Following the January signings of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, Kenny Dalglish’s replacement of Roy Hodgson as interim manager and Liverpool’s superb recovery to sixth in the Premiership, it has been an eventful few months for new owners the Fenway Sports Group. Whilst previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett enjoyed a turbulent relationship with Liverpool fans, the Kop have been far more welcoming to John W Henry. However, having initially appointed ex-Tottenham Damien Comolli as Director of Football Strategy, he recently promoted him to Director of Football outright. And what a risk this could be to Henry’s relationship with the fans given the much-maligned nature of the role.
Several English clubs have adopted a more European approach to their management structures in recent years with the current vogue of appointing Directors of Football to handle certain aspects of scouting, recruitment, and non-team management. The role of the traditional football manager has therefore changed to accommodate these Directors. Instead of handling all transfer dealings, certain managers now find themselves free to focus more on first team management, training and selection. With their extensive network of scouting contacts and deep knowledge of both domestic and foreign leagues, certain Directors have been credited for bringing current stars to our attention. For example, it was Comolli that was credited in large part to the signings of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone at Tottenham. Similarly, Comollli’s predecessor at Spurs, Frank Arnesen, was credited with bringing John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou to Chelsea before his departure in February.
However, for every successful Director there is a Dennis Wise. His ill-fated tenure at Newcastle ultimately contributed to the departure of fan’s favourite Kevin Keegan as manager. Having initially voiced concerns about the management structure of the club following the appointment of Wise, his fears were substantiated when James Milner was sold to Aston Villa against his will. And, the players Wise did sign, such as Spanish striker Xisco, were not only not wanted by Keegan but ultimately failed to live up to their billing.
Comolli also had his run-ins with previous Tottenham manager Martin Jol, whilst Jose Mourinho was regularly disgruntled by owner Roman Abramovich’s senior appointments. The Portuguese manager disagreed with the interference of both Arnesen and Avram Grant and was presented with players such as Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack who he didn’t want but was pressured into fielding.
Admittedly much of the work done by Directors of Football in scouting players is extremely beneficial and does ease much of the workload on today’s managers. But, it should always be remembered that it is the manager that runs the first team and directs selection policy. Therefore, surely it should be the manager who has the final say on transfer dealings?
One should hope current Liverpool manager Dalglish understands the remit of Director of Football having fulfilled a similar role at Blackburn Rovers and Celtic and is able to work with Comolli to his advantage. But in future club owners should be careful to appoint Directors and outline their exact responsibilities else risk undermining both future managers and fans as with the cases of both Keegan and Mourinho, it was the managers that fans sided with.
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