Ownership & Leadership

Part III, Everton’s ownership and leadership; the director of football

So far in the series, I’ve looked at governance in Part I and recruitment in Part II. In today’s article I want to examine the director of football role at Everton. Interestingly, many of the problems with our director of football model stem from the issues raised in Parts I and II.

Unlike perhaps a CEO or CFO role there is no defined description of what a director of football does and what responsibilities he or she may have. This despite the role being prevalent across European football for more than 30 years. The role appears, even where successfully executed, to be defined by owners, Chairmen, CEOs and other directors and is tailored to their particular circumstances. This lack of definition, lack of clear boundaries and thus accountability and responsibility is often used by opponents of the director of football role as a reason not to have one. In practice though the running of football operations cannot just sit with the first team coach or manager as in the past.

In a modern football club there has to be someone of a senior nature who heads up football operations. The role needs to be defined and the definition adhered to. Without it, surely a club puts itself at a competitive disadvantage?

For me it is the most important executive role within a football club. If that seems like a bold claim look at the influence and contribution of Manchester City’s Txiki Begiristain or Liverpool’s Michael Edwards to their respective clubs.

So what should be included within the role?

I stand in the middle of a wheel and my job is to bring together seven departments, connecting those spokes.”  Dan Ashworth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Technical Director

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the key components of the role for me include:

  • Be a board member
  • Determine and agree ambitions and objectives in short, medium and long term with the board
  • Be responsible for creating, developing and maintaining a distinctive club style and playing philosophy regardless of first team coach, and at all levels
  • Agree budgets required (including transfer budget, wage budget, facilities budget, backroom staffing levels and budgets)
  • Be the principle relationship and partner of the first team coach
  • Have complete responsibility for scouting and the clubs scouting network at all levels
  • Have complete responsibility for transfers in and out of the club, being the lead negotiator and principal contact with regards to transfers
  • 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

For such a role to be successful, assuming the person in the role has the required talents, then the shareholders, Chairman and other directors must provide the space and have sufficient trust in the individual to permit complete delegation to the director of football. Clearly they should always be supportive and there will be times when the Chair or the major shareholders is involved in negotiations or discussions but primarily it has to be the responsibility of the director of football. Having the Chair ring a favourite agent to buy (or sell) a player or the major shareholder buying a player having watched him a couple of times is not the way to run a modern football club.

Why if you are going to invest in a director of football model, recruit an industry leading candidate, would you do anything other than give them free reign to perform their role?

Moshiri – a fan of the director of football model

Moshiri is a huge fan of the director of football model (or at least his version of it). One of his major priorities in the summer of 2016 was to attract a high level, well established director of football to go alongside his yet to be selected “Hollywood” manager. Monchi, then of Sevilla, was heavily courted as indeed was Marcel Brands. Brands wanted to complete his project at PSV Eindhoven, the timing of the approach was not right for him and Monchi was not convinced by Moshiri’s vision of the club. Perhaps, also concerned by the lack of structure and even understanding of what the role entailed.

Somehow, we went from Monchi or Brands to Steve Walsh. I say that with all due respect to Walsh. I think he gets a grossly unfair rap from Evertonians. He was never suitable as a director of football, but he was an excellent scout, he excelled at picking players – Gueye for example. His role at Everton was poorly defined, he had no real authority and he had to deal with a triumvirate of Koeman, Kenwright and Moshiri all giddy with the opportunity to play football manager in real life and with huge budgets.

Whilst they bought Bolasie, Schneiderlin, Williams, Klaassen, Sandro, Sigurdsson and brought back Rooney, often independently and without the full knowledge of each others actions, Walsh put forward Haaland, Robertson and Maguire as players he had scouted or already knew only to be rejected predominantly by Koeman.

How different a  club we would have if the director of football role had been firmly established in 2016 with the appropriate authority and responsibilities. An individual who could have stopped the excesses and ill-disciplined purchases of 2016 through to January 2018 and made astute signings.

Recruitment is only one element though. If the director of football doesn’t have the authority to run transfers, then what of the other areas of responsibility? What of developing a footballing philosophy? Re-structuring and re-development of the academy? Development of a proper scouting network? Maintenance of all the support (medical, well-being etc) services required by a professional sports organisation, building a structure that helps retain our best talent as well as attracting new?

Moshiri said when he arrived it was important to retain talent. We absolutely failed to do that. Some of that must be down to the manner in which football operations, let alone manager selections, were conducted. Lukaku, did himself no favours in the year before he left, but with hindsight his near contempt for the club in his latter days may have had some justification. Football operations should have been under the control of one individual , just as Dan Ashworth observed.

Marcel Brands

What to make of Marcel Brands. On the face of it, he brings all the attributes one might expect. Well respected throughout the game, known for his knowledge of European football, very structured, a tough negotiator, excellent track record and well connected.

What are the limitations then that have apparently reduced his effectiveness? Is it him, is it the circumstances he inherited or is it the manner in which Everton is managed as an organisation and thus the role he is permitted to play?

Certainly the circumstances he inherited, an unbalanced squad, ever tightening financial conditions and many players not wanted by the club but on contracts that could not be replicated elsewhere, are incredibly difficult and must take up a considerable amount of his time. The constant shuffling of first team and under 23 players on and off the loan market, whilst necessary, is a hugely unproductive use of his resources and skills. On the positive side, it is acknowledged that he has played a poor hand with some skill.

I have it on excellent authority that Moshiri is a big advocate of Brands. He recognises his qualities and the high standards he operates at. Yet, if one takes the definition of the role I described earlier, it is clear that Brands does not carry the authority and/or responsibility for many areas that his skills would warrant.

If you ask the simple question, does Brands have authority and responsibility over all footballing operations at Everton, the answer will be a very clear no.

Why then do we recruit, at considerable cost, one of the leading directors of football in the game, then not use him as effectively as we should? Why is he not given absolute authority, working now alongside Benitez, to improve “across the board”?

It is completely dysfunctional to have a situation whereby the owner still makes recruitment decisions, the Chair is involved in footballing matters independently and the academy seems to operate as a club within a club. Add to that the philosophy of recruiting former players to key coaching roles – something which quite clearly doesn’t come from Marcel Brands and we return to the arguments I presented in parts I and II. Governance and the cost of poor recruitment.

Make best use of the director of football

The three elements, governance, cost of poor recruitment and the role and use of our director of football are key to the overall under-performance. Perhaps, the use of the director of football, his effectiveness and maximising the return and productivity of such a person can never be achieved without fixing governance and bringing better people to the Board.

However, even if Moshiri is not prepared to address governance and recruitment, a relatively quick improvement in how we conduct our affairs would be to give the director of football the authority, responsibility and space to perform.  I am confident the club would be in a better place for that decision. A decision Moshiri can make in an instance.

Part IV about finance and our funding model is next.

6 replies »

  1. Thanks Paul. I’ve always found it odd that the DoF sits on the club board,that the first team manager does not, but from the outside, it appears that the manager carries more power,certainly at Everton. I agree that there appears to be fuzzy authority boundaries and much interference from owner & Chairman. Why does Brands tolerate it? The money? If so, he’s not the man we hoped he was. Benitez has been instrumental in making important changes on the fitness side of the support team. Again, what does this say about Brands?

  2. On the money again Paul. I think we have arrived at the point where Brands has to stand up and be counted – demand to be given the full powers of a DOF as per the European model or walk away.

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