Sunday, February 15, 2009

Manchester City Needs a Director of Football

Another poor result on Saturday against Portsmouth has not done Mark Hughes any favours in respect to keeping his job at Manchester City. And when you sit down and try to analyse the situation and the club, you can only come up with the conclusion that Hughes will head through the exit door sooner rather than later...

No disrespect to Mark Hughes. When he initially took the managers job in the summer, City were a sleeping giant. A club with a huge following and a great heritage despite cob webs in the trophy cabinet. A club who have almost everything in place to tackle the big boys.

On the June 4th of last year, Mark Hughes was charged with bringing this sleeping giant out of the wilderness. With Thaksin Shinawatra's backing and an academy that was producing potential stars of tomorrow, his future looked bright.

And then the goal posts were moved.

Sheik Monsour and his Abu Dhabi consortium came in on transfer deadline day in September and the world of football changed, and the world of Mark Hughes with it.

Hughes was no longer in charge of a ship where he commanded its course. Manchester City had grown in one day from a sleeping giant to a snarling Godzilla like creature who needed to break free of its lower half of the Premier League shackles.

The new owners demanded that City become a force to be reckoned with and they immediately started a deadline day transfer frenzy. Manchester City were linked with star players all over Europe. Sky News, Fox Sports, Setanta Sports, BBC, RTE, any station, and every station led with stories of this new football power trying to sign players.

Bids were put in for players like Dimitar Berbatov, David Villa, Gianluigi Buffon, John Terry, and many many more. Eventually City ended up with Robinho.

The little Brazillian had been told he was surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu by Bernd Schuster and Chelsea were interested in acquiring his services, but City came in with a last minute £32m bid and the rest is history.

Robinho was not a Mark Hughes signing. Nor was the proposed Kaka signing. There appears to be his stamp on the signings of Given and Bellamy and Nigel De Jong is anywhere in between.

The point being that Mark Hughes is signing players and that someone else at the club is pinpointing exciting talent and trying to sign them too. When Hughes is inevitably sacked where do the club go from here?

Manchester City are no longer an ordinary club. They proved that with their audacious £100m bid for Kaka. They went out and in one fell swoop they sent a message around world football. "We have serious money, and we want to be serious players."

But there is a problem at City that needs to be addressed. Like it or not—and most fans won't—Man City are now one of the leading franchises in the world. They have the potential to bid for anyone. But until they get things right on and off the pitch, they will not attract the biggest stars.

Getting things right on and off the pitch go hand-in-hand.

And the two positions that Manchester City need to look at are the Chief Executive role which is currently held by Garry Cook and a Director of Football type role to dictate the shape of the club on the field.

Garry Cook came into City with an impressive resume. The ex-Nike executive is widely believed to have been behind the brands pursuit of Michael Jordan as the figurehead of the sportswear company. He, Nike, and Jordan all capitalised handsomely from the deal.

His foray in the world of football negotiations has been less pleasing than the Nike/Jordan deal. Cook oversaw all of City's bids throughout both transfer windows and the new owners are said to be less than happy with his performance so far.

The reason for writing this article is the Director of Football role, and I believe it is exactly what City need to stabilise the club in it's future comings and goings on the pitch and—more importantly—in the managers seat.

Conventional wisdom in Britain has a new manager coming into a club and taking a season or so to assess his team before embarking on his own transfer strategy and bringing in his own players for his own system. And then when that inevitably fails in comes a new manager and the whole process starts again—with it a huge amount of money spent.

At all of Europe's major clubs, Great Britain excluded, the role of Director of Football is heavily utilised. Ajax, Barca, Bayern, Madrid, Milan, Inter, Juve, Valencia, PSV, Manchester United, the list of clubs where the Director is used is long.

The main reason for using a Director of Football is to allow continuity at a club. It is he who decides on what style of play the club uses, what formation the club uses, and then that strategy is developed throughout the entire club.

Every team in the club from underage to senior level use the same formation and playing style, in that way players fit in seamlessly as they move up the ranks.

And then, finally, the Director of Football—after deciding on these two key issues—goes out and brings in a manager who has to comply with these main areas.

What this brings to a club is continuity. Managers can come and go, but the formation and players are seamless and can be moved on to the next manager who will utilise them, hopefully in a better way than the last.

The sporting director should be the one consistent piece in the jigsaw so that information, knowledge, and structures remain in place for the long term and help ensure sustained success.

At many clubs on the continent, the head coach is made aware from the outset that his job is simply to coach, prepare, and select the team. The head coach will hold regular discussions with the sporting director about players he wishes to sign and positions he needs to fill, but recruitment itself is the job of the sporting director.

This is the direction that Manchester City need to look at for the future of the club. The Academy at City has been producing young talent of high potential for the last decade and these players need to be utilised and kept if good enough.

A sporting director would allow City to plan for the future, use the same formation every season, create players to fit in, and then bring in a coach who can pin point key areas that need strengthening.

Ultimately, a good director of football should be like a good referee—making crucial decisions, not interfering unnecessarily, and going about his business quietly so that everything around him runs smoothly.

In their current plight Manchester City with Mark Hughes at the helm have spent around £90 million. If Hughes is sacked how much will the next manager spend? And then the manager after that? Manchester City need to safeguard their future spending and this could be the foundation on which a very successful club is built.

twitter / WillieGannon