ON this week’s “Soccer Report Extra” podcast, available HERE, we gained a glimpse of Damien Comolli’s perception of his methodology and approach to the Director Of Football role – a role he had, of course, filled at Spurs and Liverpool in recent years on these shores.
It’s worth a listen.
Before starting, I should make full disclosure: he worried me. He still worries me. And here’s why.
A Director Of Football, for me, ought to act as the de facto day-to-day custodian of a football club’s ‘system’ of football. Ambassadorial ‘key stone’ roles aside, they should own the way (or ways) that football club plays the game. Sure, scouting methodologies, statistical analysis and research, fee and contract negotiations and so forth ought to be cornerstones of their work. But all that should take place while informed by, and founded on, what the club stands for in footballing terms.
We’re led to believe that Liverpool Football Club, in the penultimate year under Rafa Benitez’s stewardship, put a blueprint in place that crystallised what many hoped would be done at the club: that they’d build on the foundation of 4-2-3-1 at all age groups to first team level (with, as Rafa himself stated, the capacity to play 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 as the conditions of the game dictated). It would form the basis of everything done at the club – a consistent theme and mode of play that Liverpool stood for, and one that had served it particularly well in recent years (and as Sean Rogers so eloquently argued on a recent Anfield Wrap podcast, one that Liverpool used throughout its peak in the late 70s and 80s).
We came to refer to the document Benitez commissioned as ‘McPartland’s Blueprint’, and all the indications when NESV (later FSG) took over were that they and everyone they hired would buy into and work to that blueprint – that everything would be joined up. The coaching curriculum and style of competitive play at all levels would reinforce that blueprint, making the seamless transition to first team football far less problematic. The scouting and selection criteria would be informed by it, with square pegs chosen for square holes, and round ones for round.
Lastly, at first team level, activity in the transfer market would be undertaken with reference to the framework that blueprint provided, taking into account factors such as home grown quotas, age and succession planning, long-term contract value, and salary… but always with the systemic blueprint in mind. Can the player operate in a 4-2-3-1? Does he have qualities the squad is demonstrably lacking that can’t be filled from the reserve or youth ranks? Will his attitude, aggression and team and work ethic reinforce or undermine the squad? But most of all, will he work for our system – our systems, and the broad balance, tempo and emphasis we’re trying to achieve in our play?
Listening to Comolli, while we should always remember that a half hour podcast could never fully encapsulate a man’s entire methodology, one point jumps out – the system was never fundamental to him – it was never at the forefront of his thinking.
Comolli makes a fair point when saying the success of the predominately European model depends on people, not simply on nations. But it also depends on the Director Of Football being capable of filling the remit of a Director Of Football. While the points he made rang true in many cases: that no-one in his position tends to fare better than a 50% success rate and that many of the players he recruited have done well; that when scouting you need to look at positions and their qualities in isolation; that when looking at metrics you need to delve deeper into context and take a more holistic view… they’re all good points. But they all relate to scouting. And a Diretor Of Football ought to have more in his locker than that.
Of course, many expressed issues with his negotiation skills – issues that are already well-documented. But there’s a deeper issue even than that. If you’ve listened to the podcast, listen again – this time asking yourself ‘where’s the acknowledgement of how everything should fit into our system – our philosophy?’. And you’ll maybe arrive at the same worry as I did. Beyond a casual reference to whether a striker’s runs would suit the side’s best passer, there’s no fundamental reference to systems, or to the club’s footballing approach.
I can only hope that when the void created by his sacking is addressed, this point is borne firmly in mind – it’s fundamental to a club’s long-term progress if it has genuine footballing ambition.
Lazy references to Theo Epstein aside, I’d feel much better if a man was in place who wouldn’t overlook a Molby or a Dalglish. Raw pace is all very well in the modern game, of course, but the team’s spine needs regulative players both with and without the ball – players aware of space, and with the brain and technical tools to exploit it, even when very little of it’s available, and when defensive pressure is applied. Players who complement the system. Alonso and Lucas may lack raw pace in comparative terms, but they more than compensate with acute positional awareness and understanding of how to support and make themselves available when others have the ball. And team mates know with both players, even if their pass invited a pressing opponent in for the kill, that their touch and awareness would ‘shuttle’ the ball on to the right man in space. Alonso is phenomenal in this regard; Liverpool are lucky that Lucas has begun to emulate that quality.
Read interviews with managers like Benitez or Mourinho, or with players like Alonso, Davids, Timoschuk… a side needs to work as an integrated system, with as many players who regulate the links between each component ‘part’ as possible. That a Director Of Football can operate seemingly without reference to that kind of insight points at a misunderstanding both of the game itself, and of what the role ought to entail.
