A sense of direction

Much was made of Francis Awaritefe’s departure from Melbourne Victory but exactly what was he supposed to be “directing” ?

Much has been made of Francis Awaritefe’s departure from Melbourne Victory recently. Whether he was sacked or left of his own accord as the club would have you believe, either way, he didn-t last long in his newly created role of Director of Football.

But what was he supposed to be “directing” exactly?

The concept of a Director of Football, sometimes referred to as Technical or Sporting Director, is that he is responsible for player transfers and scouting for new talent, while the coach handles the daily training sessions and match setups.

The director is installed at the behest of the owners of a club to oversee the manager and act as a go-between between the board and managerial team, or if required help select a new manager.

The role has been described by former EPL manager, Dave Bassett, as: “The director of football is answerable to the board but there to assist the manager. He’s experienced in football and there to help the board members who don’t have that experience.”

The director can also provide stability to a club. If a club maintains a consistent approach towards youth development, for example, this ensures that short-term goals do not de-rail long term plans.

Frank Arnesen, during his tenure at Chelsea, had the task of developing an academy and promoting younger players as part of a new revenue stream – a key role as others at Chelsea were solely focused on first-team results and big-name transfer targets.

The role is fraught with problems, though.

Such an arrangement has led to controversy in English football due to issues over roles and responsibilities of manager and director – either perceived excessive interference of the director in affairs (such as squad selection) beyond his remit, or by attempting to control and criticise aspects of management.

High profile examples of the role include Damien Commolli – currently at Liverpool, previously Tottenham. During his time at Spurs, he had several disagreements with coach Martin Jol, who, after his departure from Spurs, complained several players had been signed by Comolli without his agreement

Problems have occurred historically when the director starts to override the coach, and sign players without consulting the coach, as happened by Commolli at Tottenham, hastening Martin Jol-s exit from the club.

Another notable recent example of such tension is that of manager Kevin Keegan and director of football Dennis Wise at Newcastle United.

Moving the focus back to Australia, is there scope for such a role here in the A-League?

Possibly, but on a much-diluted level. Unlike the top teams in Europe where directors are common-place due to the size of the clubs they are involved with and the large scope of their activities, in Australia, we are not dealing with 40-man squads dripping with expensive internationals whose egos need as much managing and massaging as their calf muscles.

Sure, somebody in the office needs to be dealing with contract negotiations, salary cap compliance and making sure the flights are booked.

But with senior squads of 20-23 players and a part time youth squad, does the role really require an all-encompassing Director remit? After all, there is a senior coach, one or two assistants, specialist coaches such as goalkeeping and strength and conditioning, plus the youth league coaching staff. These are the people that shape how the team performs on the pitch.

In the end, it-s just a job title, but whether you are a “Football Operations Manager”, “Director of Football”, or “General Manager”, it comes down to three things being right if the role is to operate effectively.

Firstly, the roles need to be very clearly defined. Awaritefe seemed a lame duck from the start when his bold assertions regarding wanting to play like Barcelona were stated. Big mistake. It-s up the coaches how the team plays, not the guys upstairs.

Secondly, the personalities need to work together. If the dynamics of the management team doesn-t work, it will be a disaster. There are too many examples of ego-clashes between Directors and coaches. For example, I can-t imagine a personality like Alex Ferguson or Roy Keane being probed and questioned by a Director.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the person appointed to the role needs to have the right skill sets. Too often in our eagerness to look after a retiring player, we create a role for a person who is patently unqualified to do the job. If a guy has never seen a set of A-League/FIFA rules or regulations or put a spread sheet together in his life, you can pretty much guarantee a poor result.

Melbourne Heart seems to have struck an interesting balance with the appointment of John Didulica. Formerly a player, lawyer, agent, PFA and FFA employee, he has the footballing knowledge and experience to handle the sporting aspect of things, whilst having the business knowledge to handle negotiations and perform the necessary administration.

I think a role for a Football Director does exist in the A-League, but getting it right is easier said than done and requires careful planning – not knee-jerk political appointments, or jobs for the boys.