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“Back on track” and Canny Nani Makes The Case For The Technical Director


United and Liverpool “Back on track”

After big recent wins against Stoke and Wigan – those bastions of consistency – the general consensus amongst the pundits is that Manchester United and Liverpool are “back on track” after defeats at Turf Moor and White Hart Lane. Just one problem with that though: I thought it was “too early” to judge the respective title challenges of teams at the top. If it’s “too soon” to prove if Tottenham and Manchester City can keep up their impressive form, surely it’s equally soon to judge if  United and Liverpool’s defeats are just blips.

“One swallow doesn’t make a summer”, and obviously if the punditocracy are anything to go by, “early wins don’t necessarily mean a title charge”. Fine, but surely, by the same token, one good win shouldn’t get you back on track. In fact, it’s the opening week of the season: There aren’t any tracks. There’s simply no track to get back on. These two clubs could challenge for the title, or they could both get relegated. We just don’t know. Surely it’s time for those who are paid to pass judgements on football to pass judgements on football: Not to make bland generalisations, or say pathetic clichés for no other reason than how the respective teams did the previous year. Players age, leave, lose form, lose pace, lose confidence and lose inspiration over the summer break, so how do these people know that Team A will continue on a certain path, while not knowing which way Team B will go?

If you want to make a prediction for how a team will do this season, go ahead and do it – but do it for everyone, or don’t do it at all. Most of the people who say, with absolute certainty, that Manchester United and Liverpool will build on their good recent results say, with a straight face, that it’s “too early” to judge the prospective chances of other teams. You seem to have had enough time to judge other teams looking at the Champions League places… so why not judge the rest?

Maybe (probably) I’m overreacting to a throwaway remark, but there has to be a reason why these people be so hypocritical:

Anyone know what it is?

Gianluca Nani shows Curbs’ folly

When Alan Curbishley left Upton Park early last season, it was because he wasn’t having “the final say” in transfer policy. Fans, pundits, fellow managers leapt to his defence, saying that’s “not how we do it in England”, a “Technical Director has no place in the English game” and that it “may be how they do it on the continent” with an arrogant, patronising tone that made Gianluca Nani, like Damien Comolli look like the increasing number of Big Bad Wolves ruining everything for the manager who wasn’t “allowed” to decide who comes and goes.

Harry Redknapp, a man who seems to view Technical Directors with a suspicion only usually left for criminals and spies, replaced Juande Ramos and Comolli at Tottenham – he’s done a decent job so far – leaving Pompey in the lurch. This man, after an earlier altercation with Avram Grant and Vladimir Zajec during his first spell at Fratton Park, insisted on having “total control” of transfers and transfer policy. Essentially, to quote The Smiths “Please, please, please, let me get what I want.”

So, Peter Storrie and Alexander Gaydamak let Harry do what he liked in the transfer market – after a 49% increase in wages over a summer, a financial crisis and all of their good players having to be sold to raise cash for interest payments from the loans taken out to finance the deals, Portsmouth are in a perilous position, willing to beg for any buyer to come in. Obviously Harry couldn’t control the World’s banks (don’t even think about it) but he could’ve controlled his spending. He didn’t, and now the club is in desperate trouble. Surely Portsmouth could’ve hired a technical director – like it or lump it, Harry – to prevent things getting out of hand like they are now? Maybe Harry has learned his lessons from his time at Portsmouth… but the signings of Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch – all for well over £10m each – show that he probably hasn’t. Will Spurs go the same way as Pompey?

A similar story down the road at West Ham, where Alan Curbishley, in an ultimately successful attempt to keep the club in the Premier League and consolidate that position went, for the want of a better word, crazy in the transfer market – £72,000-a-week for Lucas Neill, who turned down a move to Liverpool because of the wage drop, £80,000-a-week for Freddie Ljungberg, £90,000 a week for Keiron Dyer, an astonishing £100,000-a-week allegedly for Craig Bellamy – was subsequently told to slash the wage budget by director Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, and ultimately quit, because – you’ll like this – he didn’t like George McCartney being sold for £7m. With the Icelandic banks having gone into meltdown, West Ham had to cut costs and raise money.

In fact they still do.

Yet twelve months on, Gianluca Nani and Gianfranco Zola in tandem have done a terrific job, bettering Curbishley’s 10th place finish – and, better still, done it a £40m profit. With the sales (mostly to Sunderland) of Anton Ferdinand, McCartney, the slashing of the remarkable wage bill etc, they have shown that, with a coach willing to co-operate, you can make a roaring success of the Technical Director position in English football. And while every player, if a good offer comes in, is still up for sale – the nous of Gianluca Nani, and the coaching talent of Zola means that West Ham will probably get a good deal out of it. On and off the pitch.

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  1. nssf04

    August 24, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    As long as everyone is on the same page and know their roles going in as opposed to a board sneaking in someone after the fact.

    That was Curbishley’s beef, but as the names and figures quoted above for his transfer dealings show, Curbishley’s superiors had plenty of evidence that he wasn’t up to this task.

    I agree with Jason that technical directors will become more not less common in England. In addition to the points that he made, I think another advantage that this set up offers is stability for the club. Managers have a short shelf life in the Premier League, and I think it’s better not to have to start all over again — in terms of organizational philosophy — every time the manager leaves for another job or is let go. Instead of bringing in a new manager and then making wholesale changes to the roster, the technical director can find another manager whose philosophies largely fit the club’s direction and the players already on the books.


