The Blind Hammer Column
Blind Hammer looks at the director of Football Debate.
It looks certain now that West Ham will appoint a Director of football at the conclusion of this season. David Sullivan is reported as seeking to scale down his involvement. There is also a gap in recruitment following the departure of tony Henry. David Gold has also indicated that they are interested in appointing a Director of Football with previous PL experience. Speculation has already begun that former Arsenal director of football Dick Lawis is in prime position to take on this new role.
However there has long been a debate about the usefulness of a Director of Football. Ex-Hammer John Hartson immediately criticised West Ham’s apparent new strategy. He queried this on Twitter.
“Top managers won’t always work with a director of football. If your head is on the block then why would you want someone else bringing the players in? Never got it!”
Hartson’s tweet went to the heart of the Director of Football debate. Who should have the final say in transfers? The two longest standing managers in Premier League history, Wenger and Ferguson, would never have conceded power to effect key transfer decisions. On the face of it Hartson’s tweet has considerable force. Why don’t clubs simply leave transfer dealing to the Team manager? The Manager is, after all, the man who has to, in the end, pick the team. Such a structure gives clear lines of responsibility and accountability. The team Manager could assemble a recruitment team to support him in this strategy. Scouts as well as coaches can feed into player identification. The time consuming process of negotiating with Agents over contractual issues simply requires a Commercial Business Manager with a legal background rather than anybody in the Director of Football role. Negotiating contracts is an entirely separate skill to player identification.
So why would West Ham even consider restricting the hand of their Manager with player recruitment? The fact is that something has to change. As I reported some weeks ago West Ham have, in fact, been amongst the highest net investors outside of the traditional top six when looked at over 5 years. However they have equally been amongst the poorest performers in player resale value. They have a dreadful record in achieving any income when players depart the club. The stats point to a historic and long term problem with player recruitment. Putting it bluntly we recruit too many duds.
There is a valid argument that Team managers may have priorities for Transfer Recruitment which is not in the longer term interest of a club. Nowadays it seems rare for a Manager, even at a top club, to survive more than 2 to 3 years. It is not surprising then if a manager has his eyes firmly fixed on the next 6 months rather than the next 5 years. There is a risk that Recruitment can be skewed to short termism, rather than progressive squad development. Arguably the quantity rather than quality recruitment in Bilic’s second summer, where we ineffectually tried to prepare for a Europa League challenge fell into this mistake.
A way forward may be for a Director of Football to have this longer term perspective and responsibility for recruitment. In a more secure role the director of Football will not feel so pressured to take the short term fix but instead focus on a more extended term, directing investment in younger players with potential, possibly then harnessing greater rewards. This will imply a split recruitment strategy. A shorter term strategy focussed on immediate squad weaknesses would have to be led by the team manager. Logically a Director of Football may then be more focussed on the Academy development rather than the squad members pressing now for inclusion in the first 11. Such a split strategy does beg the question though, why should a person focussed on the Academy have such a Senior role within the club?
A Director of Football will come because what went before has not worked. There is little evidence, though, that such a role will be any immediate panacea for West Ham. In the end recruiting the right person with the right skill, who can assimilate and work positively with the existing team is probably more important than any formal Job description. Moyes has made the right noises to indicate he recognises the dangers of short term investment, even if it is his heads which is ultimately on the block. Gold insisted in his recent interview it was Moyes and not the Board who led the decision to not invest in poor value available in January.
Despite the noises about a director of Football the key role in any club will remain the team Manager. Everybody knows this, including the Media who point the spotlight that way. A Director of Football should be providing, at best then, the supporting infrastructure.