Why Tottenham Hotspur Need A Director Of Football

Paolo Bruno

Rumours continue to circulate that Spurs have approached Franco Baldini to take over as the club's Director of Football this summer. Here an impassioned case is made in support of the revival of this post, the existence of which could be decisive of the success Andre Villas-Boas is able to achieve at the club.

"The chairman deals with all the transfers. He asks me what I want and I tell him. I don't know where he's at with Bellamy, if anywhere".

- Harry Redknapp on Craig Bellamy, 2011

Star-divide

If and when Tottenham Hotspur hire Franco Baldini or indeed any other figure currently in the frame for the role of Director of Football (or "technical director", according to your tastes), the English media will have a well-worn set of tropes already dusted off and ready to roll out to greet them with- I picture as a type this the Metro editors picking up a phone to Sam Allardyce and asking for 500 words on his experience of how the post is incompatible with the ponderously celebrated "English way of doing things", stat. This reception will not only demonstrate a deep laziness in the staleness of the clichés, but it will also reflect a complete overlooking of a fundamental and longstanding issue which stands between Tottenham Hotspur and tangible, sustained success.

Up until 2008, Tottenham Hotspur had been one of the main sponsors of the position of Director of Football in the Premier League, with Frank Arnesen and Damien Comolli having both taken turns to dictate the direction of the club's transfer policy. With the dismissal of Juande Ramos in that year (and Comolli along with him), the club purported to have scrapped the continental structure for the foreseeable future, moving towards a simplified approach of the manager setting the terms of the club's recruitment. This overhaul was entirely illusory. The club maintains a stratified approach to transfer window activity, with chairman Daniel Levy reserving the ultimate right to pull strings in the market and import figures he sees fit. This much has been betrayed over and over again by the bewilderment and sense of remoteness Harry Redknapp portrayed in press conferences on matters of transfers over the past few years- "Daniel knows. Don't ask me. The chairman will have the final say". And inevitably, whenever the chairman has had the final say in recent times, his purchases have and will continue to be oriented towards the delivery of one key element: value for money.

This state of affairs, to put it in the bluntest possible terms, is the key problem that will hamstring current manager Andre Villas-Boas as he continues to try to implement his plans at Tottenham Hotspur. In many respects it has already hampered his first season at the club. Before Villas-Boas arrived at Tottenham, Gylfi Sigurdsson had already been signed from Hoffenheim as a ready-made successor to the outgoing Rafael van der Vaart. Mousa Dembele was soon added to the squad, to be joined later on deadline day by Hugo Lloris and Clint Dempsey. All of these players have been excellent either in pockets or consistently for Spurs this season; but none of them are Villas-Boas' players. None fit easily into the Portuguese's preferred 4-3-3 system, and no figures that actually do were brought in to accompany them. But all of them, crucially, represented good-value deals in the eyes of the chairman, with all of them being players who had either forced a move away from their club, had already been dismissed as having no future there, or (in Dembele's case) had a release clause built into their contract.

The pursuit of value across transfer windows is in many respects an admirable and sensible way to run a football club. But it is not, in every case, supportive of the football that is played there. Under the reign of Harry Redknapp, possibly the sport's most vocal tactical atheist, this state of affairs was not so much of a problem- Redknapp himself was an active proponent of the footballing ‘bargain bin', and could make something work with almost any collection of players that were given to him at Spurs. During the tenure of Villas-Boas, it will prove to be less of a workable means of supplying players for the first team. In a word, Tottenham's new manager has a philosophy- a strict approach to the game which must be buttressed by the deployment of the right system, and the right players within that system. In this context, it is of paramount importance that, while prudence can guide the transfer process at Tottenham for the seasons to come, it does not continue to be the agenda-setting factor. If Daniel Levy wanted a manager who could simply adjust to using whichever players he could swing a clever deal to bring in, then he has installed the wrong man at the helm of the club.

In the potentially frictional process of identifying and bringing in targets this summer, it is thus clear that some kind of arrangement is required that permits Villas-Boas to keep the club moving in the direction that he wants it to go in whilst allowing Levy to keep the pistons that drive it onwards firing properly. It is for this purpose that the importing of a new Director of Football could be an invaluable asset to Tottenham. In providing an interface between chairman and manager, such a technical director could help to reconcile the two warring motivations which have rendered Tottenham's transfer policy at times sluggish and limiting in recent years- value, and footballing needs- and ensure that the club's philosophy dictates to a greater extent who the club brings in. This figure, ideally one with both a solid background in the sporting side of the game itself but with a healthy history of backroom work in their portfolio, could extensively interact with and subsume the demands of both figures, and then set to work finding the players who sit at the juncture of their differing objectives. To paraphrase Dave Bassett, they would be simultaneously answerable to the board and, crucially, on the side of the manager, helping the head coach to make his case to executives more used to dealing with the technical side of things than the developments that unfold on the pitch. This process, if executed properly, could provide the blend of efficiency, shrewdness and genuine address of the shortcomings in the squad that, paradoxically, the elimination of the Director of Football post and (nominal) transfer of responsibilities back to the manager was originally designed to deliver.

Naturally, it may sound as if I'm gradually outlining a request for the moon on a stick with the candidate that Tottenham may bring in to fill the position. Obviously, it's easy to talk about how fantastic a hypothetical figure that could reconcile the at-times antagonistic wishes of the board and head coach- someone who will support the manager without undermining his ultimate authority- but less straightforward to identify a person who could come in and fulfill that all-important function right in the middle of a crucial summer for the club. It surely isn't too much of a stretch, however, to suggest that Baldini is an extremely decent fit for the role- a technical director with years of experience at Barca and Roma who, crucially, enjoys and excellent personal relationship with Andre Villas-Boas, and thus could prove a valuable ally as the club undergoes it's overdue restructuring process.

In trying to consolidate the influence of football over the transfer dealings of Tottenham Hotspur, Daniel Levy has ultimately only succeeded in finding a new set of ways of rendering the process as sclerotic and unsatisfactory as it was before. The ‘simplified structure', awkward at times under Redknapp, is now totally unfit for purpose under Villas-Boas. Indeed, the manager himself seems to have said as much, offering the highly probative insight in a recent interview on the matter that "the most important thing is the relationship between the person that bridges the gap between manager and board"; indicating strongly that the remote approach has not been to his liking thus far during his tenure at Tottenham. If it doesn't accommodate the interests of the manager, it's no longer in the best interests of the club.

Summarily, the argument in favour of a Director of Football is easy enough to state- it would provide a rubber stamp to impress legitimacy on transfer moves that so badly need to be re-centred around sporting, rather than purely financial, objectives, whilst ensuring such moves are properly tempered and justified to the men who control the purse-strings. All that remains to be seen is whether the man who would be ceding to such a figure pre-eminent control over transfers is happy to embrace the big step forwards that the club badly needs to take.

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