Scouting Damien Comolli: Liverpool's new man in the transfer market had hits like Bale and misses like Bentley

Ex-Tottenham director of football's reign being cast in a different light
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By Greg Stobart | Northern Correspondent

The day after watching a side he helped build beat the European champions, Damien Comolli was appointed director of football strategy by Liverpool.

As Gareth Bale destroys defences across Europe and Luka Modric lives up to his billing as a world-class performer, the former Tottenham director of football's time at White Hart Lane is being reassessed in more favourable terms.

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After all, he left Spurs under quite a cloud in October 2008 after three years at the club, with manager Juande Ramos also sacked and the side bottom of the Premier League with just two points from eight games.

His tenure at Tottenham was used by some as evidence that the director of football system simply does not work in England, that one man should be in charge of all the transfers.

Comolli, who previously worked for seven years under Arsene Wenger as Arsenal's European scout, arrives at Anfield with a ringing endorsement from manager Roy Hodgson, who knows the Frenchman well and is used to working under a sporting director after various stints on the continent.

His task at Liverpool will be to build for the long-term competitiveness of the club, to buy the best young talents in the world so the club are competing for honours in four or five years' time. That allows Hodgson to concentrate on his primary task, which is to win as many points as possible this season and start the re-building process.

If used correctly, the 38-year-old could be an extremely shrewd addition, with John W. Henry and New England Sports Ventures no doubt expecting him to repeat his achievements at Spurs, where signing the likes of Bale, Modric and Dimitar Berbatov built the foundation for a squad worthy of competing in the Champions League.

DAMIEN COMOLLI | Hits & Misses

HITS
Gareth Bale, Southampton, £10m
Heurelho Gomes, PSV £7.8m
Luka Modric, Dinamo Zagreb, £16.5m
Benoit Assou-Ekotto, RC Lens, £3.5m
Dimitar Berbatov, Leverkusen, £10.9m

MISSES
David Bentley, Blackburn, £16.5m
Giovani dos Santos, Barcelona, £4.7m
Gilberto, Hertha Berlin, £1.9m
Kevin-Prince Boateng, Hertha, £5.2m
Darren Bent, Charlton, £16.5m
Ricardo Rocha, Benfica, £3.5m
Pascal Chimbonda, Wigan, £4m
Comolli certainly has an eye for talent. At Arsenal he was credited with the signings of Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue and Gael Clichy  and his reputation for discovering potential stars earned him two stints at St Etienne and the job at Spurs.

His philosophy will suit the change in attitude at Liverpool, where the average age of the summer signings – Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen, Raul Meireles, Paul Konchesky and re-signed Fabio Aurelio – is 30.  

Livepool have a £120m wage bill and some older players on huge contracts. The new owners will want to end the flabby contracts and focus on delivering value and potential development.

Any man responsible for signings – whether it's Comolli, Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson – is going to have a mixed bag of hits and misses.

History reflects well on Comolli's time at Spurs, with the likes of Heurelho Gomes, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Younes Kaboul once derided as dreadful signings but now all key components of Harry Redknapp's squad.

Ask Wenger about Comolli and he will tell you that he is an accomplished talent-spotter and fiercely ambitious, but also a self-publicist.

So while Comolli gets given credit for the £10 million signing of Bale from Southampton, the crucial role of scout Eddie Presland as the driving force in convincing the Welsh wonder to sign for the club gets ignored.

Likewise, Berbatov's £10.9m was a transfer instigated by Martin Jol after he grew frustrated with Comolli's failed attempts to lure Fernando Torres away from Atletico Madrid, while Modric was already one of the hottest properties in Europe when chairman Daniel Levy took it on himself to fly out to Croatia and make sure he wasn't leaving without the midfielder's signature.

The likes of Hossam Ghaly, Ricardo Rocha and Gilberto were miles below the required standard while Darren Bent and David Bentley – who each cost £16.5m – were costly flops.

Comolli's main problem is that he can spot the potential of a top player but, in a director of football role, does not understand how to build a squad. He signed Bent when strikers Berbatov, Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe were already flying; he signed Bentley when he already had England international Aaron Lennon in that position but no-one to play on the other flank.


Two out of three ain't bad | Kaboul and Bale are beginning to shine, but Bent was a flop

He was brought down by his failure to replace Berbatov on the last day of the summer transfer window in 2008 when the Bulgarian was sold to Manchester United in a £30.75m deal. Spurs were left with Fraizer Campbell as a replacement on a season-long loan, when Comolli had guaranteed that morning that Argentine forward Diego Milito was a 'done deal'.

When Michael Carrick was sold to Manchester United for £18.6m, Comolli told Martin Jol that in Didier Zokora he had an even better replacement who would be Tottenham's answer to Chelsea's Michael Essien. It was a transfer merry-go-round that left his Dutch coach – who was close to ex-sporting director Frank Arnesen – feeling undermined.

The relationship further deteriorated when the press discovered that Comolli was courting Juande Ramos as a replacement for Jol and the turmoil at the club was reflected in spiralling results before Jol was eventually sacked.

Liverpool need to play to Comolli's strengths if the new owners' transfer and scouting policies are going to work.

One reason why he might have been given the job is his close relationship with Billy Beane, the baseball maverick who used statistical analysis — known across America as 'Moneyball' — to achieve success with the Oakland Athletics, a model subsequently followed by Henry at the Boston Red Sox.

“It is a strategy which I think makes sense, especially for our club at this moment in time because we are in a period of transition with new owners,” said manager Roy Hodgson on Wednesday.

It makes sense and offers Comolli the chance to pursue targets such as Eden Hazard, the Lille midfielder he has greatly admired since his Spurs days. Whether the Belgian replicates Modric or Ghaly remains to be seen, but that is the Russian roulette nature of football transfers.

If he can recruit players capable of playing as Tottenham did against Inter on Wednesday night – five starters were signed under his watch – then Comolli could be the signing of the season at Anfield.

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