by Ewan Roberts
For Tottenham's hierarchy, the appointment of a director of football is a necessary progression, an essential complement to the club's progressive, forward-thinking manager and the new, high-tech training centre. For the club's fans, the role is treated with a greater degree of scepticism and distrust, a return to the failed, continental experiment that was scrapped upon the arrival of Harry Redknapp in 2008.
When Juande Ramos was sacked following a run of just two points in eight games, director of football Damien Comolli was also ushered towards the exit door. Spurs failings were linked to the more European structure at the club, but, in reality, it was the club's impetus on signing young, promising players with high re-sale potential that had made them competitive in the first place.
It did not always work. Comolli, for example, seemed to rely too much on statistics to form an opinion, never assembled a balanced squad and too often bought highly-rated players even if they were not needed - the decision to buy David Bentley when fellow right winger Aaron Lennon was already at the club being a prime example.
|BALDINI'S BEST BUYS
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|DANIELE DE ROSSI
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|REAL MADRID 2006-2007
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|RUUD VAN NISTELROOY
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Unlike former managers Martin Jol and Redknapp, current Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas not only appreciates the role of the director of football, but deems it a fundamental part of his long-term vision at the club: “It is something that works. Since the first day, I told the club that it's somebody who is extremely important.”
But the relationship between director of football and head coach has been rocky at White Hart Lane in the past; Arnesen and Jacques Santini (who had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stay at Spurs in 2004) had a confused and unworkable partnership according to the former – citing “a problem of where responsibility lay in the club, where we could never reach an agreement” - while Jol and Comolli's collaboration was permanently fraught, a marriage of convenience rather than compatibility.
Villas-Boas and Baldini, however, seem a much better fit for each other. The Italian had even looked to recruit the former Chelsea boss while at Roma to replace Luis Enrique, though Zdenek Zeman was appointed instead.
Baldini, it should be noted, comes to White Hart Lane with his reputation a little dented following an often torrid second spell at Roma, much like the Portuguese manager he will now be working with who himself had a Chelsea-shaped blemish on his own record prior to joining Spurs.
The 52-year-old's managerial appointments in the Italian capital were short-lived, first Enrique and then Zeman, while several signings failed to ignite. But, his role was diluted by the presence of Walter Sabatini, who had his own views on recruitment, while the club's Boston-based owners were not always the easiest to work with – it was they who pushed for the signing of American midfielder Michael Bradley.
But for Spurs' Portuguese boss, Baldini ticks every box he values. “The most important thing is the relationship with the person who bridges the gap between manager and board, and that he is able to be focused on the technical side of things. Someone who has experience of dressing rooms, represents the club, is able to link up with players, agents.”
Baldini, a journeyman player who represented nine different clubs during a 13-year career, has found greater success off the field than on it. In place of his football boots he now has a little black book overflowing with contacts and is a seasoned boardroom operator. He is fluent in English and built up an excellent relationship with Premier League clubs following a stint as No.2 to ex-England boss Fabio Capello.
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Not only has Baldini shown he understands the need to act swiftly and decisively in the transfer market in the past – unlike Levy, who's brinkmanship, stubbornness and hard-nosed negotiations have often hampered Tottenham – he also values the importance of buying youth and potential.
That approach had virtually died out under Redknapp, much to the detriment of the club's longevity. Of the 20 first team players the current QPR boss purchased during his spell at the club (who had an average age of 28.45), only seven are still there – three of those (Jermain Defoe, Brad Friedel and Scott Parker) have little long-term future.
A massive part of Baldini's role will be to build a squad and an infrastructure that can outlast the manager, while also finding value in a market where Tottenham are out-gunned financially by billionaire-backed behemoths.
Villas-Boas worked under one of the very best 'director generals' in the form of Antero Henrique at Porto and knows the value of a rich scouting set-up only too well. Under the watch of Henrique, the Primeira Liga holders have made a profit of around £342 million from player sales, with the likes of Anderson, Radamel Falcao, Hulk and James Rodriguez all sold at an astonishing profit.
“We can't compete at the level that others go for in terms of the big names that are around. We are in a different type of market, and we have to scout properly to get good names from around the world and the Premier League.”
Not only has Baldini proven to be excellent at recruiting young players (from an 18-year-old Daniele De Rossi during his first spell at Roma, to an 18-year-old Gonzalo Higuain at Real Madrid, to Erik Lamela and Marquinhos during a second stint in the Italian capital), the value-for-money South American market that Porto have profited so much from is one he knows extremely well.
He also teamed youthful foundations with a dash of experience. In 2000 he brought a then 31-year-old Gabriel Batistuta to Roma, and the Argentine's 20 goals fired the club to the Scudetto. In 2006 he signed the 30-year-old Ruud van Nistelrooy for Madrid, who lead the Liga scoring charts with 25 goals as los Blancos won their first title in three years. Should Spurs' approach for David Villa materialise, they will hope he is just as successful.
Baldini, one of the most highly-regarded directors of football in Europe, is a major coup for Tottenham and signals a new, more sustainable approach. But it is imperative that he strikes a balance between signing good players and the right players, between youth and experience, and between planning for 10 years in the future and remaining competitive in the here-and-now. If he can, Baldini might be the most important signing of Spurs' recent history.