The role of ‘Sporting Director’, ‘Director of Football’, ‘General Manager’ or whatever it’s dubbed each time, means just one thing in the English game, intrusion. The job title has been a resounding success across mainland Europe, as the man charged with such duties, usually, works perfectly in tandem with a head coach, to establish smooth on and off-field running, yet in the Premier League the whole system breaks down, with one or the other eventually taking the bullet.
As has been seen in the past few days, the Director of Football is usually one who finds his head on the block in England, with the traditionalist view of managers running the club. Damien Comolli was brought to Liverpool by current owners, Fenway Sports Group, with the remit of aiding Kenny Dalglish in his transfer endeavours. He made an instant impact through the purchases of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, and although the former has been a success story, the £35 million purchase of the Newcastle man has been marred by criticism. Along with the addition of Carroll, Comolli has shown his ability to splash the cash, playing a key role in the deals that brought both Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing to the club for a combined fee of almost £40 million. Although the Reds’ spending has been much criticised, the £50 million fee received for Fernando Torres does somewhat distort the net spend, however, it does not detract from the feeling that the money could have been better invested, particularly with example of Newcastle. The combination of on-field disappointment and large scale spending, somebody had to take the blame, and as is the trend in England, the footballing director made his exit.
The role of the Director has been a resounding success across Europe, with clubs from Germany, Spain and Italy employing men in such roles to link the manager and the board. Although it could be argued that a link-man, on a significant salary, is unnecessary, the role can offer stability aiding the club’s financial security. Across mainland Europe the level of financial income through television rights and prize money has been dwarfed by that of the Premier League, forcing clubs to survive on lower budgets, this has seen the birth of the director, who is charged with providing financial stability, through transfer dealings. Managers frequently come and go in football, and the transition between new men can sometimes see a radical difference in playing styles, the director’s primary role is to detract managers from delving into the transfer market themselves, thus avoiding large levels of spending, should a change in management occur.
The need for such a role has not been so vast in the Premiership, with the heavy investment of Sky in their securing of exclusive broadcast rights. This has allowed English clubs to operate at a level above those from Europe for a long period of time, with financial responsibility not being quite as high on the list of priorities. As a result managers have been able to conduct their own business in the transfer market, liaising with scouts to draw up lists of possible targets. The intrusion of the sporting director has become one of annoyance in the English game, due to its relatively short presence, which has been drawn upon by the media.
The Reds should have perhaps taken the hint from Comolli’s previous role at Tottenham, during which time he received high levels of criticism for his dealings in the transfer market. Signings such as Kevin Prince-Boateng, Giovani Dos Santos and Roman Pavlyuchenko were all influenced by the Frenchman, and it’s fair to say have been underwhelming, hinting at a level of recklessness. Although Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, also signed under Comolli, have come good after initially disappointing, there were very few immediate hit arrivals during his time in London, and instant success was just what was required during his spell with Liverpool.
Although the Director of Football appears to work in mainland Europe, it’s an unnecessary hindrance in the traditionalist world of the Premier league. Liverpool should perhaps have learnt from the previous examples of such roles at Newcastle and Tottenham and given Kenny Dalglish freedom to conduct his own dealings.
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