From manager to chairperson, there’s some job roles that a football club simply can’t do without. Increasingly, newer positions that have become vital to the background running of a club are also being introduced, with one of the more common to be utilised being the director of football.
At the last count, 17 of the English Premier League’s 20 clubs had a director of football (or its equivalent under a different title, such as sporting director). What exactly is a director of football and what do they actually do?
What Is a Director of Football?
Once upon a time, a football manager was responsible for pretty much everything pertaining to their team – player selection, tactics, training, transfers, contract negotiations, scouting and so on. That was a lot of balls to be juggling all at once, so to ensure that the manager was focused solely on matters taking place on the pitch, some progressive clubs in continental Europe – at some point in the 1980s – created a role that would lighten the load. So, the director of football, as it is typically known in the UK, or the sporting director – a more European take on the same position – was born.
The director of football is a conduit between the chairperson and the board of directors and the manager/head coach. They are most heavily involved in transfers, instructing scouts and data analysts of the types of players they should be targeting, while helping to ensure that any philosophies that senior board members have are implemented out on the pitch.
Some directors of football also have a business-focused and operations management style brief, and will be actively engaged in hiring and firing managers, coaches and other staff members, accessing external capital, enhancing the medical department and looking into ways that a club can maximise their revenue through facility improvements and commercial partnerships.
The idea is that a manager and a director of football work closely together and are united in the direction that the club is going. However, these individuals can sometimes clash when priorities aren’t aligned, and indeed some managers need to be convinced that a director of football has a place in the modern game.
Take Arsène Wenger, for example. He was one of the first head coaches in English football to be involved in the technical side of the beautiful game, overseeing the recruitment and youth strategies at Arsenal. When the idea of a director of football was raised, the Frenchman scoffed:
What is [a] director of football? I don’t know what it means. Is it somebody who stands on the road and directs play right and left? I never could understand what it means. I am manager of Arsenal football club, and as long as I am, I will decide what happens on the technical front, and that’s it.
What Is a Sporting Director in Football?
As we’ve learned, a sporting director is essentially the same role as that of a director of football. They are tasked with overseeing the ‘football operations’ at a club, ensuring the board’s vision is implemented and that the manager/head coach has the support in place they need to fulfil that season’s objectives.
From scouting, player recruitment and contract negotiations to infrastructure, facilities and financial planning, the remit of a sporting director is extensive and eclectic. They also oversee the integration between a club’s first-team squad and the youth and development ranks, ensuring there is a clear pathway that enables a young player to ascend into contention for a starting berth on a Saturday.
Brentford’s Phil Giles, the club’s sporting director, has described his role as an ‘architect’, designing ways in which the owner’s vision and philosophy can successfully be put into place. “Outside transfer windows, we are much more focused on building the foundations of the club, making sure the owner’s ideas are integrated into the club and he is happy with the way the football side of it works,” he said.
How to Become a Director of Football
Typically, a football manager has some kind of background at the professional level of the sport – although there are examples of those who coach at the highest level that did not have a distinguished playing career. When it comes to the role of director of football, the pathway into the profession could not be any more varied. One of the best-known exponents of the role is Txiki Begiristain, who has operated as a sporting director at Barcelona and Manchester City – winning countless trophies along the way. He enjoyed a fine playing career, winning La Liga and the European Cup with Barca and representing the Spanish national team.
Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo
Then there is Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, better known as ‘Monchi’. He must have had splinters in his backside the amount of times he was named on the bench for Sevilla and their B team during his eleven-year career – the sub keeper making just 126 appearances in more than a decade. But as a director of football, Monchi has developed a reputation for spotting fine talent, including Sergio Ramos, Jesús Navas, Dani Alves and Ivan Rakitić. He was named sporting director at Sevilla at the age of just 31, and the transfer dealings he oversaw netted the club more than £200 million in profit during his tenure.
Other leading directors of football have little to zero prior experience as a professional player. Michael Emenalo played his club football for Notts County, Maccabi Tel Aviv and tiny Catalonian club Lleida, but in his backroom role at Chelsea he helped to turn the Blues into a powerhouse of English football – they won the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League and FA Cup during his stint as ‘technical director’.
And, then you have Michael Edwards, who went straight from the University of Sheffield – where he studied informatics – to a performance analysis role at Portsmouth. That led him to Tottenham, before a switch to Liverpool saw him climb the ladder from head of performance to technical director and then sporting director.
In his time at Anfield, Edwards brokered deals for the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Allison, helping Jürgen Klopp to build the squad that would take the Reds to a long-awaited Premier League title. Even if you haven’t played football professionally, there’s still a pathway to a director of football role – although you’ll need a specialism that’s useful within the beautiful game to get your angle in.