The Director of Football – not such a joke?
Asked what he thought about the role of a director of football when he was QPR boss, Harry Redknapp famously said: “It’s a joke, really, that you are expected to work with someone else’s players.”
Largely unfancied in English football but now increasingly common, the role is a vital component in player recruitment, which spans from unearthing youth with an eye on the future, to finding players ready for the first team.
It’s not just managers that have regular dealings with a director, but also scouts – the spearhead of any club’s recruitment. During his time as chief scout at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, Mel Johnson worked alongside Damien Comolli – perhaps the highest profile, and most derided, individual to take on the director role in England.
Speaking to UCFB Wembley students during his Executive Guest Speaker session, Mel voiced his liking of working within the director system, emphasising the set-up can work in English football if done correctly. He said: “I was chief scout at QPR and did everything, reporting straight into the manager Ian Holloway. It worked well. Then I went to Spurs and Frank Arnesen was director at the time which was a different role for me to work with, but I enjoyed it. He was very knowledgeable, had played in Holland for years and had been a director at a number of European clubs.”
Arnesen was then pinched by Chelsea which led Spurs to hiring the relatively unknown Comolli. Largely unfancied at the time by fans and press for his acquisitions, Comolli’s transfer record at Tottenham over his three years at the club would later read rather well. Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale – a Johnson recommendation – all went on to play a huge role at Spurs and be sold at a combined fee of around £150million. At Liverpool, Comolli can also claim to be part of the team that recruited Luiz Suarez and now-captain Jordan Henderson.
West Brom have embraced the director set up for a number of years and are experiencing the club’s most consistent run of form for decades. In Spain in particular, the role of the director is to recruit a certain style of player so that when a manager or coach is inevitably replaced, consistency within the playing squad can be maintained due to the players, to quote Redknapp, not being the manager’s.
Mel added: “Damien, like Frank, would listen to me. I’d tell him about young players, he’d come scouting with me, so I got used to working with a director. A lot of people dismiss it but it worked well for me having that cushion between myself and the coach. But the director has to get on with the coach or manager. If they do, and they get on with the scout, then the system works well.”