Through the first eight games of the 2008-2009 season Tottenham Hotspur had acquired only two points. Spurs lost games to such fantastic teams as Middlesborough (who wound up getting relegated), Hull City, Stoke City, and Portsmouth. On October 25th Spurs found themselves at the bottom of the table. Their worst start in Premier League history.
That same day Daniel Levy decided that he had had enough. He fired manager Juande Ramos, assistant manager Gus Poyet, first team coach Marcos Alvarez, and, perhaps most notable, sporting director Damien Comolli. Comolli had been with Spurs as sporting director since 2005 and, thanks to hindsight, brought in some excellent players to Spurs. Comolli's feud with former manager Martin Jol is fairly well documented, but were personal disagreements and and a poor start to a season really reason enough to fire him?
At the time of Comolli's firing everyone seemed to be of the belief that the Sporting Director was a superfluous position and that the manager should pick the players. They cited both Frank Arneson and Comolli's failures to achieve much much of anything with Spurs, but they failed to look at some of the best examples of success with the idea.
What essentially is a Sporting Director? Well, in American Sports terminology, a sporting director is the General Manager. Comolli was the equivalent of Bill Beane, John Schuerholz, Bill Polian, etc. The coach rarely picks the players in America. Sure they may have some input, but their job is to manage the talent that the GM gives them. Why are American sports like this? For continuity. Coaches are hired and fired quite often and if every time a coach was hired or fired you had a fire sale to get rid of the old coaches players and then bring in players for the new coach you would be doing business incredibly inefficiently.The best example of this in the world of football is Olympique Lyonnais. Lyon won seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles under four different managers, due largely to the consistency provided by special adviser Bernard Lacombe. Lacombe decides much about the players that are bought and sold by the club and even holds some sway over style of play. He is, essentially, the Billy Beane of European football.
Comolli has since returned to football in the sporting director (or in this case, "Director of Football Strategy") role for Liverpool. He is credited with being responsible for the signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll who subsequently helped turn around Liverpool's season and climb from 13th place in January to 6th by the end of the season.
In all honesty, aside from the opening few months of Tottenham's 2008-2009, Comolli presided over a fairly successful period of football in North London. In his time with the club Tottenham twice finished fifth and won a Carling Cup. Pretty good when you consider we hadn't finished higher than 9th since the 1989-90 season.
Comolli also brought in some great players in his time at Spurs. Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were Comolli purchases, those two along should cancel out the additions of Alan Hutton, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Adel Taarabt (who has suddenly come good for QPR), and Giovanni dos Santos (who is good for everyone except Spurs). Comolli also brought in Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Dimitar Berbatov, Younes Kaboul, Vedran Corluka, and Roman Pavlyuchenko. Not bad, right? Sure there were some failures; namely: Tomas Pekhart, Dorian Dervitte, and Gilberto. But no one is right all the time.
I bring up Comolli and the sporting director (or director of football) position because I have become frustrated with the apparent disconnect between Harry Redknapp and Daniel Levy. Earlier this month Harry Redknapp claimed he had no idea what transfer budget he would be given. That combined with the clubs apparent inability to attract the type and quality of player required call into question the relationship between manager and chairman. Harry has rarely had the resources that are at his fingertips with Tottenham Hotspur and his insistence on buy players who, with the exception of Rafael Van der Vaart, aren't terribly exciting. And Van der Vaart, if you remember, was not even a Harry signing. It was a transfer that Levy "surprised" Harry with.
Last year was an important off-season for Spurs. The club was headed into its first ever season in the Champions League and needed to add quality throughout the squad. By and large Harry Redknapp and Daniel Levy failed to do that. This off-season is equally important as the club looks to once again push for Champions League places. Players need to be offloaded and new ones need to be brought on. Unfortunately, I don't think either Levy or Harry know which players need to be brought in.
The club needs a sporting director to guide them in the transfer market and maintain a consistent vision for the club. Who knows how much longer Harry will be the manager of Tottenham Hotspur and when he leaves a new manager will come in clear out "Harry's guys" and bring in his own players. A director of football will ensure that Tottenham maintains consistency and continues the same attacking style of play most all of us have come to know and love. I hereby nominate myself for this position based mostly on my awesomeness at football manager. Any objections?