Manager vacancy: Could a director of football help?

Portsmouth FC Portsmouth FC
Jamie Smith October 18, 2012
How is the cost benefit worked out, I guess these ... 3 years ago

Burnley’s search for a manager remains ongoing – would a director of football be useful at Turf Moor?

It’s a post far more common on the continent, but there have been the odd examples of success here in the UK.

Dan Ashworth has been lauded for his work as sporting director at West Brom, while Damien Comolli has held a similar post at both Liverpool and Spurs and our friends down the M65 put Shebby Singh in charge in the summer. Reading also have one – Nick Hammond – who has been in the role almost ten years.

Ashworth has now been headhunted for a big job at the FA and WBA are looking for someone to replace him – so could a director of football type appointment work at Turf Moor in conjunction with the new manager?

One of the main issues to arise when a DoF is brought in to a club is that the manager feels as though their control is being taken away by the board. English managers famously like to have control over everything at the club from the very bottom right to the top and having a DoF above them can cause ructions. In his autobiography Brian Laws says he feels “clubs should be run by the manager from top to bottom”.

But if the two roles are clearly defined, it’s possible that the two men could work together. Would it be able to work at Turf Moor?

With the quick turnaround of managers – the average tenure now just 18 months and falling – short-term thinking takes priority over longer-term planning. Lee Hoos has spoken of the need for Eddie Howe’s replacement to fit the “footballing philosophy” of the Club. Bringing in a DoF could ensure the Club remains on track with this goal, signing players for the future and ensuring the style of play remains as the board want it.

But matters on the pitch have to remain the domain of the manager or the head coach and this is where problems can arise. If a manager hasn’t been responsible for bringing a player to the club, what if they don’t rate him and don’t see how he fits into the squad?

Manager and DoF would have to work together very closely on all aspects of running the club. With headstrong individuals drawn to football management simply because of all the role entails, clashes are likely.

Many of the managers who have been linked with the vacancy at Turf Moor are young and relatively inexperienced. Could it work to have an older, wiser DoF above them, someone who knows how management works but is looking for a less hands-on role?

For instance, Michael Appleton has been working under exceptional circumstances at Portsmouth and has had to sign players on a month-to-month basis to be able to put a team out at the weekend. Having experienced life with a DoF type figure at WBA, would he take the role with the understanding a senior man would come in above him and that he would potentially get a say in who it was?

But someone like Mick McCarthy who has been around the block a few times may be less keen on the idea of having another alpha male around the place.

Would it be necessary for our new DoF to have links to the Club? Probably not, although it might help. In which case, what about a return for Steve Cotterill? His football wasn’t great to watch but he made some tremendous signings for Burnley – Michael Duff is arguably the best value signing we’ve ever made after we squeezed 200+ appearances out of just a £35,000 fee.

How about someone who knows the Club inside out. How about Terry Pashley? Pash says he has no desire to be in charge of first team affairs on a full-time basis, but what about in a DoF role? The most effective DoFs have been those who have been allowed the chance to shape their club’s policy and philosophy and having been at Turf Moor since forever, someone like Pashley might be able to adapt to the role.

It doesn’t have to be someone who knows the Club, though, Gareth Southgate has arguably failed as a manager and is now an FA suit. If he wanted to come back to club football, a DoF type role could be right for him.

DoFs work on the continent smoothly with managers in Europe operating more as a head coach, solely in charge of what goes on during games. English football might be able to improve by following suit and it would be a brave and exciting step for the board to take.

Personally I can see the pros and cons of having a DoF. With the right combination of DoF and manager it could work perfectly, but the danger is there is too much conflict between the pair and the relationship breaks down.

Still, it is perhaps an avenue worth exploring for the board, especially if they select an inexperienced face for the Turf Moor dugout.

Would a DoF work at Turf Moor? Comment below.

  • Kevin Robinson
    Kevin Robinson

    Eddie Howe restructured the whole footballing side of the Club in his time here. Which is good, I really like to see a manager taking a long-term view. But that was in his image, and how he’s gone who is to say the next man will share his ideals?

    • Jamie Smith
      Jamie Smithin reply to Kevin Robinson

      I think that’s partly what the “footballing philosophy” encompasses.

  • Neil

    I’d only consider it of the manager and DoF were running parallel to one another, not one overseeing the other.

    First team manager committed to good, technically adept football looking after the first team coaching and signings, DoF committed to producing good, technically adept young players for the first team.

    • Jamie Smith
      Jamie Smithin reply to Neil

      Aye, they’d have to be a team. It’s an idea worth looking at and maybe raising in the interviews, I think.

    • Michael Connellin reply to Neil

      The DoF described here though is basically a Head of Youth Academy.

      • Jamie Smith
        Jamie Smithin reply to Michael Connell

        swap ‘producing’ for signing and it’s a DoF

  • Michael Connell

    I think the problem most English clubs have making this system work is that they basically don’t understand how it should work and hire two managers and just divide their tasks (or they hire a crook like Commolli).

    That just can’t work, they’re very different roles requiring different skills and personalities. The DoF needs to be a long term planner who has no desire to be a manager and can put his personal ambition aside for the progression of the club. The head coach needs to be purely a coach.

    There’s an argument along the lines of “what if the manager doesn’t fancy the players the DoF signs” but if that’s the case, you’ve hired the wrong coach.

    The main benefit as I see it is that you avoid the stupid situation of completely overhauling your whole youth setup, scouting network, physio team and first team squad every 3 years.

    • Jamie Smith
      Jamie Smithin reply to Michael Connell

      Definitely right there. Also has to be long-term appointment, no use having a DoF for a couple of years and then replace them or ditch the idea altogether.

  • Aaron Phelan

    if we employ a director of football, it has to be somebody who’s had previous managerial roles and has worked within this system before. My suggestion for this would be perhaps stan ternant or somebody who knows the club

    • Jamie Smith
      Jamie Smithin reply to Aaron Phelan

      DoFs at Reading/WBA don’t have any managerial experience and it’s worked well for them, so not sure I agree with that.

  • Mike Mada

    How is the cost benefit worked out, I guess these guys don’t come that cheaply?

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