With the January transfer window almost upon us, the rumour mill looks as if it’s about to go into overdrive, but a recent trend that appears to have slipped somewhat under the radar is how more and more, managers are now no longer the be all and end all when it comes to deciding on bringing players in and shifting them out, with Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City serving as prime examples of the consistency with which the new model is being utilised.
Of course, we are not talking about either Manchester United or Arsenal here, for having been at Old Trafford for over 25 years and The Emirates (not literally) for 17 years, both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been granted a degree of leeway when it comes to these matters, even if they are still applicable to the financial framework and constraints that most have to live with, albeit on a grander scale.
Nor are we exclusively talking about Chelsea, for they appear to break all the rules when it comes to trying to pigeonhole them as a club – owner Roman Abramovich will set out roughly what he wants from a boss, hand him a significant transfer budget on top of the remit of trying to deliver success with style.
Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped him from foisting both Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres onto both Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti in the past, while it remains unclear just exactly who is in charge of selling and buying players in January – is it interim head coach Rafa Benitez? Or is it trusted Abramovich lieutenant Michael Emenalo instead? It remains to be seen in the never-ending power struggle that threatens to consume the halls of Stamford Bridge.
At Manchester City, though, the recent arrival of Txiki Begiristain as the club’s Director of Football having previously occupied a similar position at Barcelona has been hailed as a masterstroke, with ‘footballing administrator’ (whatever that means) Brian Marwood being moved into a new role, with Roberto Mancini seemingly the winner when it comes to a battle of wills with the hierarchy.
The mix-ups at the top prevented the club from capturing both of their top transfer targets in the summer of Robin van Persie and Eden Hazard, and they both, crucially, signed for and strengthened rivals Manchester United and Chelsea instead.
However, this latest step has been welcomed with open arms by the Italian manager and while it should be seen as a move to prep the groundwork for a future punt at securing the available Pep Guardiola’s services, Begiristain has an undeniable pedigree in the field, which coupled with City’s wealth, even after its influence is diminished by Financial Fair Play, makes the mind boggle what they could achieve.
The theory is that the position of Director of Football is not one that can work in English football, and given its history, it’s a fair point after the failures of Dennis Wise at Newcastle and Damien Comolli at Liverpool. To my knowledge at least, it seems an unfair generalisation on the whole, but given the evidence available, a logical conclusion to come to at the same time.
There is nothing inherently different to the way that Premier League clubs are run in a larger sense to say their Spanish, Italian and German counterparts. Some are fan-owned, others elect presidents and board members, while the rest are ruled autonomously, but as Omar Little rather neatly summed up in The Wire, ‘the game is the game’. There is no fundamental reason why it shouldn’t work in the future in the Premier League and these clubs are leading the way.
The powers that be at Anfield have also made a move to ensure that the clubs successes and failures in the transfer market do not rest solely on the shoulders of the manager, despite their dire consequences in terms of waste and gross mismanagement of funds under Kenny Dalglish’s reign.
Managing Director Ian Ayre spoke upon Brendan Rodgers appointment of the desire to establish a more ‘European-style” of set-up before later adding that it would be a “more continental director of football-type structure, a collaborative group working around the football area.” The result was that this collaborative group wasn’t set up in time, leading to the bungling of the summer deadline day which saw Andy Carroll depart on loan to West Ham without a direct replacement lined up, in what Rodgers termed “operational issues.” A repeat performance could have dire consequences on their hopes of a top eight finish in the second half of the campaign.
Elsewhere, at Tottenham, Andre Villas-Boas, familiar with a management structure above him from his time at Porto, has reportedly been frustrated in his attempts to sign players by the movements and tough negotiating stance of chairman Daniel Levy, with the club missing out on his top target Joao Moutinho in the summer as a replacement for Luka Modric.
Levy’s desire to achieve a fair deal for players exiting the club and a bargain on those on the way in has often stopped the club from making the most of their potential over the past few years. It’s clear that the chairman relishes the window and sees himself as something of a deadline day specialist, but when it comes to planning, the constant chopping and changing must only prove a nightmare for a manager and it’s a far from enviable situation that the Portuguese finds himself in.
Klaus Allofs at Werder Bremen, Frank Arnesen at Hamburg, Leonardo at PSG, Uli Hoeneß at Bayern Munich, Giuseppe Marotta at Juventus and Adriano Galliani at AC Milan have all proven that the role can work as a sort of buffer between the manager and the club’s owners.
At the same time, though, the likes of Gianluca Nani at West Ham, David Pleat at Tottenham and Barry Fry at Peterborough have all proven the exact opposite which just goes to show you that it’s more to do with the people involved as opposed to anything particularly wrong with the function of the role. Both parties have to believe in the position for it to work and traditionally, managers in England are, well, more traditional in what powers they believe to be theirs and theirs alone, which has been the source of the friction.
Along with the birth and spread of the technocratic manager across Europe these past few years; young, fresh, forward-thinking coaches are more likely to find the idea of working with a transfer committee or club executive a more reasonable request.
Power no longer resides in one individual picking and choosing which players he likes and for better or worse right at the top, and this appears to be the direction that the English game is heading in as it seeks to adopt the management structure of our European counterparts.