Directors of Football and Sebastian Veron

Directors of Football and Sebastian Veron have much in common; both are useful on the continent but in England they leave a lot to be desired.

Alex Ferguson bought the Little Witch for £28.1 million in the belief that he would become United’s midfield general receiving the ball deep and picking out United’s wingers and strikers with penetrating passes. Well, we know how that worked out, after two seasons of mediocrity Veron was shipped off to Chelsea for £15 million. Following a meagre 14 appearances he was quietly loaned to Inter, never to return to England’s shores.

Put simply Veron was better suited to the type of game that is played on the continent. Perhaps the same can be said for Directors of Football.

On the continent they are considered integral to a club’s structure. They are seen as people who relieve pressure on the manager by taking responsibility for transfers and player development. In Britain, however they are viewed by both fans and the media with a mixture of suspicion and derision. At the moment these feelings are best encapsulated at Newcastle by owner Mike Ashley’s alleged treatment of Kevin Keegan, the Geordie messiah.

King Kev was schooled in the British style of management where the manager has complete control over their playing staff. Not only would the manager train and pick the team but select possible transfer targets as well as decide which players were to be sold. During his first stint at the club, Keegan sanctioned the acquisitions of Shearer, Ginola and Ferdinand and disposed of popular players such as Andy Cole when it suited him.

With Dennis Wise installed as Newcastle’s Director of Football, Keegan no longer ruled the club’s transfer policy. Players were signed without his approval and others like Joey Barton and Michael Owen were hawked around behind his back. Keegan is not the only manager to feel inhibited by the continental structure. Jose Mourinho was known to be antagonistic towards Frank Arnesen; players such as Boularhouz and Kalou were purchased without consultation whilst players that Mourinho wanted were vetoed.

Spurs is another club that has adopted the continental model. During Martin Jol’s tenure at Spurs he endured Damien Comolli, Darren Bent, Ricardo Rocha and Adel Taarabat were among those bought without the managers’ approval. When Spurs and Chelsea were not performing up to the exacting standards their chairmen demanded the managers were sacked whilst the Directors of Football remained.

The reasons for this new mania are twofold. A new breed of hugely wealthy owners have invested in many of the Premier League’s clubs. This closely resembles what took place in Italy when self made men with vast wealth such as Silvio Berlusconi and Massimo Moratti took control of AC Milan and Inter Milan respectively.

These men have run their other businesses with an iron grip and have been hugely successful. They are not used to placing their faith in one man to deliver success, the only judgement they trust is their own. A Director of Football is the owner’s agent enabling him to maintain a vice like grip over his club.

They help the chairman know what players and the coaching staff are thinking and fulfils their patron’s wishes by bringing favoured players to the club. Two good examples of this are Ronaldinho’s move to AC Milan, a decision made without Carlo Ancellotti’s approval and Abramovich’s pursuit of Andrei Shevchenko.

The second reason is that many clubs wish to follow the “Arsenal model.” Other less wealthy Chairman have seen Arsene Wenger unearth unpolished diamonds from around the world for only a small monetary outlay and sell these players on for a vastly inflated sum. Players such as Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Viera, Emanuelle Petit and Marc Overmars have helped build Arsenal’s reputation as one of the best teams in Europe. The club continues to maintain what is acclaimed by many as the Premier League’s best financial model for long term sustainability and now everyone wants to get in on the act.

Back at Newcastle, Ashley has brought in Wise to scour the South American and African markets for young players (from his London base), Tottenham have brought in Damien Commoli (previously one of Wenger’s right hand men in Africa) and West Ham have added Gianluca Nani to their board (he helped unearth and develop talents such as Luca Toni and Andrea Pirlo at Brescia).

Whilst the press have derided Arnesen and his ilk, Martin Jol believes that a Director of Football can make a significant contribution to a football club despite the tribulations he has endured. He believes that the Director has to appoint the manager. If this happens the management structure of a club is transparent and the manager understands who his boss is and they can work in tandem. When a Director of Football is brought in above the manager that is when the problems arise.

Nevertheless what remains crystal clear is that in times of trouble the manager will remain as the sacrificial lamb to the fans, no chairman will sack his eyes and ears at the club.  Maybe in ten years time all top Premier League clubs will have a continental structure. However, the jury is out and it’s not looking good for the clubs that do have a Director of Football.

There is a lot of talk about who Manchester City will sign next, will it be Kaka? Ronaldo? Messi? All the smart money is on a Director of Football.