A sporting director is now a common part of
any elite footballing structure. While generally understood as a measure taken to protect clubs
from the growing financial risk associated with their
sporting decisions and as a means of ensuring continuity, the mechanics of the role remain
vague. Previously, football departments were governed
more simply, by a manager and an executive. The manager would coach the side, the executive
would handle club finances, and both would share
responsibility for recruitment decisions. But while this method was successful in the
past, the model is inadequate to serve the modern
game. The dynamic was predicated on the kind of strong relationships which the declining
lifespan of managers has made a thing of the past. According
to 21st Club data from 2018, managers have lasted
an average of just 14 months since the 2012/13 season. The logical consequence has been that
clubs are now increasingly reluctant to bestow transfer
authority upon a transient position. More broadly,
building any short or long term strategy around the role accentuates the wastage already associated
with professional football. Bury sporting director Lee Dykes characterised
this problem in a recent interview with the Telegraph,
saying: “We cannot be self sustainable if, every
time there is a change of manager, all of the plans go out of
the window, a big chunk of staff leaves and half the playing squad is considered a cost
because the new manager wants to bring his own players
in. It would just plough the football club into debt.”
The evolution of football has also manifested in the creation of many more performance layers
within a club, requiring a level of expertise beyond
that of the old executive. Now, sports science, analytics,
scouting, and coaching units operate as their own departments, almost like individual businesses
with their own specific targets and aims.
Essentially, the sporting director role has grown to fill space created by football’s
growth. The position demands a combination of business and sporting
acumen, combined with strong leadership ability and
inter-personal skills. Typically, they are also trained professionals with real-world
qualifications. Damien Comolli, previously sporting director
at Liverpool and Tottenham, has a law degree. Raul
Sanllehi, currently head of football at Arsenal, spent over a decade working for Nike and has
a BA in economics, marketing and finance. These are
not just ex-players who have migrated into management
roles post-retirement, but skilled, educated and experienced private sector workers.
Not that ex-players are precluded from the positions: Borussia Dortmund’s Michael Zorc
is widely considered to be one of the most successful
sporting directors of the modern era. After playing for the
club for 17 years, Zorc took on the role in 1998. During his tenure, the club have won
the Bundesliga three times, reached a Champions League final,
and have consistently produced, nurtured and recruited talented young players.
Zorc has been fundamental to that success and is responsible for creating and sustaining
the philosophy at its core. In “How the World’s
Best Play the 21st Century Game” by Grant Wahl, Zorc
outlined his approach. “Our philosophy is linked to our region,
a working-class region” he said. “So it has to be daring, it has
to be attacking. The fans don’t like it when the team plays like chess on the field.
That’s a very important point.”
Rather than just an ideal, the philosophy provides a guiding principle for the way the
club functions. For instance, despite hiring four different
coaches since the departure of Jurgen Klopp in 2015, that
change has never led to major upheaval. Instead, Dortmund habitually appoint managers with
similar philosophies who require similar types of
players. As a result, a change of manager never necessitates
a squad overhaul. Additionally, Dortmund is renowned for producing
excellent young players through their academy and also for their intelligent transfer
recruitment. In the current squad, Mario Gotze and
Jacob Bruun Larsen are academy graduates, while the likes of Lucasz Piszczek, Mahmoud
Dahoud, Julien Weigl, Marco Reus, and Jadon Sancho
have been purchased at young ages for minimal fees.
Zorc is also insistent that the youth teams mimic the first-team’s tactics, meaning
that transition to senior level football is easier
for developing players. Dortmund’s ability to purchase and
nurture young talent is not simply down to their excellent scouting, but also the result
of a fierce commitment to youth development that stems
from their philosophy of “daring” and “attacking”
football. It makes Dortmund an attractive destination for players who, by their career’s
peak, would most likely be outside the club’s price
range. That financial reality has accentuated Zorc’s
effect. Unlike Bayern Munich domestically, and
Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City in Europe, Dortmund cannot compete for
the best players in the world. As such, they are forced
to find a different route to success. But that doesn’t mean that the role is less
significant at clubs at the top of the food chain. In
addition to the issues suffered at Chelsea and Manchester United in recent years, where
the position doesn’t exist, Txiki Begiristain’s success
at Manchester City makes a compelling case for its
importance. Begiristain joined City in 2012, after serving
as sporting director of Barcelona between 2003
and 2010 under Joan Laporta, during which time he also appointed Pep Guardiola as head-coach
of the first team. Begiristain was an attractive
target for Manchester City, given that the club have
repeatedly expressed a desire to become. like Barcelona, synonymous with a certain way of
playing. But his personal relationship with Guardiola
and the trust between the two of them also made him an
outstanding candidate and, in light of the club’s success, a primary catalyst for the
club’s rapid evolution.
But Begiristain is not just crucial to City because of his links to Barcelona and Guardiola.
Like Zorc, he believes in sensible recruitment that not only equips his manager properly,
but also reinforces the existence of a native style.
Begiristain’s emphasis on transfers contributing to a long-term project ensures that City don’t
view transfers from a purely financial standpoint. Rather than entering the market simply to
buy marquee stars who can attract media attention
and sell shirts, they attempt to look for players who can
fit into a specific blueprint. Their financial strength enables them to spend the money necessary
to acquire those players, but the overarching
guidance – especially when compared to the lack of
direction across town at Old Trafford – affords them a greater return on their investments.
The sporting director model has been successful at many clubs across various leagues, and
has yielded similar success in other sports. In America, an astute general manager is arguably
of equal or greater importance than any coach: consider
Billy Beane’s influence in Oakland, or Theo Epstein’s
effect on, firstly, the Boston Red Sox and, latterly, the Chicago Cubs, both underachieving
franchises who, after Epstein’s arrival, won the World
Series after decades of underachievement and having
cycled through dozens of coaches. Football still remains more resistant. Even
at its highest level, some clubs exhibit an apparent
distrust of sporting directors, preferring to keep faith with the more traditional, two-pronged
structure. That is not the trend, though: Arsenal will
soon appoint their second sporting director of the postArsene
Wenger era, former FA technical director Dan Ashworth moved to Brighton & Hove Albion in
early 2019 and Liverpool’s Michael Edwards, who was promoted to sporting director in 2018,
is credited with building the squad which Jurgen
Klopp has managed to back-to-back Champions League finals.
Across the modern footballing landscape in Europe, it is now rare to find a successful
or efficiently-performing club which is not under
the guidance of a sporting director. It’s becoming
increasingly clear that a position which was once viewed with suspicion is, by virtue of
its specialisation, becoming fundamental to competing
across modern football’s growing battlefields.

