Can a Director of Football Succeed in the English Premier League?

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 17, 2013

As the BBC confirmed Joe Kinnear had been appointed Director of Football at Newcastle United on Sunday, fans across the UK looked quizzically at one another.

Another attempt to make a Director of Football, or DoF for short, a success? You've got to be joking.

The appointment was poorly received for two reasons on Tyneside. Firstly, Kinnear was last involved with the club in their relegation season of 2009. During that time he called chairman Derek Llambias "Dave" and Charles N'Zogbia "Charles Insomnia."

Secondly, and this is a belief widely held in the English Premier League, DoFs do not work.

Liverpool's most recent experience with Damien Comolli has left a sour taste in many football fans' mouths, and yet you can't say they weren't warned.

As, via The News of the World, reported, Comolli's previous role at St. Etienne had ended in tears and left the French side in financial disdain:

Damien spent €22 million [£18.7m] of our money on seven players in summer of last year. Only one is a first-team regular now.

We gave him the keys to our club and are now in financial difficulties while trying to make free transfers.

We lost the chance to make a lot of money, too, when Damien refused to sign Laurent Koscielny, for whom [Arsenal boss Arsene] Wenger paid more than €12m [£10.2m].

Damien told me that, if you signed Second Division players, you ended up with a Second Division team. So the player went to Lorient and made them a fortune instead.

His signings for the Reds include Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique.

Make of that single case study what you will: Perhaps Comolli is just a particularly poor Director of Football?

Indeed, Txiki Begiristain's early work at Manchester City has been very fruitful. His official title is Sporting Director, but he's responsible for the signings of both Jesus Navas and Fernandinho, as the club was manager-less at the time.

That hierarchy, in which one man controls transfers—both incoming and outgoing—and a head coach comes in and makes what he can of it, is incredibly common in European football.

Plenty of Spanish, Italian and German sides use the model, and even Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have subscribed to it in recent years.

But those tenures—particularly Chelsea's Michael Emenalo—have drawn scorn too. With left-back a long-term concern and question marks over the defence, why is the £20 million signing of Andre Schuerrle being sanctioned?

Begiristain is a rare success story in England, and even still he's just months into the job. Is it that England is resistant to the position, with fans being brought up under the idea that managers have control, or that we just haven't seen a successful one yet?

Joe Kinnear hardly inspires confidence.

His involvement with Newcastle United last time around was far from positive, and he's far from the ideal candidate for a job description that remains unclear.

What do you want from your Director of Football?

At this stage, it seems, a DoF has to have the essentials of a Head Scout—an ability to identify players who fit in certain systems, or personalities that can work together.

Begiristain identified City's two prime weaknesses—a true, touchline-wide winger and a mobile, game-changing defensive midfielder—with ease, settling the issue quickly and getting the fans onside.

He didn't dally with the likes of Scott Parker in the press. He went straight for the throat and signed one of perhaps three players in world football who are actually perfect for the role.

In short, his work was excellent.

How many times have we been able to peruse the dealings of Directors of Football and label their work as such? 

Begiristain's early success has partially restored faith in the role, but he's also set a precedent. Seven years as a director at Barcelona has given him insight into the "right" way of building a team, and he's brought his talents to England.

Newcastle have followed suit, but made an astonishingly unimaginative appointment. Kinnear needs to buck his trend of unimaginative transfers and lack of tactical nous—not to mention his unsavory choice of words, at times—to be considered a success.

On the back of progress in the form of Begiristain, this looks, from the offset, as bad news for anyone hoping the trend of the DoF in the EPL could be on the rise.