Is this setup really the way forward in football?

West Brom director, Dan Ashworth

As football has evolved over the years, the trend for a manager to have total control at a club is gradually diminishing; with the increasing need to employ a Director of Football to help with matters such as developing and recruiting players.

The traditional English concept of a manager having total control is not something which the influx of foreign owners within the Premier League are keen to adopt, with ambitious businessmen seeking to stamp their authority at a club by appointing someone supposedly to moderate a manager’s influence.

Manchester City under the ownership of Sheikh Mansour, are the latest club to subscribe to this model by employing Tixiki Begiristain, Barcelona’s director between 2008 and 2010, to oversee the recruitment, development and training of over 400 players at the club.

But is this new style of management the way forward in English football and perhaps more importantly, can it become a success?

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We have already seen promising signs with what Dan Ashworth did at West Bromwich Albion, leading to the FA deciding to appoint him as their new Director of Elite Development.

Ashworth is currently assisting in the search for his successor at the Hawthorns, as he aims to be in his new FA role by the end of January, but club chairman Jeremy Peace is keen for Ashworth to stay until the end of the season; and it is easy to see why.

Since arriving at the club in 2007, Ashworth became responsible for the recruitment of players and was responsible for bringing in the likes of Jonas Olsson, Peter Odemwingie, Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu to the club for the measly combined fee of just over £3million.

He has also been in charge of appointing the club’s last four head coaches: Tony Mowbray, Roberto Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson and Steve Clarke; with each man seeking to continue the Baggies’ philosophy of playing fast, attacking football.

Ashworth’s ability to spend money wisely on selected players and the way careful planning went in place before appointing a new coach, led many to claim that West Brom were one of the most stable clubs in the country.

If this example is an indicator for success, then many other sides might decide to implement a Sporting Technical Director/Head Coach set-up; but there is of course the other side of the coin to consider, when a Director of Football can sometimes become more of a hindrance than a help.

The most high-profile example of its kind came at Liverpool with the appointment of Damien Comolli in November 2010. His job brief was similar to Ashworth’s, with his main role once again being to oversee the recruitment of players at Anfield. He selected players who he deemed suitable and got the final say from then manager, Kenny Dalglish over who to ultimately pursue.

Comolli played a major role in bringing in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll to the club, but with the failure of Carroll and other influenced signings such as Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, the club’s owners decided his work was done.

It is reported that Fenway Sports Group’s appointment of Comolli was rushed, thereby going a little way to explaining the Frenchman’s forgettable time in Merseyside.

Other well-publicised failures include the deeply unpopular appointment of Dennis Wise at Newcastle, with Kevin Keegan reportedly resigning as manager for a second time due to Wise buying and selling players without his approval.

It is hard to imagine those managers steeped in the old school tradition seeing having a Director of Football as the way forward. Can you envisage the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger being told which players to buy?

Therefore, the success of a Director of Football is largely dependent on the character of a manager and whether he is prepared not to have total control over team affairs. If this is the case, then the relationship may work, but as the breed of old school managers die out and with more foreign owners, many more clubs will start to see this type of role as the only way forward.

 You can follow me on twitter: @JamesHilsum  


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