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Dennis Veasley

100 thoughts on “What is a Director of Football?”

  1. Its interesting because in America its generally:
    Head Coach -> General Manager -> President of sports operations -> Owner(s)

    but in Europe it seems it goes :
    Head Coach(Manager) -> Sporting Director -> Owner(s)

    so the coach has a bit more say on personnel in Europe with one less tier of management

  2. Send this to Abdullah from full-time devils. He goes on about DoF but was clueless when asked what the position is about.

  3. Love your work Tifo brilliant again 👏🏾👍⚽️
    Is their a reason why United will not appoint A director of football?

  4. Please make a video on Bayern Munich as they are in a transition phase and are intelligent in the transfers too .

  5. I think Stuart Webber deserved a mention in this. Done an outstanding job at Huddersfield and Norwich. I guess the real test will be whether or not he can sustain his system in the premier league.

  6. what is the common thing between BVB and Man City

    they both stuck to daring offensive football which pulls the max potentional of players
    and they only pick managers who play this style

  7. Please do a video on football analytics departments in clubs regarding recruitment/tactics and the people working in this realm and their qualifications. Seems to be a growing and interesting part of all sports with growing job outlook.

  8. I think it should be pointed out that football's resistance to the role is much more present in England (or GB in general) than other countries. In Italy almost all third divisions team have a Sporting/Football Director, the ones of the biggest club are all very well known figures. The same could be said for Germany and Spain. I think English Football has long been very conservative and until recently, tactically and sportingly obsolete (opposite to its forevision commercially). I wonder if this has to do with English long history and profound culture of sport as an amateurism thing, just see how late rugby professionalised. Could be interesting subject for a video.

  9. The video was great and clearify a lot of things, but i doesn't answer the question of the title unfotunately. Like what are the DOF tasks, responsibilties, power within the club. It just states the importance of a DOF.

  10. Any chance you could do a video on irish football? Would love to see your views on either the financial disparity between the League of Ireland and the FAI (Football Association Of Ireland) or the financial mismanagement by the FAI, in particular John Delaney

  11. Fascinating. I’m still sceptical of DOFs. Currently my club has an awesome manager and an awesome chairman. No middle man needed as a DOF. We have a project and we have a philosophy. A DOF role is to circumvent the risk of hiring/ firing managers. It depends on the relationship between chairman and manager. It works for some clubs but not all

  12. Really surprised Liverpool's Michael Edwards wasn't mentioned, considering they won the Champions League with a relatively low net spend.

