You will always hear it said in a winter transfer window, and especially in a quiet one like the current window appears to be at present—there is no value in January. That’s not quite true. It can be hard to find, though, and expert help is needed. It’s exactly the sort of landscape in which a good director of football comes into his or her own.
If you support a Premier League club, your antipathy of the concept may be such that you’re ready to click onto another article already, but please, bear with me. There is far more to it than just a layer of bureaucracy that only meddles with the manager’s affairs. It is a modern necessity.
Of course, the title "manager" means something entirely different in continental Europe. The guy who picks and trains the team is the "head coach"—a clear line of demarcation between sport and business, but a title that is seen too often in England as a form of demotion.
The fact is that there is little place for the old-fashioned, all-encompassing British-style manager these days. Football has made a seismic shift in terms of business over the last 20 years, and it is completely unrealistic to expect the same man who runs the team to select potential new players, negotiate with them and seal the deals all at once.
Arsene Wenger is perhaps the nearest the Premier League still has to this old-fashioned concept, and the strain often shows. Indecision in policy and latterly panic buys—ranging from Andre Santos to even Mesut Ozil—are a symptom of too much responsibility. Quite simply, he was able to do his most effective work when he had his own de facto director of football, David Dein. It appears the club’s infrastructure has not supported Wenger as it should have since Dein left in April 2007.
If we look across north London, we quickly find a major thread of Premier League suspicion of the director of football post. Daniel Levy is a big fan of a typically continental management structure but Tottenham have had, at best, mixed results with their own appointments. Damien Comolli is often used as a human stick with which to beat the concept, with the sense being that Martin Jol carried the can for a lot of the Frenchman’s transfer-market failures.
Comolli did, incidentally, sign Gareth Bale, Younes Kaboul, Luka Modric and Dimitar Berbatov too, though he will be forever tainted by Liverpool signing Andy Carroll on his watch. Spurs’ mistake (which has been a frequent error in England) was appointing over the head of an existing head coach, rather than getting a firm management structure in place first.
The tenure of Franco Baldini, who arrived in June 2013 at the behest of Andre Villas-Boas (as reported by The Guardian), has arguably been even less effective, though managing the fallout of Bale’s move to Real Madrid was an unenviable task. Individual successes and failures do not, however, really tell us anything about the value of such a management structure or otherwise.
It needs to be about stability, as well as about the right people. The relationship between now-France coach Didier Deschamps and his director of football Jose Anigo, for example, was a completely dysfunctional one. Anigo openly admitted in an interview with RMC in 2012 that the pair had no relationship and didn’t even speak.
You wouldn’t have needed a crystal ball to have envisaged it not working out between these two. Deschamps is a forthright personality, and Anigo is full of bluster; and a former Marseille coach to boot, having led Didier Drogba and company to the 2004 UEFA Cup final.
There are two types of candidate who rarely cut out for the director of football post. One is the sort who is looking for a head-coaching position, and thus threatens the incumbent. The other is a former coach who, even if he no longer harbours designs on the job, has been there before and thus thinks he knows best.
What is needed is a specialist, like Sevilla’s Monchi, in situ since 2000 and responsible for the development and sell-on of players including bargains like Daniel Alves and homegrown products such as Sergio Ramos and Jesus Navas. Pantaleo Corvino’s eight-year spell at Fiorentina was a similar example, as he did likewise with talent including Stevan Jovetic and Felipe Melo.
In short, a club needs a plan and an ethos that extends beyond the current head coach to avoid potentially ruinous waste. Spending money effectively is more important than ever in an era when the whole world knows how rich the Premier League and its clubs are. Can many of them afford to do without a director of football?