rather than being told who to target and what they’ll be allowed to work with. Instead, it remains that the key to success in this department is through the recruitment from within, allowing the role to be taken up by individuals who understand the club and are willing to work closely with the manager.