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Directors of Football

The Changing Landscape in the Premier League.

Just three games into the new Premier League season, the resignations of two managers already has brought the changing climate in English football into sharp focus. In particular it has highlighted the increasingly important role that the Director Of Football is now playing in the game, and the diminishing importance of the manager when it comes to transfer dealings.

A Director of Football, sometimes called a Sporting Director, is roughly equivalent to that of a General Manager in the United States. It is much more common in Europe than in England. In England, traditionally the Manager has had the responsibility of transfers, within budgets allocated by the owners. In recent years at many clubs this landscape has changed. It is not clear whether it is a successful system in England, or where responsibilities begin and end. It seems to be decisions made by individual owners on a case by case basis.

Alan Curbishley at West Ham and Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United, resigned within the same week, both citing similar reasons of not being able to have control over transfers.

Alan Curbishley said in a statement that he was unhappy with the club's transfer policy and that key players were sold without his permission, however, the West Ham board denied any interference and have now appointed a new manager, Gianfranco Zola - Italy’s Under 21 National team manager and a former Chelsea player.

Part of his statement, released via the League Managers Association website read:

"The selection of players is critical to the job of the manager and I had an agreement with the club that I alone would determine the composition of the squad. However, the club continued to make significant player decisions without involving me.

"In the end such a breach of trust and confidence meant that I had no option but to leave. Nevertheless, I wish the club and the players every success in the future."

Kevin Keegan’s exit from Newcastle was more dramatic and protracted as it seemed that negotiations were taking place over the course of the week. Those negotiations broke down after just a few days and Keegan resigned with the following statement, also through the LMA.

"I've been working desperately hard to find a way forward with the directors, but sadly that has not proved possible," Keegan said in a statement.
"It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want."
Richard Bevan, of the League Managers Association said that while he did not believe the Director Of Football Method was unworkable in England, he had this to say

“If this system is to work then the role has to be defined with clarity as at the moment there is no standardized role.

“It would seem that both Keegan and Curbishley feel they were misled in the roles their directors of football were playing.

It does seem clear that the system can work but painfully obvious for managers and supporters that it does not work when the roles are not clearly defined. It is no coincidence that the most successful clubs have a much clearer decision making chain of command, and that usually the manager or head coach is the one who is either responsible for transfers, or has a solid working relationship with the staff that do, working together for the betterment of the club.

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