  13. Now that you mention Zorc and BVB, there should be (if there isn't already) a video about the importance of scouting. Dortmund are masters of doing it right.

  14. Another great video; however in regards to Dortmund, I wouldn't say reus was bought for a minimal fee. He was quite an expensive signing approx €20 million, good business in retrospect but not the best example

  15. Maybe the reason why football managers are only lasting an average of 14 months is because they aren't allowed to buy their own players anymore? Which makes implementing his tactics/philosophy more difficult and also increases the chances of poor team morale from bad apples and player revolts.

  16. I don't watch tifo anymore (busy, work, gym, fifa) but i always click & like. During my commute sometimes i'll watch some videos. As always; brilliant content.

  17. Check best current football director in South America, former uruguayan national striker Enzo Francescolli, River Plate's sporting director. He is definitely a huge part beyond the club's manager Gallardo success on the biggest era in the club.

  18. Absolutely love the insight you guys give into the deeper world of football! It's super interesting to watch! Keep it up!

  19. Bruh, I know that you didn’t just say the Sox are under achievers! Name two other teams with more rings. Oh wait, you CAN’T! Only the Yankees have more rings

  20. “Also reinforces the existence of a native style”

    Last time I checked city didn’t have a “native style”

  21. Wow mentioning the Bury DoF who is no longer in the job….also the same club that are in real financial difficulty. Can’t believe no one mentioned this already, shows the ignorance of lower league football.

  22. It's the same as any business……….they "make" managerial roles layer by layer. It's just another very expensive role to fill which add's nothing to the club.

  23. The difference in success between Man Utd and City is so obvious but I always knew it wasn't solely down to Guardiola, they have been splashing money since 2008 but its only after 2012 they started becoming successful, and i worry that Utd will never reach that level again unless they get themselves a DoF

  24. Manchester united board need to watch this video and bring in a very good experienced DOF because that man united squad need a huge REBUILD , and i don't think Ed Woodward alone will ever make man united great like the old days of SAF because he doesn't know anything about football 🙁

  25. How can you make a video about this and not mention Marc Overmars. Ajax was nearly bankrupt before he was appointed as the director of football. And look at Ajax now. No debt, 275 million euro in the bank. And that is even before the transfer of de Ligt. So it will be about 350 million by the end of this transfer window.

  26. Solid content lads. A look at the new era of football at Chelsea under Frank Lampard's a good shout. Keep up the good work.

  27. I'll tell ya what Tifo, that faceless sporting director at the beginning looks an awful lot like Stuart Webber 😂

  28. Can you please make a video on Edu and how/why he became arsenal technical director? and the difference between the role and a sporting director?

  29. Every time I don't watch these videos for a few weeks and come back, I am consistently blown away. One of the greatest football and overall channels on youtube. Don't know how tifo isn't wildly popular and how it's free. Keep up the amazing work!!!

  30. Brilliantly written, tifo never disappoints. The varied choice for video topics helps a lot ; instead of repeated tactical profiles of top clubs after every managerial change.

    There's very few places where one can get such concise and precise information on the stuff revolving around football and not just about tactics and formations.

    Also the examples taken for explanation of the topic are quite good and well thought of before selecting them as examples.

  31. Superb content yet again. I try not to watch too many of these videos because they're so good I like to enjoy them at a gentle pace.

  32. You do not need academic qualifications to be a good Sporting Director/of Football. The qualities are – someone who has a sensible and long term, ambitious vision for the club, a cool head, someone who realises the players are the stars of the club, a diplomat, a person who is able to recognise the qualities and weaknesses of himself, and the people he works with, a person who is willing to build on the strengths and identity of the club, someone who is willing to support the coaching staff and studiously advise the executives, etc.

    EDIT: Changed the word direct, to Director/of Football.

  33. If only Arsene Wenger had moved to Director of Football for the last decade of his coaching life with Arsenal, I believe they would now be one of the best teams in Europe, and a contender for the league title every year. He would have had the chance to indulge his methodical team building, whilst being the wise go-to man for all football related matters. Instead, he allowed his vanity to eat him up, and damaged Arsenal's future.

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