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What is a director of football & how does transfer chief role work?

14:00 GMT+3 13/09/2019
Paolo Maldini Leonardo AC Milan
Director of football, sporting director, technical director... all terms for what is ostensibly the same role, but what is that role?

We are now in the era of the director of football.

In days gone by, it used to be that the manager was the supreme leader of a football club. They would be directly involved in almost every aspect of the club, be it training sessions, working on transfers and contracts or laying foundations for the future. The buck stopped with them.

However, times have changed and the power has slowly slipped out of the manager's hands.

Having a dedicated director of football is very much in vogue for the biggest clubs in the world, but it is a concept which is still relatively alien in the minds of many football fans. Indeed, even former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has scoffed at the notion.

"Director of football, I don't know what it means," Wenger once haughtily declared. "Is it someone who stands on the road and directs the players left and right? I never understand what it means, director of football.

"I'm manager of Arsenal and as long as I am manager I will decide what happens on the technical front. That's it."

So what is a director of football, then? Goal brings you everything you need to know.

What is a director of football?

The role of a director of football (sometimes known as a sporting director or technical director) is not always clearly defined, but they form a part of the senior management at a club and transfers are usually their chief remit.

Their responsibilities can vary from club to club, with some being heavily involved in all aspects of the business, including the hiring and firing of managers, scouting, recruitment of players, long-term strategy and the improvement of facilities. In other cases, the role can be slightly more specialised, depending on an individual's particular talents.

Those who take up roles as directors of football usually have a history in the sport and a wide network of contacts, while others simply have a background in similar administrative roles.

A director of football is very much different from a first-team manager, but they work closely with each other and occasionally situations have arisen whereby directors have temporarily taken the reins of a team.

Day-to-day, they generally serve as a sort of buffer between the manager and the board of a club. The idea is to allow the manager to focus fully on preparation for games and on-field issues, while also providing input about potential targets.

To give an example of a parallel in other sports, the General Manager in American Football fulfils a similar role to a director of football.

Which clubs have directors of football?

Many of the biggest clubs in the world employ a director of football.

In the past it was predominantly a feature of continental European clubs, but the role has become central to the operation of a number of English clubs now too.

The likes of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan have employed directors of football to varying levels of success.

Premier League giants Manchester United notably don't have a director of football, but the club are in the process of searching for a suitable candidate for the job.

The Red Devils will follow their rivals Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in incorporating such a job into the structure of their club.

Notable directors of football

With the director of football role becoming a feature of more clubs across the world, those carrying out the job have been subject to plenty of scrutiny.

Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain, who served as Barcelona's director of football before joining the Premier League club in 2012, is one of the most notable examples.

Begiristain is the man responsible for some great Barcelona signings, including Dani Alves, Rafa Marquez, Yaya Toure and Eric Abidal. However, the same man also missed the mark with the recruitment of players such as Keirrison and Alexander Hleb, who flopped at Camp Nou.

At Man City, Begiristain has overseen the club's transfer policy, helping to bring in success stories such as Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus, as well as questionable acquisitions such as Eliaquim Mangala and Nolito. The Basque native provided an insight into the role in a 2018 interview with the BBC.

"You don't need to change 11 players every year. You need to change two or three," said Begiristain.

"If you win, you need to bring someone in to create competition. If not, you have to improve some pieces, but the idea stays and the work is there to try and win again."

Another notable example from Spain is Monchi, a stalwart of Sevilla who is credited with discovering stars such as Jesus Navas, Sergio Ramos and Jose Antonio Reyes, as well as playing a key role in landing profitable bargains, including Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic and Julio Baptista.

Monchi, whose real name is Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, joined Serie A side Roma in 2017 as the club's director of football and was praised for the recruitment of players like Bryan Cristante, Justin Kluivert and Robin Olsen. He subsequently returned to Sevilla in 2019, despite links to Premier League side Arsenal.

Brazilian director of football Alexandre Mattos has also been hailed as the mastermind behind the success of a number of clubs, building trophy-winning squads at Cruzeiro and Palmeiras.

There's also Leonardo, who serves as PSG's chief recruitment man having previously worked in the role from 2011 until 2013. The former Brazil international helped lure Carlo Ancelotti to the club and is also credited with the signings of Thiago Motta and Javier Pastore.

Leonardo joined his former club AC Milan in 2018, where he was assisted by club legend Paolo Maldini, but he was quickly lured back to PSG in 2019.

The signings of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante at Chelsea were thanks to the work of Michael Emenalo, who, on the other hand, also oversaw the arrival of players such as Marko Marin and Loic Remy. Emenalo also worked at Monaco, where he oversaw the arrival of Willem Geubbels, Aleksandr Golovin and Cesc Fabregas among others.

Damien Comolli is one of the most divisive directors of football in the game, having worked with a number of clubs, including Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Saint-Etienne. He is now working as director of football at Turkish club Fenerbahce.

The France native enjoyed plenty of success in his early roles and was the man behind Arsenal's signing of Kolo Toure as well as Tottenham landing Luka Modric and Dimitar Berbatov. However, his reputation took a battering during his stint as Liverpool's director of football.

Appointed shortly after the Fenway Sports Group takeover of the Reds, Comolli's spell saw him sign players based heavily on statistical analysis, which led to money being splurged on players such as Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam.

Jordan Henderson was another Comolli acquisition and, interestingly, the Frenchman believes that Henderson's performances were what led to his dismissal.

"He [Henderson] is one of the main reasons I got sacked," Comolli said in a 2016 interview with talkSPORT. "The day I got sacked they [Liverpool’s owners] told me I had made a big mistake on Jordan and he was a waste of money.

"I never said it publicly, but I was convinced he would be the future captain. People will say it is easy to say now, but I was convinced at the time that he would become the Liverpool captain. Now he is and he is also the England captain."

The case of Dennis Wise at Newcastle United is another bizarre example of how it can go wrong after the former Chelsea midfielder clashed with manager Kevin Keegan over the signing of unwanted players. Keegan resigned in frustration at the policy and sued the club for constructive dismissal.

Goal understands that Erik Stoffelshaus, formerly Lokomotiv Moscow's sporting director, is among those being considered for the Manchester United director of football role. Others who have been touted for the job include Edwin van der Sar, Luis Campo and Paul Mitchell.