  2. AtlantaPompey

    August 24, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Harry complains constantly. Peter Storrie should have stood up to him more than once and said no. He didn’t and we’re in this predicament now because of it. While it would have not looked good to have Storrie turn down spending requests, in the long run it would have made more sense. I tell my wife the same thing when she’s shopping. Just because we have the credit available on a credit card, doesn’t mean we should spend it. The collective administration of Portsmouth put us in this situation, and may not get us out of it anytime soon.

  3. M. Scallon

    August 24, 2009 at 9:01 am

    I take your point SamSpur and AtlantaPompey, but the red tops have a strange way of making a good decision into a bad one:

    If Storrie turns down Harry’s request for more superfluous cash, it isn’t “Wise Storrie Keeps Pompey Afloat” it’s “Chairman getting involved in transfer activity”. Storrie should’ve done something about it, but his hands were tied by the fact that Harry complains vividly about anyone interfering with his transfer policy. He gave Harry full control – to prevent the Zajec/Grant situation in his spell under Mandaric – and hoped he’d “work the market” as his reputation suggests. He didn’t. He overspent hugely and held to club to ransom.

    I’m also not saying that Spurs are going to go the same way as Portsmouth, but stranger things have happened. And if you look at the catchment area for Tottenham: They’re filling 40,000 at WHL now, but with Arsenal up the road, Chelsea, West Ham etc nearby, how are they going to get 58,000 people in without the draw of European football/a good side? Are they going to have to raise more money to pay for it by raising prices? Will anyone pay big bucks to see Spurs if, for a similar price you can see Chelsea or Arsenal? If the club are going to cut costs to finance their new ground, how will that impact on transfer policy? Will Harry be happy not being having £40m to splurge every summer? There’s more questions than answers at the moment. They’re not in peril as we speak obviously, but there’s always a risk with a) giving a manager full control on transfers, and b) building a stadium.

    • SamSpur

      August 24, 2009 at 5:39 pm

      one by one on your Spurs questions:

      – I believe the season ticket waiting list is something like 20,000 long
      – raising prices…probably, but they’re also losing $ by not being able to seat the amt of ppl who want to watch Spurs play
      – WILL ANYONE PAY BIG BUCKS TO SEE SPURS IF, FOR A SIMILAR PRICE YOU CAN SEE CHELSEA OR ARSENAL!????? ARE YOU KIDDING??? For one thing, prices for all three clubs are already similar…but for a possibly less obvious (to you) point…I dunno, because they’re Spurs fans?

      blah, too tired to respond to the rest, but for the last point, I don’t think Harry has full control on transfers…Levy has the ultimate say. But one point you don’t bring up at all is a club’s wage cost, a point where Levy and Spurs are notoriously stingy. And wages are a thing which cost clubs like Pompey, Newcastle, Leeds a ton.

      • M. Scallon

        August 24, 2009 at 8:33 pm

        Look mate, I expressed an opinion – whether you agree or not there’s no need to infer that I am some kind of idiot. Jeez.

        And doesn’t a large percentage of matchday income come from hospitality boxes, executive suites, posh seats etc? So if Spurs are hiking up prices, what’s the draw for a rich, disinterested party to come and watch Spurs for a lot of money when they could go to Chelsea for a lower cost and see better players? Are you saying that there are 300 Spurs fans with £60,000 to spare on an executive box? Do you think that even 30,000 of the 70,000 “club members” have £800-£1700 to spend on a season ticket? Spurs’ season ticket prices are pretty hefty now, so a further rise may anger fans like Arsenal’s price rise did, only more so because of the lower standard of football.

  4. SamSpur

    August 24, 2009 at 1:33 am

    don’t see how its Harry’s fault for spending the club’s money…in the case of either Pompey or Spurs, he doesn’t own the club does he? therefore someone else has to ok the spending, right?

    and BTW, somehow I don’t think Spurs would be building a new stadium if they were deep in debt and in peril financially. poorly researched and written article, IMO

  5. brn442

    August 23, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Key phrase ” a coach willing to cooperate” that’s the key. The fact that you used the word “coach” instead of “manager” says a lot about your objectivity. As long as everyone is on the same page and know their roles going in as opposed to a board sneaking in someone after the fact.

  6. AtlantaPompey

    August 23, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Harry really screwed us over, but he doesn’t deserve all of the blame. Peter Storrie allowed those contracts to be signed. Peter Storrie approved those transfer deals.

    Unless we get a buyer early this week, we’re screwed. We will have dug so deep a hole that the January transfer window will not help us one bit. My only hope is that we don’t end up in administration and follow Southampton down the s**thole.

  7. Matt

    August 23, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Tottenham is one the most financially stable clubs in the Premier League, as shown by the wages vs. turnover ratio. The money that is being spent (and the purchases of Defoe and Keane would not have included a large amount of capital actually changing hands back) is well within the club’s means. The club also have a very, very small amount of debt and is in the Top 15 richest clubs every year, despite not being in the European Cup for twenty years.

    So no, it does not seem like Tottenham will do a Portsmouth, because money is being spent wisely.

  8. Jason

    August 23, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I think a great example of the need for Technical Directors is Martin O’Neill at Aston Villa. Everyone knows he’s fantastic at getting the most out of his players but he’s admitted his distaste for this era’s transfer market. The skills required for the two positions are very different and to assume every coach makes a good Technical Director and vice versa sets up the club for disappointment. Here in the States we call the Technical Director the General Manager and if a coach wants to assume GM duties it’s a big deal; nobody believes he can do both effectively. I think the number of Technical Directors will increase as the risk from overpaying players/acquiring the wrong players increases.

  9. Raatzie

    August 23, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Sound and fury. Don’t give any of it too much credence.

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