Comolli would do well to learn that aspect – it will stand him in good stead in his future career.
excellent piece Roy.. its still the only thing that worries me about Kenny. i’m sure he’s a great man manager, makes players feel 10 foot tall.. but his tactical side, whether its formations, substitutions or team selection still dont seem to sit right. i dont see the club implementing any kind of plan, like what Rafa was trying to do. Hopefully thats the reason we sacked comolli and we’ll suddenly see the club spring into action.. but at the moment all we hear from the club is silence.
That’s what worries me most about this season: the evidence from countless defeats suggests that Dalglish is struggling to motivate the team.
That’s heretical to say but after the Bolton defeat, the Fulham defeat and at least AN other, he’s gone on record to say that the attitude of the players was wrong. If he’s said that publicly 3 times, I bet he’s said it on at least six occasions privately.
So if Steve Clarke is doing the tactics and organisation, the DoF setting the philosphy, Keen doing the training – what’s Dalglish’s role?
In business circles I have often heard it said that a good director needs to be strategically engaged and operationally disconnected,sounds like Comolli is just really a scout.
This is a great post Roy. I just hope that ‘McPartland’s Blueprint’ is still in the minds of the owners/management team. The next few appointments by the FSG will be very telling in terms of giving us a insight into their strategy.
Think the whole Comolli “oh no this guy isn’t quite what we thought he was” combined with fact Kenny was never really the kind of manger FSG wanted to employ has put FSG on the backfoot.
I am sure if they could go back in time we would see FSG employ a Txiki Begiristain/ Michael Zorc/ Kenny Dalglish to dove tail with a Luis Enrique/ Roberto Martinez/ Jurgen Klopp/ Brendan Rodgers.
Not that i want them to sack the king just think this is the kind of football operation FSG have in mind.
Can’t argue with most of that Roy.
I think part of the problem is that you need to fill 2 or 3 key roles at a club, and there aren’t many people about with the range of skills required to fill 2 or 3 of those roles.
There’s clearly a need for someone at the club who’s remit is to establish and protect the club’s footballing philosophy, and to oversee the technical side of things (player development, coaching etc) at all age groups. This has to be what comes first and is something that was lacking at Liverpool (but evident at clubs like Barca and Ajax) for years until Rafa commisioned McParland to review our youth development setup. Something like this takes time to establish, but you should ultimately reap the rewards when it becomes easier for youth players to adapt to the first team football (they know what is expected in their specific role on the pitch because they’ve been drilled in it for years). Everything should stem from this, and I suppose that’s the point you’re making.
Then there’s a second person – someone responsible for scouting and identifying players. Of course we’ve already established what kind of football we play, and from this we know which kind of players we need in specific roles. Its down to this person to identify specific targets who have the attributes to fit in with the Liverpool system. Graham Hunter talks about the things Barca look for in their players – “How is his first touch? Can he retain possession? How quickly can he read situations and how is his decision-making under pressure? Can a winger play off either foot? Does he press when his team does not have the ball? Does a centre-back have the technical ability to start attacks?”.
Then there’s someone else who’s job it is to negotiate deals and perhaps to represent the club at a FA/UEFA level- an old style Chief Executive. I think you only have to look at Arsenal post-Dein (or Liverpool with Purslow) to see how important this person can be.
Since FSG arrived I think we’ve seen these role effectively watered down and split in pieces with Ayre, Comolli, Dalglish and Werner each carrying some of the responsibilities. I think the way the Suarez situation was mis-managed shows how dangerous this can be if individual’s roles aren’t outlined clearly – no one seemed to know who’s job it was to take control of the situation, so no one did.
I think its interesting (and reassuring) to look at some of the names linked with us immediately after Comolli’s departure. If we’re assuming that Comolli’s main responsibilities were identifying and signing players, then Cryuff or Begiristain aren’t going to be direct replacements for him. Their role would be more in keeping with the work started by Benitez (and McParland, Borrell and Segura) and less about negotiating transfer fees.
Comolli undoubtedly had a very difficult task, and I just don’t think he had the range of skills and knowledge required to succeed. He was never going to be Robinson and Twentyman and Cryuff roled into one, and he didn’t even make a very good translator when it came down to it.
Realisticaly we need to make a couple of big appointments in the summer, and getting the right people in off-the-pitch is the key to being successful on the pitch in the future.
Excellent comments Kendry. The confusion over roles and tasks is not just on the pitch, and perhaps as you suggest the removal of Comolli is an encouraging sign that FSG realised they got the structure (and therefore people) wrong. I would see the Director of Football presiding over the whole structure ensuring that the blueprint is consistently followed across youth, reserves, first team, and that player recruitment at each level is consistent with the model.
