Journalism student Billy Hawkins discusses the Director of Football role in his latest Away From Home column
With the Transfer Window closing amongst a flurry of late deals in WD18, Billy Hawkins discusses the Director of Football role in his latest ‘Away From Home’ column.
IN the week when Watford recorded their first league victory against 11 men since September – a 2-0 victory against a stuttering Brighton side whose defensive errors brought their own downfall – it was the closing of the transfer window that brought the real talking points.
For all Sky Sports’ hyperbole surrounding Deadline Day – a feeling that has apparently permeated into club culture with the majority of business left until the last day – it still holds an importance in the push for improvement in the second half of the season.
There are two cases that highlight the current state of the transfer window, and the business model that clubs now take towards transfer business.
Before the close of the window, Watford released Iriney and Diego Fabbrini on loan to Mallorca and Siena respectively, whilst bringing in similar players in Daniel Tozser, Samba Diakite and Park Chu-Young.
Further north, Newcastle United sold Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain whilst bringing in Luuk de Jong on loan from Borussia Monchengladbach. Both clubs had these deals sanctioned by their respective Directors of Football – Gian Luca Nani and Joe Kinnear – a role becoming much more prominent in the footballing matters of the majority of clubs.
At the formation of the Football League in 1888 – following the introduction of professionalism – Preston North End, who won the first league title undefeated, were coached, managed and chaired by former player Major William Sudell, who paved the way for the position of manager as a vital component of a football club.
With the rise of the ‘scientific` understanding of football tactics – C. W. Alcock, early F.A Secretary and England centre forward, being a pioneering tactician – more clubs decided to appoint a dedicated manager to coach and instil a methodology for success. Watford first appointed a manger in 1903, with – coincidently – former Preston and England striker and Football League top scorer John Goodall taking a player-manager role until 1907 when he dropped the playing aspect of his career.
From the turn of the century, up until 1969, the role of the manager stayed largely untouched – although the increased revenue in football allowed for a larger backroom staff to be appointed as an aid.
The first man to be considered a Director of Football – although not by title – was Sir Matt Busby. Stepping down as Manchester United manager, he appointed Wilf McGuinness as chief coach – a limited job title – and stayed on as a general manager. McGuinness could never overcome the shadow of the former great – much like a certain current Manchester United manager – and was sacked after four months with Busby stepping back in.
Lawrie McMenemy held the position – under the title Director of Football – at Southampton, working through the tenures of Alan Ball, Dave Merrington and Graeme Souness. It is no surprise that the role is still taboo in England – although embraced as part of football culture in the rest of Europe – considering the almost untouchable status of the Director as the owner’s right hand man; re. Michael Emelano at Chelsea has survived the sacking of four managers without being culpable for any mistakes.
At Watford, Nani – appointed alongside Gianfranco Zola, who opined ‘I don`t interfere with their jobs and they don`t interfere with mine` – has outlasted one manager even though he is the catalyst for club transfers.
Alan Curbishley – Zola`s predecessor at West Ham – complained about Nani for selling and signing players without his ‘input or permission`.
The failures of certain overseas players in the Watford squad this season is not new information, but Nani shipping Fabbrini and Iriney off after six months in a new country is desperation at its finest.
Admittedly, the players brought in are capable replacements – Tozser looked remarkably assured against Brighton and Diakite has the experience required to excel in this division – but the short-termism of Nani seems to subvert the nature of continuity surrounding the Pozzo`s and their pool of clubs.
The day before Watford defeated Brighton, a lacklustre Newcastle United lost at home to Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby – a derby replete with fans bemoaning Kinnear, Mike Ashley and Alan Pardew. On Monday evening – after seven months in charge and just two players brought in on loan – Kinnear resigned.
The fans complained about the sale of Cabaye – suggesting that the club have accepted their mid-table mediocrity – and have a squad so devoid of match winning talent (admittedly through injury as well as bad transfer dealings) that even though Luuk de Jong`s debut was completely unremarkable he is still being heralded as their best current striker.
It is a sorry state of affairs when the business methodology of football clouds match day success – especially when it has been so rare this season – but the game is now so entrenched in its own belief as being bigger than sport that the monetary aspect will never disappear.
Sudell – if he were to manage Preston nowadays – would be shocked by the lack of control he has over club affairs, and whilst no manager should be bigger than their club, they should still get the power they deserve as the head of the team in a game where success on the pitch is the root of any business success.
Nani may have fixed his mistakes from the summer transfer window, but who can tell what will happen in the upcoming summer. If he continues making errors – with Beppe Sannino the recipient of any criticism – there is no doubt he may just have to follow Kinnear`s career path into a football free world.