In English football, the Director of Football role remains a mystery to the average Premier League follower. Whilst some fulfill ambassadorial duties, the majority are there to cite transfer targets, facilitate deals and provide a go-between for the manager and board.
In the Premier League, it is a role that comes with something of a negative stigma. Many within the English game view these figures as unnecessary interferers, mainly due to commonly held view that the manager’s importance at the club far outweighs that of any other. Surrendering control to anybody else, well, that would just be undermining, wouldn’t it?
Perhaps not. Bear in mind, the four sides that reached the Champions League semi-finals last season all utilize the service of a director of football. So maybe these figures aren’t quite the villainous meddlers that many paint them to be. And with Premier League teams increasingly keen to adopt the very best continental methods, directors of football have started to crop up at some of the countries most illustrious outfits. So it begs the question, is it a model all English clubs should look to implement?
Granted, there are some examples where this set-up just hasn’t worked. Damien Comoli was dismissed by Liverpool last season after he sanctioned the signings of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam; players who failed to make an impact and have subsequently been shipped out at a loss. Harry Redknapp point blank refused to work under Velimir Zajec at Portsmouth, whilst David Pleat was apparently responsible for the sackings of both Glenn Hoddle and George Graham when he took up the role at Spurs.
But there have been successes too, with perhaps the biggest potential success stories happening in the here and now. Those directors of football currently employed by Premier League clubs – Joe Kinnear aside – are progressive, forward-thinking men with a thorough grasp on the rigors of modern football. And to some degree, they’ve all come up trumps this summer. Sunderland, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham all have directors of football, and in the main, they have all had very prosperous transfer windows to date.
Take Manchester City. They appointed Txiki Begiristain as their director last summer, a key factor in Roberto Mancini’s departure, with the former City boss reluctant to work under the former Barcelona man. But the benefits of having Begiristain within their hierarchy are already obvious. City cited their targets early and conducted business with the summer months in their infancy, giving the players time to settle and the manager time to run the rule over them. If City’s performance in their first game is anything to go by, it has worked a treat.
It’s been a good summer for Tottenham too. Having appointed Franco Baldini – a man who was director of football at Roma for six years before joining Fabio Capello’s England set up – the blow of losing Gareth Bale has been almost completely eradicated, with many feeling that the club’s recent investments will have them firmly on track to challenge for the title. This is in no small part to the work done by Baldini, who has been working closely with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy throughout the summer.