Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, English football has modernised through embracing an influx of changes, while simultaneously managing to build a solid reputation as one of the most exciting leagues on the planet.
Players have become fitter and faster, stadiums and training grounds have been transformed and clubs are now competing commercially across the globe. Foreign owners, players and managers have all been embraced with open arms and clubs are now even willing to adapt and accept a foreign approach to football management and how their business is run.
Nearly half of the current 20 Premier League clubs are now in the hands of foreign owners and it was somewhat inevitable that top-flight sides would start to experiment with a more continental approach behind the scenes. Yet the concept of placing a director of football in charge of transfer and wage budgets is still seen as ‘foreign’ by the majority of Premier League managers and fans.
The system has been common practice across Europe for decades, where it is viewed as normal for a director of football to deal with transfer policy and as a buffer connecting the coach and the board. It has been the opposite in this country however, where traditionally it is it is the manager’s job to run all aspects of the club. With the vast amounts of capital now involved in Premier League football, owners want to have greater control over the finances they are investing and this is where having a director of football in place becomes appealing to them. This position helps owners become more involved with the first-team decision making process without meddling directly in the manager’s affairs.
Of course, managers in England have never been heavily involved in direct player negotiations, but historically have dictated the club’s transfer policy from afar. This general trend has shifted slightly in recent seasons with owners and directors having more say in transfers and the buying and selling of playing staff. This has sparked a series of fall-outs between managers and board members in recent seasons, with coaches feeling undermined by decisions being made over their head and without prior knowledge.
The director of football title is not generic across the board however and similar roles include acting as a club’s figurehead, technical director or general manager. A former player taking up an ambassadorial role, such as Sir Bobby Charlton at Manchester United, has worked well on a number of separate occasions and could be the best approach to use.
One sure way for any director of football to cause rift and resentment is to start interfering with first-team affairs. Alan Curbishley left West Ham in 2008 after Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney were sold against his wishes. While Kevin Keegan quit Newcastle in similar circumstances in 2008 after director Dennis Wise set-up a deal to sign midfielder Ignacio González, telling King Kev to look him up on YouTube.
Despite the long list of former players and managers who have failed in the role, there have also been successes. David Dein had a similar role at Arsenal and built up a magnificent relationship with Arsene Wenger, similar to that between David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
The appointment of a director of football can help owners protect their substantial investments and football today requires a respected figure at the top to deal with the business side of things and help ease the burden on managers. However fans and coaches need to be informed of the specific duties which the director of football will undertake before he arrives and this would also help in giving the role some much needed clarity in the public spotlight.
However David Pleat, the former director of football at Tottenham, believes that the English game is sadly not suited for such a position. He told BBC Sport:
“The public are being sadly misinformed about the roles and responsibilities and reporting lines of the director of football.
“Unfortunately it is probably a job title that will have to be dispensed with even though there is a great need for that type of figure in a club nowadays to take the burden off the head coach.”
Is there a place for the director of football role in the modern game? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.