After a season of disappointment in the league, the boardroom at Anfield was reminiscent of the final scene of The Godfather, where Michael Corleone orders a hit on the heads of each of the Five Families and Moe Green. Each person working at the club that was deemed surplus to requirements was given the boot in a toned-down Merseyside version of The Knight of the Long Knives, only with less, you know, purging and book burning. Prime among was Damien Comolli, the club’s Director of Football, who paid the price for a season of underachivement back in April. However since the unveiling of new manager Brendan Rodgers, an element of confusion still persists about the issue, do the club still want a Director of Football or not?
Comolli became Director of Football in March 2011, effectively taking on many aspects of a chief executive’s role, though focused solely on the business of the football side of the club and was heavily involved in bringing the likes of big-money buys Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson to the club.
He was originally brought to the club in November 2012 under the title Director of Football Strategy and was tasked with the recruitment side of the club, before latterly moving into the aforementioned role. Straight away, it appears as if his role was never clearly defined, which points to a lack of clarity and leadership from above on FSG’s part. Rumours persisted after his sacking that FSG felt they had rushed his initial appointment in the first place upon taking control of the club back in October 2010, which is hardly a ringing endorsement for any prospective future employers of the Frenchman.
Liverpool chairman Tom Werner had this to say back in April after Comolli’s sacking: “We’ve had a strategy that we have agreed on. There was some disconnect on the implementation of that. That strategy is a strong one and it will continue. We’re still confident the structure we’ve discussed is the right structure. That doesn’t mean we won’t look at tweaking it, but we feel a collective group of people making football decisions is healthy. The debate is healthy. Part of the reason we made this decision now is because we want to start the process of finding an excellent replacement.”
This would appear to indicate a preference for a Director of Football still at the club, and that the idea hadn’t yet been abandoned entirely, but that they were open to adjusting the parameters of the post. FSG were thought to want to pioneer a new system dividing Comolli’s role into three – one executive to oversee statistics, another whose role would be to conduct negotiations and a third ‘football man’ with contacts within the game, with the new boss also operating under managing director Ian Ayre. It seemed a hugely bloated, contrived and overly fussy system from the ouset.
Txiki Begiristain, formerly Director of Football at Barcelona, is one name that has been linked with a senior role, while Pep Segura, currently technical manager of the club’s academy is widely expected to be promoted, with Louis van Gaal for a time in the frame for a position. FSG clearly want to spread the workload out and implement a new system that allows the manager to focus solely on footballing matters, but whether the manager wants that is another point entirely.
Confusion still reigns and I can’t help but thinking that the issue has been glossed over for the sake of happy families for the time being, like sweeping a fight under the carpet with the missus for the sake of an easy life in the short-term and it has the potential to go seriously wrong further down the road. At Brendan Rodgers unveiling during his first press conference as Liverpool boss, the situation still looked muddled at best.
Rodgers stated he wouldn’t have taken the role if he had been made to work with a Director of Football: “That was one of the items I brought up when I was speaking with the club, that I wouldn’t work directly with a Director of football. I work best around a group of people. You come to a big club or any club, you can’t do it on your own. There’s not one of us who’s better than all of us. Of course there has to be leadership, but if it was a Sporting Director that was something that I made quite clear that I couldn’t work with. What you need at a football club is an outstanding recruitment team, an outstanding medical team, an outstanding sports science team and player liaison team and these are all people who will come into the group and we will form a little technical board. There will be four or five people around that group who will decide the way forward.”
But Ian Ayre sounded less convinced stating: “The structure is a more continental Director of Football structure where you have got a collaborative group of people working around the football area. We don’t envisage, at this moment in time, having a Director of Football per se, but having a group of people that will work collaboratively with Brendan to deliver the football side of things. It’s not signing by committee, it’s analysis by committee. Certainly not a structure where we would force any player on the manager.”
The key part to take from that was the fact that Ian Ayre refused to rule out moving for or appointing a Director of Football in the future and with Rodgers looking to build a long-term legacy at Anfield, after signing a three-year deal to replace Kenny Dalglish as boss, that could cause problems further down the line.
Since taking over the club, FSG have benefited hugely from lazy comparisons to Tom Hicks and George Gillett simply because of the nature of their passport, with both sets of owners coming from the USA. This in turn has meant that the same in-depth, minute scrutiny that was applied to the previously chaotic and shambolic administration hasn’t yet been applied to the current one. They benefit from a degree of goodwill simply because they are not Hicks and Gillett, quite possibly the worst Premier League owners of all-time.
They clearly didn’t want a hugely hands-on role with the day-to-day running of the club, which has meant that the club has lacked direction at times, none more so than during the whole Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra racism affair, with the now infamously ill-advised t-shirts and cringeworthy press statement after another. FSG only stepped in when rumours of unrest from the club’s commercial sponsors started looking more serious than previously thought, but since then, they should be applauded on how cut-throat they have been, taking decisions without a hint of sentimentality surrounding their thought-proccess.
But as Wolves showed last season with the sacking of Mick McCarthy and subsequent botched appointment of his assistant Terry Connor in his place, it’s not that sacking someone is necessarily always a bad idea, but you have to have an idea of who you want to replace them with, otherwise it was all for nothing and a pointless move. The owners must have felt that in Ian Ayre and Damien Comolli, they had two people they could trust to run the club for them, but Ayre was known to be overawed by Dalglish, unwilling to stand up to him and question his wisdom, while Comolli’s role simply wasn’t clearly defined enough, so things began to slip through the net.
A management structure is the next logical step in response to the ramshackle set-up that came before, but you still get the feeling that despite their increased involvement, the whole plan still lacks cohesion and clarity.
The lack of an agreed, defined and concrete system still troubles me. If the club underperforms again next season, where is the finger of blame to be pointed to? Is it the collaborative panel that will help Rodgers liable? Is it Rodgers himself? Nobody wants to get into a blame game further down the line as nobody emerges from a round of mud-slinging with a clean shirt, but there still looks to be a lack of accountability and leadership from above. It remains to be seen whether this new, somewhat revolutionary structure can work, for Rodgers sake at least, I hope it does.
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