Feature: Director of Football- The Most Important Role In The Modern Game

By Keiran Fleming 

The Manager merry-go-round has become part of the modern game. The term “Long term project” has been thrown about a lot recently yet at the first sign of trouble the manager is shown the door.

There are hardly any clubs in the world that believe in a continuous style of play. The time for the old fashioned manager, like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger who looked after the day to day operations of the club, are over. Managers have now become Head Coaches.

The introduction of the director of football has been the most significant development in the game over the last 20 years.

 

What is a Director of Football?

The director of football is a key part to the senior management team at a club and their main focus tends to be on transfers. 

The responsibilities tend to vary from club to club, some are involved in all aspects of the business, hiring and firing of managers, scouting, recruitment of players, long-term planning and improvement of facilities. Depending on the individuals talents the role can become more specialised. 

 

Which Clubs have Directors of Football?

The biggest football teams in the world employ directors of football. 

The role is mostly featured in continental European clubs but the role has now made its way to the UK with a lot of clubs now hiring directors of football to play a key role in how the team plays. 

Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain, AC Milan and Bayern Munich are just a few clubs from the continent that have employed directors to varying levels of success.

Manchester United are the most notable club that currently don’t have a director of football, however they are currently looking for someone to take the important role.

They will join other premier league clubs, such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, in finding the person they see as fitting the job.

 

High Profile Directors of Football

With directors of football becoming more important in the modern era of football, directors have now been pushed into the spotlight.

Txiki Begiristain, Manchester City’s current director of football, previously served as Barcelona’s director until he was picked up by the citizens in 2012.

Begiristain brought greats such as Dani Alves, Yaya Toure, Rafa Marquez and Eric Abidal to Barcelona during his tenure as director of football. However, the same man also took Keirrison and Alexander Hleb to Camp Nou which were considered as huge flops.

During his time on the blue side of Manchester he has helped bring in key players such as Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus. Begiristain is also responsible for bringing in questionable players such as Mangala and Nolito. The spanish national provided insight into the role for the BBC in 2018.

“You don’t need to change 11 players every year. You need to change two or three,” said Begiristain.

“If you win, you need to bring someone in to create competition. If not, you have to improve some pieces, but the idea stays and the work is there to try and win again.”

Another Spanish director of football is Monchi. During his first stint at Sevilla he was credited with discovering talents such as Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio Ramos and Jesus Navas. He was also an expert in finding bargains, like Dani alves, Rakitic and Julio Baptista, and turning a profit. 

In 2017 Monchi moved to Italian side Roma as director of football and his praised for his recruitment of players like Bryan Cristante, Justin Kluivert and Robin Olsen.

Brazillian director of football Alexandre Mattos has been hailed as the mastermind behind the success of many trophy laden sides across Brazil, such as Cruzeiro and Palmeiras.

Chelsea have Michael Emenalo to thank for their recent success in the transfer market with the signings of N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. Emenalo also oversaw the unsuccessful signings of Loic Remy and Marko Marin.

One of the most divisive directors of football is Damien Comolli. He has worked with a number of clubs, including, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Saint Etienne. Currently Comolli is working in Turkey for Fenerbache.

At the beginning of his career the Frenchman enjoyed a huge amount of success such as the signing of Kolo Toure for Arsenal. He was the man behind Spurs landing Luka Modric and Dimitar Berbatov. It was during his stint as Liverpool’s director of football however, that his reputation began to go downhill.

After the Fenway Sports Group bought the Reds, Comolli was appointed. He began to sign players based on statistical analysis, this led to a large amount of money being splashed out on Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam.

Jordan Henderson was another of the Frenchman’s acquisitions. Comolli believes that Henderson’s performances were the reason that he was sacked.

“He [Henderson] is one of the main reasons I got sacked,” Comolli said in a 2016 interview with talkSPORT. “The day I got sacked they [Liverpool’s owners] told me I had made a big mistake on Jordan and he was a waste of money.

“I never said it publicly, but I was convinced he would be the future captain. People will say it is easy to say now, but I was convinced at the time that he would become the Liverpool captain. Now he is and he is also the England captain.”

Another example of how it can go wrong is the case of Dennis Wise at Newcastle United. The former Chelsea midfielder fell out with manager Kevin Keegan over the signing of unwanted players. This led to Keegan resigning in frustration and suing the club for constructive dismissal. 

It’s clear directors of football are becoming absolute common place within the top end of football – and as many other features do, it will likely eventually filter down to lower levels. Like players and managers, directors of football suit some clubs and not others – as is shown in the above examples. 

Will the role of director of football last, or will there eventually be reissuance of a time where Alex Ferguson controlled pretty much everything at Manchester United? – It seems unlikely, but even 4-4-2 makes a comeback every now and then.

 

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