Let’s start with the need first. It’s my belief that a sporting director is needed for many reasons, not only at Everton but among all clubs with the ambition to succeed. It’s needed at corporate and shareholder level, and most importantly needed for sporting performance reasons.
Too big a role?
With the size of investment required in a full squad of players in modern times, the difference in the levels of rewards for performance, the complexity and resources required in running a modern football system of first team, U-23s and other junior squads, the idea that all of this can be run by a single figure who is also ultimately responsible for coaching and managing the first team makes no commercial or footballing logic.
Put simply the role is too big for one individual and without a Sporting Director leaves the “manager” less time and resources to achieve his primary objective, a winning and successful team on the pitch.
I can hear people saying “that’s all well and good in theory, but it doesn’t work in English football”. I think there are good reasons for that, I also think there’s a body of evidence to suggest it does work, albeit in a limited fashion for reasons I’ll explain.
The role of a sporting director
First and foremost a successful sporting director must have the complete backing of the board. From my perspective the sporting director is the person responsible for the short, medium and long term planning required to meet the owner and board’s objectives.
As said previously on #EvertonBusinessMatters, that person must be a board member and have sufficient management, commercial and financial skills sitting alongside a deep knowledge of the game of football to present to the board and run all footballing related strategies, requirements and budgets. There has to be agreement between the sporting director and board as to the club’s ambitions and objectives, and the resources (personnel, facilities, support and finance) required to meet them. Only when there is agreement and the resources made available to back the ambitions can there be any chance of success.
One of the principle reasons for limited success in the role to date is the lack of understanding within most clubs, certainly Everton it would appear, as to the role and how it works alongside the “manager” or more accurately “the first team coach”.
In looking at the role, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but the key components of the role for me include:
- Determine and agree ambitions and objectives in short, medium and long term with the board
- Agree budgets required (including transfer budget, wage budget, facilities budget, backroom staffing levels and budgets)
- Be responsible for creating, developing and maintaining a distinctive club style and playing philosophy regardless of first team coach
- Be the principle relationship and partner of the first team coach
- Have complete responsibility for scouting
- Have complete responsibility for transfers in and out of the club
- Be responsible for U-23, academy and other development teams and their coaching staff
- Be responsible for performance departments including medical, nutritional and sports science
Of course, the contentious point in the above list is the responsibility for transfers. Whilst the sporting director must have full responsibility that’s not to say he (or she) works in isolation. There has to be a relationship and understanding with the first team coach enabling agreement on the type of players to be recruited, the players to be released and those players who can be promoted from the junior teams below. However, as in all businesses there has to be an ultimate decision maker, and in my model that is the sporting director.
The creation of such a system provides a clear competitive advantage in that it creates and identifies a footballing philosophy within the club, creates the system that supports that philosophy and frees the first team coach to concentrate on the most important aspects of his role, namely coaching, selection, tactics and game management.
It is often suggested that the sporting director (or director of football) has to undermine the role of the first team coach. I don’t subscribe to that view at all, in fact totally the reverse.
If the respective roles are clearly defined, then it provides total clarity and accountability on the role of the first team coach, that of coaching and training a winning and successful team (assuming the resources are made available). As mentioned above it allows the coach to concentrate on coaching his select group of the club’s best players.
In addition, the right sporting director provides the hugely valuable link between the coach and the board room, and ultimately the owner.
Right for English football?
There’s an argument that no-one in English football has yet got the model totally right. There’s evidence as I suggested before that the likes of Les Reed at Southampton and Dan Ashworth at West Bromwich Albion have been successful in enhancing the performance of their first teams and in recruitment and releasing of players.
On a grander scale Manchester City and Chelsea have successfully deployed the model although clearly their finances make the task so much easier.
However, on the Continent there’s a much greater acceptance of the role, and a much deeper understanding of the benefits. The most revered and respected is probably Monchi, formerly of Sevilla and now serving a 4 year contract at AS Roma. It is widely accepted of course, that in the summer of 2016, Everton through Moshiri made strenuous attempts to persuade him to join the club. Sadly, he rejected our advances. Nevertheless, he is the classic case for introducing the role as described above. Not only did he ensure success on the pitch at Sevilla he recruited so well as to fund the development of future teams, which from a shareholders’ perspective must be the ultimate goal.
So, what about Everton?
Ultimately, Everton appointed Steve Walsh in the role of Director of Football. As has been all too apparent the role has not yet paid any dividends nor seen any improvement in recruiting methodology nor on the pitch.
Does that mean it’s a bad idea? In my view not at all. Perhaps he’s not the right individual, but then who knows what his brief is, what’s his relationship with the board and the owner? As with much about Everton currently there’s confusion where there should be clarity which stems back to the often talked about lack of direction and leadership from the board.
Just because our experience to date with this model is not a positive one, doesn’t mean we should throw the model out. With the costs of building at Bramley-Moore increasing, the case for a sporting director only gets stronger in my opinion, everything that supports the provision of resources to the first team must be implemented.
Therefore, the situation demands that the boardroom gets to grips with the issue, realises the benefits of a properly thought out strategy, recruits appropriately in the early summer at latest, and gets on with it.
Football won’t wait for us to sort out our inefficiencies at board level or within our footballing management, from a footballing and financial perspective sorting out the right sporting director, organisational model and first team coach is just as important as the stadium development, and should in my opinion, be addressed immediately.