It seems an odd time to be writing a piece about the technical structure of Bolton Wanderers given the massive issues facing the club. Wanderers are struggling to pay wages, we have an ageing squad that is struggling to compete in the Championship and our long-term ownership remains unclear. These are just some of the issues which have been giving food for thought recently. Whilst some problems are the responsibility of the current management other such issues have been quietly festering since the day Big Sam left. Unfortunately, short of being bought by a benevolent billionaire there is no silver bullet for our ills. With that said it is possible to stop repeating the mistakes that have plagued the club for the last decade. The best way to ensure we do? I never thought I’d say this but...A director of football.
For those unfamiliar with the role, a director of football (DOF) is a member of staff responsible for the footballing side of the football club. This can include: Creating a culture and philosophy for the club, hiring and firing managers and finding/signing players, amongst other jobs. They tend to be more present at board level than regular football managers but still work closely with the team manager.
The role is misunderstood by most, including myself until fairly recently. I assumed that a DOF would alienate the manager, lead to a disjointed squad and confuse the tactical approach. In time I have realised that the role has the exact opposite affect as well as some other very useful benefits pertinent to our club. This is proven with examples all over Europe and increasingly, England. Southampton is a prime example with their director, Les Reed. He was appointed in 2010 and has a remit covering the youth academy, scouting + recruitment, sports medicine + science and kit + equipment. Since 2010 Southampton have risen from League 1 to the Premier League. The academy has been arguably the strongest in Europe in that time fostering the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers amongst a host of other England youth internationals. Likewise their recruitment has shown remarkable success bringing the likes of Virgil Van Dyke, Sadio Mane and Toby Alderweireld to the English game.
The main benefit would be long term stability of the team. Managers come and go, signing and selling players based on their own needs and style. The result is a squad of disjointed players all of whom are suited to different systems. We also see a lack of long term planning as only a select few managers will be in a job long enough to enact their own long term vision. We have seen this in recent years; from Megson to Coyle to Freedman to Lennon to Parkinson. All have played a different style to one another and all completely refashioned the squad. This has led to a high level of wastage as far as talent goes. We see good players are misused, under-perform and are let go only to have success elsewhere and we see younger players not given a chance by management. A DOF is a constant in such situations, ensuring that the signings made by any manager compliment the team and long term vision of the DOF. This ensures the team needn’t be reworked every two years as has been at our club.
Does this mean the manager’s end up having teams unable to play their own tactics? No. This is because the DOF would also be the final word on management appointments and would therefor ensure that any manager brought in would already agree with the ethos and have a style that would compliment the team available. It’s worth remembering as well that a DOF doesn’t bring in new players without discussing with the manager first. It is common practice for a list to be mutually agreed so no manager has a player forced on them.
In addition to this a DOF can also help to improve academy productivity by underscoring the importance of such an asset to perspective managers. Normally managers are more interested in instant success due to the cut throat nature of football management. Therefore having a stakeholder in the medium to long term future of the team involved in the football discussions and plans that are usually left to coaches and managers can push that agenda. This again is important to our club. We have a fantastic academy that is punching far beyond its weight. It needs to be tapped as a source of talent and income.
So I suppose the question would be who would you want and what ethos would you want them to implement? Quick high pressing football? Direct and effective? Emphasis on youth is a given. Many have mentioned Big Sam who, I’d wager would be a great fit as a DOF. Whilst he might seem out of our league it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that rather than retire he might want a less stressful job in football in his home town. Others would rather we bring someone in with a vision of fast, attacking football. Either way I think the time has come for the club to appoint one to help safeguard against the turmoil on and off the pitch and to stop the mistakes of the past being repeated.
Agree? Disagree? Who would you want and what style would you want? Tell us in the comment section below.