The Case for a Director of Football

By Nick Riddle 19/05/2016  0 Comments  [Jump to last]
A recent item in the Rumour Mill suggesting that Everton were considering appointing a Director of Football drew an almost overwhelmingly negative response. Consequently I expect this will be unpopular, but nevertheless, I'm going to try and set out why I believe it's the way to go.

As supporters of a football club, all we really know is what we experience with our own eyes. Results speak for themselves, but we can also judge the style of play, evaluate whether the players are fit enough to perform for 90 minutes, and if they appear committed. We can assess whether tactics are working and whether changes made during the match are positive. We can also weigh up whether the latest player on the team sheet is doing a better job than the one he replaced. Beyond that, we can really only speculate.

I want the man in the hot seat – manager, coach, call him what you will, to focus on looking after the things I can see. Select the best available eleven players to face the next opposition, prepare them and set them up properly, make sure the bench is stocked with options to cope with most predictable eventualities, and respond to the dynamic of each game as it unfolds.

Roberto Martinez was highly praised for laying out plans to improve Finch Farm and for the interest he took in the academy, and if that adds value in the future we should thank him for it. Even so, I don't want the guy in charge of winning football matches for the first team distracted by other issues, no matter how important.

But someone does need to take responsibility for identifying potential new first team players both from the academy and from the wider football world, for signing them up and keeping them happy and motivated, for analysing and improving performance, skills, stamina and strength, for rehabilitating injured players, for analysing the opposition, and for all the other things that go on unseen by the fans at a top flight football club.

Whether Martinez's back room team was any good, I can't really say, but now they need replacing. The conventional response would be to hire a manager and leave him to recruit his own team, repeating the cycle at regular intervals as and when required.

And we know the cycle will be repeated. During the Premier League era only one man has built a dynasty and departed at the top; the phenomenon that is Sir Alex Ferguson. But that mould is broken. So, compile a list of the best available candidates and cross your fingers that whoever gets the job does better than the man he replaced. Then sit back and enjoy the ride until he is seduced by greener grass elsewhere or, more likely, until it all goes wrong. And then repeat.

An all-powerful manager means the club reflects the philosophy of that manager for as long as it lasts. No-one should have been surprised how Martinez approached his task, but it meant he was imposing his ideas on footballers mostly schooled by an arch pragmatist. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it went so well for as long as it did.

A lack of job security also encourages an all-powerful manager to act short term in order to survive the next crisis rather than make decisions with the end goal in mind. In that respect at least, Martinez may have been the exception that proves the rule.

Surely a better policy is to separate the first team coach from the long term strategy. To decide what you want and put in place a structure designed to get you there. A Vision if you will.

Under such a policy, the club (and for club read owners, and for owners read Farhad Moshiri) would decide it wanted to see Everton win trophies, or wanted Everton to play "attractive" football, or wanted Everton winning trophies while playing "attractive" football, or wanted to maximise the financial return available from owning 49.9% of a club playing in the Premier League. Who knows? We can voice an opinion, but in reality as fans we have no input in the Vision.

Certain clubs (and now, for clubs read fans), Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham and Everton among them, pride themselves on playing football a certain way. Whether they adhere to the perceived house style is really beside the point. It is now Moshiri's task to set out his Vision and put in place a structure to maximise the chances of achieving it.

A cornerstone of establishing that structure should be appointing an individual to take care of all the unseen football-related matters that are essential to success. That wouldn't involve coaching the first team, but it would extend to identifying and ranking the candidates most capable of bringing the best out of the first team, and to keeping track of the careers of potential alternatives so that they could be quickly approached when an upgrade is required.

Every incoming coach will want to bring in his own trusted support team, and to an extent that is unavoidable. But that means key components recruited by each new coach will leave with him. I have no real insight into whether or not Kevin Reeves was a capable chief scout, but now he's gone we've presumably lost access to his database and contacts as well as to the research he'd done in readiness for the forthcoming transfer window. Hopefully Everton has its own scouting network in place, but who's running it, and who will run it when the next manager turns up?

Dr Peter Vint, ex-senior director of competitive analysis, research and innovation with the US Olympic Committee and with no football experience to fall back on, was appointed to head up the academy in December 2015. While I can't comment on his performance, as a strategic hire it makes perfect sense. His title is Academy Director, but he isn't a member of the board. Does he report to an unqualified (in a football sense) chief executive, or to whoever holds the title of manager?

But who's running the rest of the club from a footballing perspective? It's not apparent from the club's website or elsewhere, at least to me, but hopefully Everton has individuals still in place with departmental responsibility for sports science, conditioning and fitness, for identifying potential players, and for opposition and performance analysis whose foremost loyalty is to the club.

