There appears to be a genuine feeling of contempt towards the role that is the ‘Director of Football’ in this country. The infringement on the manager is not taken kindly, the manager is the boss and the boss rules with an iron fist, he should have autonomous control over any duties regarding the team. That is the expected norm of many football fans on these shores. A view which outside of football is a bit too totalitarian for the liking of most. Yet, in truth, this is an old fashioned view on the role of the manager, especially with regards to transfer policy. A view that has altogether perhaps died out following the retirement of one Sir Alex Ferguson.
Chelsea, in the Abramovich Era, have been regular targets of criticism due to the alleged and seemingly blatant involvement of the board when it comes to new signings and players leaving. But is the criticism justified? Probably not. For those #AgainstModernFootball (We can add Stan Collymore to this list) this perhaps won’t be your cup of tea.
Taking an objective view on the matter, why should the manager have the final say on who the club buys? For starters, he isn’t the one forking out the money to bring in the new players. Sure, he should have an input, but to what extent? It should undoubtedly be the manager’s role in identifying the weaknesses and strengths he feels exist within the current crop of players, should that be where it ends? Are scouts not better suited to informing the owner of what available players will fill the void that has been highlighted? They, particularly at an elite level, are likely to be highly more informed on who in world football will be the suitable candidate to meet the manager’s needs. Should a club like Chelsea be criticised because Eden Hazard was signed more likely than not without any thought going to whether Di Matteo wanted him? (Granted, you’d have to be mad not to want the Belgian superstar) Scout Guy Hillion was surely in the best position to pass judgement on the then Lille attacker having watched him play over 20 times! I doubt many managers have that sort of free time, and if they did, they perhaps would be better served by dedicating more of it to the players they already have.
Not all clubs operated like this. Whilst, Manchester United, of course had an extensive scouting system, evidenced by their signing of Javier Hernandez, decisions were predominantly left to the man that had managed the club for 26 years. Now, with David Moyes as manager, United enter uncharted territory, football has evolved since they last had to recruit a new manager and their continued interest in Ezequiel Garay shows that they probably won’t give Moyes the same level of autonomy granted to Ferguson, at least, not yet. The Argentine has long been sought after by the club and in the past they’ve decided not to acquire the 26-year-old defender. This shouldn’t necessarily be a worry to United fans. Consider for a moment, where Tottenham Hotspur may be if Harry Redknapp was given full control of transfers, the man who admitted to having no clue about the Van Der Vaart transfer, who was arguably one of the best signings under Redknapp. More likely than not, Tottenham wouldn’t have been involved in European football all that much.
The role of the manager has evolved or perhaps devolved into something more common across the rest of Europe, maybe he will even be referred to as the coach in the not too distant future. The xenophobes amongst us will fight that change with every fibre in their body. Fate, however, can’t be changed.
This won’t really be a problem, most new managers in the football world seem pretty accommodating of this system. Their focus lies more in science and how to extract the best out of what they have. Manchester City are perhaps the most notable team to evidently adopt this model when they appointed Txiki Begiristain as Director of Football to oversee a long term transfer policy. The signings of Fernandinho and Jesus Navas have been made without a manager present and are undoubtedly the choices of the Spaniard.
Still, not everyone is convinced this is the right way forward. Coming back to Chelsea, there is a general resentment towards any praise that may fall the way of Michael Emenalo. Yet, surely he deserves the credit for bringing in the likes of Luiz, Oscar, Mata and Hazard etc. when the manager may have looked to pursue other targets, Emenalo has identified, along with the scouting network, quality players. Mourinho was no magician in the transfer window, Cech and Robben, arguably the two brightest signings of his first season were not players he brought to the club. His tenure no doubt saw him bringing in special, world class talent like that of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Ricardo Carvalho but lest we forget the Khalid Boulahrouz, Maniche and Jiri Jarosik’s of this world. Hardly the quality of players that would frighten the opposition.
This isn’t to say a Director of Football is a guarantee towards a flawless transfer policy. This is merely suggesting that they are not the antichrist that some would portray them as and are potentially a major benefit to the club. Their effectiveness and success depends largely on the willingness of the manager to accept this modern structure. Stubbornness is a vice, not a virtue.