You’re wrong, Harry – man­agers need help

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY - Chris Dunlavy

EAR­LIER this sea­son, I asked a former man­ager to de­scribe his big­gest frus­tra­tion af­ter years work­ing at the sharp end of the Cham­pi­onship.

Nat­u­rally, I ex­pected stock re­sponses. The im­pa­tience of chair­men, the fick­le­ness of fans. The grasp­ing of agents and the tantrums of their charges. The ir­ra­tional fear of fail­ure that has re­duced the av­er­age ten­ure of a man­ager to less than ten months.

Sur­pris­ingly, he in­stead lamented a lack of as­sis­tance. To il­lus­trate his point, the man­ager painted the pic­ture of a trans­fer he’d con­ducted while work­ing for one of the game’s most fa­mous names.

Lack­ing a chief scout, he’d first re­lied on his coaches to do the don­key­work, then a hasty ap­praisal with his own two eyes.

Vaguely sat­is­fied, he then had to lo­cate his chair­man and ask for funds, a process which wasn’t as straight­for­ward as it sounds.

For most man­agers, that would rep­re­sent job done; next time they clapped eyes on their shiny new ac­qui­si­tion would be when he walked through the door, Ar­mani boot bag in hand.

Yet a week later, this man­ager – a former foot­baller as op­posed to a trained lawyer – found him­self parked at a desk, go­ing through the fine print on the player’s con­tract, then fax­ing the de­tails off to the FA.

He wanted a scout. He’d have liked a sec­re­tary. But, most of all, he craved a di­rec­tor of foot­ball, a boss and buf­fer who could take the strain and al­low him to coach.

At the time, I thought this was a unique view­point, in­formed by an ex­treme ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter all, aren’t di­rec­tors of foot­ball sup­posed to be an un­ac­count­able, in­ter­fer­ing waste of money who know noth­ing about foot­ball? Harry Red­knapp cer­tainly thought so.


“I’m not in favour of it at all,” said the 69-year-old, shortly be­fore ac­cept­ing a role as Derby’s di­rec­tor of foot­ball in 2014. “As a man­ager, my head’s on the block when it goes wrong so why should I be ac­count­able for some­one else’s mis­takes? It’s a non­sense.”

So far, so stan­dard. Yet this week, the di­rec­tor foot­ball model was en­dorsed in almost iden­ti­cal fash­ion by Rob­bie Neil­son, the new man in charge at MK Dons.

“It’s the best thing a man­ager can have,” in­sisted the 36-year-old, who worked along­side vet­eran

Scot­mo­ment land man­ager Craig Levein at Hearts.

“Right now we’re get­ting new kit for next year. I’ve got the list of how many pairs of shorts we need to or­der, how many pairs of socks we need. Up the road at Hearts, the kit­man and the di­rec­tor of foot­ball would do that.

“At the if I am deal­ing with an agent, I make ten phone calls back and for­ward. That can be half a day’s work. Even things like the li­ai­son with the re­cruit­ment de­part­ment, who’s go­ing where?” So what, you might say. For the kind of salaries bandied about in League One, most of us would jug­gle tasks like a cir­cus act jug­gles swords. But if foot­ball is about mar­ginal gains, how detri­men­tal an im­pact did Karl Robin­son’s work­load have on MK Dons’ rel­e­ga­tion from the Cham­pi­onship last year? If he was or­der­ing kit and or­gan­is­ing scouts, he cer­tainly wasn’t think­ing about how to outwit Sean Dy­che or Ai­tor Karanka.

Mean­while, up in Hud­der­s­field, David Wag­ner was per­fect­ing his style on the train­ing ground or analysing op­po­nents, safe in the knowl­edge that lynch­pin Stu­art Web­ber was knee deep in the nitty gritty of run­ning a foot­ball club.


In fact, the Ter­ri­ers have em­ployed a head of foot­ball oper­a­tions (the DoF role has many aliases) for five years. Over­see­ing youth de­vel­op­ment, build­ing sup­port staff for the man­ager, scout­ing play­ers. Is it re­ally co­in­ci­dence that Hud­der­s­field have sur­vived in the Cham­pi­onship when so many clubs with big­ger bud­gets have failed? That they are cur­rently over­per­form­ing so spec­tac­u­larly? Red­knapp’s view is out­dated. Af­ter the cack-handed ef­forts of a decade ago (Avram Grant at Pom­pey, Den­nis Wise at New­cas­tle) no club would dream of ex­clud­ing a man­ager from the re­cruit­ment process, as is the norm in Italy. Cul­tur­ally, it is a step too far. The role has evolved. Now, the di­rec­tor of foot­ball is a com­bi­na­tion of strate­gist, go-be­tween and load-light­ener. His job to give a man­ager time to breath and think. The sym­bio­sis be­tween Rafa Ben­itez and Lee Charn­ley at New­cas­tle is an­other prime ex­am­ple. In an era of spi­ralling player wages, it is a cheap method of gain­ing an ad­van­tage. Any­one who fails to recog­nise that is surely miss­ing a trick.

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