If they're not in place they should be, but assuming they are, they need direction. Structure and reporting lines are essential in any organisation, and in the absence of a "Sporting Director" that direction will gravitate to the new manager if he's given traditional all-powerful authority.

The season may have just ended, but our competition will already be plotting for the future, prioritising their targets for next season, organising itineraries to spot talent at the European Championships, etc, while we waste time debating about a new manager.

Thanks to the loyalty of our chairman, which surely wouldn't have been replicated at any other club, over 11 years David Moyes brought Everton stability and respect, but no glory. I'd be very surprised if anyone else is given as long. The average life expectancy of a Premier League manager is less than 3 years. Investing the club's leadership in an individual with such a short term horizon inevitably results in huge turmoil at regular intervals.

Football at the elite level today is vastly more complex than it was when Harry Catterick and Howard Kendall were kings of the hill. If we don't learn lessons from the past while other clubs with far less prestige than ours rapidly evolve, I fear our destiny is perpetual mid-table mediocrity or worse. In that scenario, the best we can hope for is to find someone that can drag us to Wembley for the occasional cup final before it inevitably ends in tears.

My ideal director of football would be a well-connected expert experienced in the machinations of elite level football who is directly accountable to the board and whose voice will be heard as a member of the board. He'll probably be someone who appears to be most comfortable working outside the spotlight such as Les Reed at Southampton. He will articulate the club Vision clearly so that it's understood and accepted by all of the club's employees, embedding a culture that will stand the test of time.

It goes without saying that player identification and value for money recruitment is of critical importance, so much so that some clubs have appointed heads of recruitment either separately or to work alongside a Director of Football. While their work is unseen by the fans, presumably Steve Walsh at Leicester City and Paul Mitchell at Tottenham contributed significantly to the success their clubs enjoyed last season.

Taking ultimate responsibility for recruitment away from the first team coach minimises the risk that impulse buys are seen as costly mistakes with hindsight. Instead all new recruits will be acquired in the expectation at least that they will fit into the system laid down to achieve the Vision.

But the coach stands or falls on results and consequently must have right of veto over purchases for the first-team squad and, at least to the extent it isn't dictated by overriding financial considerations, selling first-team players. Dumping unwanted footballers on the man responsible for performance on the pitch makes no sense.

We can also learn from the mistakes of others. Transfer committees encourage compromise, which leads to poor decisions, as Liverpool learnt. Relying on a powerful chief scout while ignoring the pleas of your manager can result in an unbalanced squad, as Newcastle found out. If one person is given responsibility to present options to the coach, choose that person with care.

If all goes to plan, a Director of Football would be in place for the long term to enable the club to build a lasting structure where every component contributes to the success of the first team. In that structure the first team coach is just one component and can be replaced with minimum turmoil when a better option becomes available. All that matters is the Vision.

And what might the Vision look like? Well oddly enough, tucked away on the club's academy website is the following;


Club Vision

To prosper at the top of the Premier League
To play in European competitions
To win games…preferably with style
To recruit and develop young players to play for Everton Football Club
To provide the best opportunity for young players to play in the Premier League

Club Football Philosophy

Everton Football Club's football philosophy is based around our long standing motto "Nil Satis Nisi Optimum" which translates into "Nothing but the best is good enough".

It is an ethos that is followed diligently by every single player and member of staff. Everybody is valued and everybody makes a contribution. This is a belief that is in-line with the "spirit" associated with the City of Liverpool.

The ultimate aim is for the 1st team to win football matches, ideally through entertaining and attacking football, whilst always giving 100% effort and determination.

Academy Football Philosophy

All Academy departments will work together to support the needs of all our players with the common goal of creating a pathway from the Academy to the 1st team. We will encourage our players to play creative, attacking football with a winning mentality. This is part of our Coaching Philosophy.

We will try to control the game by dominating possession. Our aim is to play out from the back and through midfield. To enable us to do this we must spread out and make the pitch as big as possible. Our players must look to play forward whenever possible and we must not miss a chance to turn, penetrate, or shoot. Our Club has a tradition of getting crosses into the box, but we must also teach our players to attack through the 18-yard line by playing clever, creative and inventive football.

Out of possession all players must have the mentality to defend. They must know their defensive roles and responsibilities and they must be difficult to beat in 1v1 situations.

Our teams must look to press whenever possible but if we cannot press we must be compact and patient. From this position we must look for opportunities to press.


That'll do for me. I wonder who wrote it?

But saying it is the easy part. Getting there is much harder. Selecting the right director of football might just be the most important decision Farhad Moshiri will ever make on Everton's behalf.

The quoted material above is an extract. The full content can be found at: About the Academy

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