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The 'head coach'

As Wanderers contemplate who the next incumbent will be for the managers role (or should that be head coach), Lee ponders the overall structure and apparent opposition to it...

Portsmouth v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

The director of football role is one that has long divided opinion within football and certainly has done with fans.

As a fan base, going off the general feeling you can garner on Twitter and also the more lucid opinions in the BEN comments section, it feels to me that in the main, we are not particularly open to the kind of managerial structure that we now have in place at the club.

A Director of Football (DoF) with a head coach working beneath him is, to many, a new fangled idea and not one that sits comfortably with those who are entrenched with the tried and trusted all encompassing manager ruling over all footballing decisions, even if their own skillset and track record in certain departments are not always up to scrutiny.

It got me thinking, are certain fans against this methodology simply because we are just not personally used to it happening at our club, so are therefore yet to see it historically work for ourselves?

Or could it be because it has always been frowned upon, dismissed almost, with an innate sense of distrust by the more ‘old school’ sections of the fan base, those who aren’t perhaps fully educated on or aware of how the set up is actually meant to work and benefit a club?

Those being that, in theory, it should give a clear strategy, policy and identity to a club that is meant to continue way beyond when a manager, sorry, head coach, departs.

That it offers continuity to the direction of a club and also to the general make up of their squad, as recruitment follows a certain pattern, rather than on the whims of one man who is likely to change regularly, given, in 95% of circumstances, most managers’ reigns last for 2 to 3 seasons at most as opposed to the 7 or 8 that was the anomaly of Big Sam.

That the make up of a squad follows a pattern means the board and the DoF can target a specific type of manager with a well-honed skillset, normally of developing and putting trust in younger players as they are the ones who will make the club money in the long term, fulfilling the very objective of the approach.

Or is it because we have, at the moment anyway, little faith in the man at the helm and head of it all in Tobias Phoenix?

Is that lack of confidence in him owing to his relative inexperience? Or is it the glaring lack of communication from him thus far, making it difficult for the fans to make their own judgements on his personality or competency for the role? Or is it, for most people, his serious lack of profile and reputation within the game that seems to foster this negative opinion of him that I sense, at least from social media channels?

It is most probably a combination of all of the above which make us doubt the credibility of someone who is essentially a novice in his role, a former agent which, much like an estate agent has never been a fondly thought of profession and a guy who is almost a complete unknown in footballing circles, having never played professionally. All these factors add up to paint a fairly unimpressive picture but it is he who now seems to hold the key to what could be the most important decision in our clubs history.

Back to the actual set up though. My feeling is that there’s a consensus that believes it is perhaps an unnecessary and bloated structure for the club that we now, unfortunately, are. Or at least inessential for the position the club finds itself in. After all we are about to embark on only our second ever campaign in the bottom tier, so is this modern way of working really purposeful or pertinent? Especially when most examples of it working how it is supposed to, in mainstream public knowledge anyway, tend to lie higher up the football pyramid.

Brentford and Southampton are two shining examples of it working brilliantly well in the English game, some would say helping push both clubs much higher than their natural and historical levels and becoming more successful than they would have ever been able to be with a traditional managerial set up. The sold player column for both these clubs is long and plentiful. Both clubs have sold assets, which is what players essentially are to clubs who take this ‘moneyball’ approach, consistently for huge percentage mark-ups and therefore have become self-sustainable, while also retaining their ambition. These are two of the most obvious examples, of recent times anyway.

However, more and more English clubs have done or are looking to adopt this kind of structure. It is, of course, very much commonplace among clubs on the continent, Roma and Sevilla being high profile recent examples.

It is well known though that the majority of top flight French, German, Spanish and Italian clubs having been using this model for decades now and never deviate from it.

So there has to be some merit in it, mustn’t there?

Or is the main opposition to it with it the crooks of how it actually operates? There are some blindingly obvious issues that could arise, even if these are more often perceived problems from the fan base and the media than actual complications.