A three-way discussion between DoF, chief scout, and coach seems a sensible model when it comes to signing new players. Coach – “this is what I need”, Chief Scout – “this is who I’ve found”, and DoF discusses the options with them, makes sure that everything fits the blueprint, and goes to the Board to ask for the money. When it comes to actually getting the player, handling agents, and negotiating the fees, I would simply get a skilled negotiator to do this part – this needn’t be the DoF’s task.
I for one will fall in the category of fans who never wanted Rafa to leave Anfield. I certainly didn’t know about the McParland Blueprint. Thanks for that.
Just a challenge. Can the Anfield Wrap do a piece on what the Liverpool Way is actually about. I see the phrase brandied about but explanations vary considerably. Any article along the lines of Rafa’s blueprint for LFC would prove sufficiently educative in my book.
Good read overall, one I will bookmark for future reading.
Spot on. Tellingly, FSG came in saying ‘we’re just beginning to learn about this game’. Damien made all the right noises, and on one level you wonder if they were taken in at first because he seemed to know more than they did – he’s been around some pretty big clubs, after all, and they must have been kind of wowed by some of his stories. But then as they’ve learned the game (and they’re smart owners these, pretty sure of that, fast learners in all their various endeavours) they’ve spotted his limitations. He’s a bit of a bullshitter, Comolli (leaving LFC because he needs more time with his family in France, for instance!) and they’re hard-headed businessmen who realised he wasn’t doing everything they needed. Not that he did NOTHING, of course, just that he didn’t produce the right results.
As for the blueprint… great if it hasn’t been forgotten. Maybe Rafa should come back as Director of Football? There’s a strategic thinker and obsessive worker if ever there was one. He couldn’t man-manage for toffees, but Kenny can. Rafa brought Kenny back to the club, so one has to assume they get on. Do you think it would work? Intriguing idea…
Very interesting article!
I’ll be honest, I thought the pressure and intensity of Rafa’s battle with the boardroom had got to him and had become irreversibly damaging to the team. The more I’ve heard about him since he left, the more I think I was one of the ones who got it wrong.
Im sure Journos like your good self get this a lot, but ‘Thank you, I’ve been making this exact point for ages now, honest!’. Excellent piece, I have to say though, and this is my criticism with TAW in general (though it is still essential reading/listening); it is a little light on the Kenny criticism. I think every ctriique you make of Comolli here, applies equally to Kenny; becuase of who we are we are ovely defensive of Kenny, as though any criticism for him is automatically a request for the owner to give him the chop.
I think Kenny has proved tactically inept in this current era (and judging by your perfectly pitched analysis of our lack of a system – or identity as I prefer to term it – I would guess you agree). The first thing to say about a 4231 is that it is a pre requisite for the ‘1’ to have pace; he obvisouly needs to have a lot besides in the manner of our past great strikers (Hunt, Rush, Fowler etc) but the goal scoring philosephy of a 4231 circles around the need to ‘release’ the number nine (as Rafa evolved with, often Gerarrd, releasing Torres – the ball is placed in space for a ‘runner’ to run onto if we are ‘breaking’ and simillar – if we are, and here is what is missing from the current play, PATEINTLY – dominanting in their third). That is why the replacement of Torres with Carroll was flawed from the start, and that was, from all we know, a decision from both Comolli AND Kenny.
Like it or not, a goal scoring philosephy is intrinsically linked to your number 9, we have been (insert your own word in here ‘blessed/lucky/ingenious) at having a remarkable line of great strikers (add Torres, Owen and Aldo to the aforementioned). Having Carroll as your focal point is not going to facilitate a succesful goal scoring philosophy for a team that is supposed to want to play possession, ‘associative’ football. There is a pattern with Kenny here, in July 1994 he broke the then British transfer fee and bought Sutton (abandoning the obvisouly more associative style buys he made for LFC like Beardsley). This by any measure was a succesfull purchase, but it’s not 1995 now, and a direct style of play that would suite Sutton and, to a lesser extent Shearer, is OK today for Stoke, but not a team that wants to get back to being a European elite in 2012.
Kenny’s other tactical blue print that has been succesfully for him in the past, but is not really relavant now, is the ‘tucked in winger’; epitomised by the Houghton purchase in ’87, a player that plays on the right but when off the ball tucks into central midfield, giving a team 3 CM’s off the ball. That was pretty revolutionary in 88, and we used to steam roll teams in part becuase of that (he did a simillar thing with Ripley for Blackburn); but in 2012, most teams play a variation of 3 in the middle, so it doesn’t give you any advantage in the modern game, yet that is how Kenny has deployed Henderson for 90% of the season, despite it never really yielding anything for either player or team.
