BBC Sport
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
| Help

Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 14:36 GMT
The director of football debate
By Andrew McKenzie

Harry Redknapp
Harry Redknapp has quit as manager of Portsmouth.

Redknapp said his decision was not a result of his row with chairman Milan Mandaric over the appointment of Velimir Zajec as executive director.

But his position seems to have been undermined by the arrival of the former Panathinaikos director of football.

Pompey insist Zajec will be an executive director, not a director of football, but the controversy caused over the Croat's role has re-ignited the debate in England.

The system is common in Europe but still stigmatised in England, and has now threatened to cause a crisis in two Premiership clubs after Tottenham coach Jacques Santini quit in protest at the role of sporting director Frank Arnesen.

Why has a management structure caused so much angst in English football, and could it ever work in this country? BBC Sport tried to find out.


Former Leicester director of football Dave Bassett said: "You're a buffer. The director of football is answerable to the board but there to assist the manager. He's experienced in football and there to help the board members who don't have that experience.

Micky Adams (left) and Dave Bassett
Adams and Bassett had their ups and downs with Leicester
"It means the manager is left to look after all the professionals at the club, the teamwork, tactics, fitness, medical side and picking the team.

"The director is responsible for the budget to be spent on wages and makes sure it is adhered to. He should be above the academy level to ensure that the money on youth level is not being overspent.

"Secondly the director of football has to be involved in the selection of the manager so that when the manager gets the job he knows the director of football is fully supportive because he selected him.

"That means to some extent the director of football's head is on the line because it was his decision."


Contrary to current opinion, Tottenham were not the first.

In 1969 Sir Matt Busby stepped down as Manchester United manager and appointed Wilf McGuinness as a chief coach.

He assumed the title of general manager but the move lasted just four months before McGuinness was sacked and Busby stepped back in.

More recently Lawrie McMenemy held the position of director of football at Southampton during the reigns of Alan Ball, Dave Merrington and Graeme Souness.

McMenemy said: "I think I was the first to have that title. I'd finished with England and Southampton brought me back on to the board. They asked me to take over as manager but I didn't want to.

Lawrie McMenemy (left) and Graeme Souness
Souness was the third manager to work under Lawrie McMenemy
"We decided to bring in a younger person on the provision I would work with them. As I was already a director they invented the name director of football."

Since then a number of clubs have attempted a similar set-up.

Bassett stepped into the role of director of football to allow Micky Adams to become manager at Leicester - leading to promotion to the Premiership in 2003.

Kenny Dalglish moved upstairs to become director of football at Blackburn and later filled the same role with Celtic.

Despite Dalglish's ultimately unsuccessful partnership with John Barnes, Scottish football has embraced the role more than its English counterparts.

Dick Advocaat had a spell as director of football at Rangers alongside Alex McLeish and Aberdeen's fortunes have turned round since director of football Willie Miller teamed up with Jimmy Calderwood.

Inverness's recent success has come under the watchful eye of Graeme Bennett, while Hearts have plans to bring in former USSR coach Anatoly Byshovets as director of football.


Bassett believes more clubs could have avoided the recent financial problems had they adopted a European look.

He added: "In my opinion if I'd been a director of football at Leicester for longer than I was they wouldn't have gone into administration and if Leeds had a director of football they wouldn't be in the state they are in.

"The director of football would ensure that the right work is done. He knows how to operate the market in terms of transfer fees and whether a club is paying the right money for a player.

"The old English manager used to be involved with everything.

"But the game has moved on because the manager has a lot more work to do with things like the media now.

"A director of football can oversee and make sure everything is operating correctly - whether it is the scouting, the budget or whatever."


Despite relative success in the role at Southampton, Lawrie McMenemy believes that a director of football can have its pitfalls.

He said: "I remember one game when we first got together and we went to Norwich. I was in the directors' box and it was torture. I could see one of their players needed to be marked more tightly but I didn't know what to do.

"I couldn't shout down so I came out the box, stood at the back of the tunnel and signalled to our trainer that we needed to get tight on the Norwich player. I think Alan Ball wondered what I was up to.

"He maybe looked at it as a bit of interference and I can understand that, but I just couldn't help myself.

"No matter how well you get on with each other, if you've both been managers there will come a time where you would have done something a bit differently.

"You have to sit down and talk it out together and you have to be seen not to be interfering."


Italian journalist Giancarlo Galavotti of Gazzetto della Sport newspaper said: "The system in England is exactly the contrary to Italy.

"In England for over 100 years it's all about the manager but in Italy we have a general manager or a sporting director.

"It is an established fact that the transfer market is the domain of the chairman and the general manager.

"The coach has to do with whatever the chairman and general manager bring in. They may be able to say 'I want a striker or a defender' but it is up to the chairman to decide who they get.

"The involvement of the chairman historically has been of primary importance throughout our history."

Everyone has to want it to work. The moment Frank Arnesen was given the job the media said it would never work
Former Kidderminster director of football Jan Molby
At Barcelona Frank Rijkaard works in tandem with president Joan Laporta and technical director Tkixi Beguiristain.

Real Madrid's transfer dealings are largely looked after by president Florentino Perez and sporting director Emilio Butragueno.

The popular argument is that the system works on the continent. If it's good enough for Real Madrid why shouldn't it work for Tottenham Hotspur?

But if almost every club in Europe runs on such a system, does that not mean that for every great success there must be disappointments? For every AC Milan there is a Lazio.

While Tottenham were making plans to bring in PSV Eindhoven's Frank Arnesen as their director of football last season, PSV had already made the decision to scrap his role and go to an English system after problems between Arnesen and coach Guus Hiddink.

FC Utrecht have also opted to change to the English system, while Louis van Gaal had full control of the successful Ajax side of the mid-1990s, but he was very much the exception to the rule.


David Pleat has his doubts whether the title of director of football will ever be accepted in England.

Former Spurs firector of football David Pleat
Pleat left his post as Spurs director of football in the summer
"The public are being sadly misinformed about the roles and responsibilities and reporting lines of the director of football," he said.

"Unfortunately it is probably a job title that will have to be dispensed with even though there is a great need for that type of figure in a club nowadays to take the burden off the head coach."

But former Liverpool and Denmark midfielder Jan Molby, a former international team-mate of Frank Arnesen and until recently the director of football at Kidderminster, is more confident.

"It's tough to make such changes," said Molby. "It took a while for foreign managers to catch on, now French managers are all the rage after what Arsene Wenger has done at Arsenal.

"There are still a lot of old fashioned managers in England. But if Spurs make it a success it will no doubt help.

"Everyone has to want it to work. The moment Frank Arnesen was given the job the media said it would never work.

"It depends on the person in charge. Frank Arnesen has no ambitions to be a coach, he is happy on the business side. I know him and I know how he works and he won't interfere.

"Perhaps because David Pleat was previously a manager he might have had ambitions to coach and that can be difficult.

"Frank is more interested in the business side and one thing he has never done is interfere with the coach.

"If people are happy with their roles you will have no problem."

Interview: Portsmouth Chairman Milan Mandaric

E-mail services | Sport on mobiles/PDAs


Back to top

Sport Homepage | Football | Cricket | Rugby Union | Rugby League | Tennis | Golf | Motorsport | Boxing | Athletics | Snooker | Horse Racing | Cycling | Disability sport | Olympics 2012 | Sport Relief | Other sport...

BBC Sport Academy >> | BBC News >> | BBC Weather >>
About the BBC | News sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy | Contact us
banner watch listen bbc sport