The main one that springs to mind being the ‘too many cooks’ scenario and who takes ultimate responsibility for on-pitch performance? Another is the issue of a head coach potentially working with players that aren’t necessarily their personal picks and their ‘own men’.

Is the motivation quite the same for them trying to coach and improve a unit of players when they might have the nagging feeling that they won’t be getting the credit or professional recognition for any development or success that occurs anyway? Often the DoF will tend to get the glory for his foresight of signing a player while the head coach’s role in fitting him into his team in a way that gets the best out of the player and eventually makes the club a pretty penny, can be overlooked.

I personally think the only way this works is if Phoenix is:

a) actually good at what he does and is easy to work with, which going off the very small sample size on his CV, is extremely hard to determine right now


b) that he gets his own man in to work alongside

Whether or not that may end up being someone who the fans may not want and/or 95% have never heard of, it seems as if we have little option but to trust Phoenix and the man he and Football Ventures decide to appoint.

Mark Kennedy, Michael Beale and the German Torsten Lieberknecht are names that have been touted since the universally popular decision not to renew Keith Hill & David Flitcroft’s one-year rolling contracts. They are potential examples of those who would no doubt prove to be unpopular, unworthy and unpalatable appointments for the vast majority of our fan base.

Some of which may well know very little of how the whole operation is meant to work. That maybe a less heralded name, perhaps a younger, more unknown but more progressive thinker may fit the bill as head coach much better than a bigger, more palatable and obvious ‘name’, like Kevin Nolan for example.

A fan pleasing appointment, such as Dean Holden or Nolan, may mean that FV and Phoenix would end up hoping, rather than knowing, that their personality means they are able to work within and suit what may be an alien hierarchy and managerial structure to them.

The potential for things to go awry due to communication breakdown, differences of opinion and a distrust of each other would surely be vastly increased.

That scenario would hurt us more in the long term, as it is imperative that we hit the ground running in league two, for obvious reasons and if not just to bring the fans back onside after the continual decline suffered in what must be the worst decade of our long history.

We’d be best off bringing in someone that Phoenix either knows and trusts from a previous working relationship or someone he knows well and has lined up but perhaps wasn’t able to persuade to work with him at Macclesfield, either owing to the size of club or their own personal situation at the time.

Someone who ‘knows their role’ and is open to working alongside and in synchronicity with what is essentially their boss. Someone who is happy doing this with recruitment of players and is happy with the methodology of how this is done (often filtering targets through data analysis).

Someone who is not perturbed or put out that he won’t be the only one with the final say on signings and knows that the initial and potentially overall aim of this whole set up is to see Bolton become a selling club, yes, but therefore a self-sustainable club for the future. The examples of Preston and Barnsley closer to home have been cited as ones to follow.

Understanding the situation and not throwing his toys out of the pram if a Ronan Darcy, Muhammadu Faal or Harry Brockbank is sold for a sum that may seem paltry but is absolutely needed to keep the clubs coffers ticking over, especially in the post COVID landscape, is vitally important.

Someone who understands and appreciates the limitations of their scope and will be happy and content to mainly concentrate on what he’s been brought in to do - the coaching side of the game; improving the skillset of the players at his disposal and implementing a style and tactical coherence onto his team that mean we become a proper unit for the first time since Big Sam left.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s an extremely important subject as it’s going to play a huge part in our immediate future, being pivotal to the decision making behind the choice for the next manager or head coach of our famous old club. It could also play a huge part in the medium-to-long term future too, depending on if FV feel that this is the way to go, irrespective of how it works out this coming season.

What we don’t need now is a divisive and opinionated manager in the mould of Hill.

We need on-pitch results, and quick.

Whether you agree or disagree with the way the football operation is being run and it’s nuances, it is seemingly here to stay. So let’s all hope that they get the right man for the job and then we all get behind him.

What else can we all do in reality!?

Either way, COYWM!!