Excellent little read. Can’t shake the thought that sacking Rafa killed a lot of that overall philosophy. Such a shame.
Great post as ever Roy, as the poster above, I fear the sacking of Rafa may have tarnished the level of influence this system has over LFC for the immediate future. Still, the next appointments will speak volumes.
Guys, some truly excellent comments that I’ve only just been able to read. Will come back on later and do them justice hopefully.
And Johnny Blaze, I’m not a journo mate – purely a hobbyist!
Great podcast link. I was surprised having heard it that your criticism was so strong. I listened to the interview and he answered the questsions that were posed, and none of those seemed to relate to ‘what is the DoF role in your view?’, ‘how would you define the overarching set-up at xyz, and what was your role within that?’. Essentially they were interviewing him on certain questions mainly related to signing and retaining players and he answered them. It is clear he is a pragmatist Moneyball type man, and maybe one can infer from his omissions ref strategy, culture etc that he is not as strategic as some think or might want, but it is not conclusive at all. And I think he answered the questions very well and honestly. On the question of pace, he cited the very two players in Xabi and Lucas to make the point that you can go for general qualities eg ‘pace’, ‘intelligence’ etc, but you need to assess players on a number of variables and within the environment they are in, and the environment they may be entering, so hard to generalise. Depends on the club, fair enough! And both Xabi and Lucas were examples he gave of players who are brilliant but not esp pacey ! The same would doubtless be said of Kenny, Molby etc.
I am a lifelong Liverpool fan, I see how we have struggled this year, but I am also sure that none of us know what Damien C’s job was, how it related to others in the org, and we have no measures of how their success was being assessed and on what timelines. So frankly, it’s fun to ruminate about these things, but I think people are sticking the knife in on Comolli now on the basis of very little evidence. I am pleased the guy has enough discretion not to be doing kiss ‘n tell on the club, or the separation agreement is preventing that which is more likely the case!
But this is thought-provoking. Thanks for the link, I will def be reading this site in the future along with Tomkins Times.
Hey Johnny Blaze,
Lighten up Man! Football isn’t a video game.It’s not “Football Manager” or whichever game you play.It’s not 4-4-2 or 3-6-1 or 3-3-5 !it’s about individuals who can play the game and know what’s going on!
Who would have thought Jan Molby playing in front of a back 4 could have so much influence on a game? Who realised that Ray Houghton was a player who could appear out of nowhere and score goals?How could “Football Manager” tell you that a player like Ronnie Whelan would pick up virtually every loose ball on the pitch and turn it into attack?
Sorry Johnny Blaze but you can apply your “Football Manager”philosophy to anything but the real game!
Real footbal is about players who have skills which can be harnessed for the good of the Team.Look at Terry McDermot;a journeyman footballer till Paisley harnessed his skills;he would have been nowhere on OPTA stats at the time.
So Kenny Dalglish gets my vote! But if football is ever decided on a laptop…..well…..I’ll be in touch!
Just in retort to Brian B, and I want to be categorical about this, I have never in my life played football manager, or any other football related game – sorry I am a bit touchy about that, it’s about a million miles away from my perspective (I have two kids and don’t have some much as a DS, my laptop is used for two things, work and LFC related networking!).
I want to be put my earlier post in perspective, there is no more natural a devotee of Kenny than me, more so as a manager than as a player (I was born in 77, and only really remember football from Rome 84 onwards), until this recent Barca team, Kenny’s 87-89 team were the best I had ever witnessed. That doesn’t stop me from calling it as I see though.
It is not always true to say that a latter era is better than a former one, I wouldn’t easily claim that the best sides of the mid 70’s would be lesser than the best sides in the mid 90’s; I would though say that the best sides of the 70’s would be better than the best sides of the 50’s – this I guess is based around the revolution of professionalism, but there are other revolutions that have created a step change in football and an undeniable one in my eyes is, for want of a more sophisticated phrase, the addition of ‘layers’ in the team formation, encouraging shorter more ‘associative’ play, than that induced by the standard 442 (this adding to the compressing of the team’s layout, and the specializing of certain roles has also revolutionised the play off the ball). You can site Saachi for a lot of this (especially the compression stuff) and maybe as far back as Rinus, but the truth is this revolution didn’t really take hold until the turn of this century and became a major impact in the premier league with the arrival of Mourinho and Benitez, who I feel pushed Fergerson and Wenger resulted in a unpresidented period of dominance of the premier league in Europe between 2005 and 10 (Other leagues have had single teams that have dominated Europe, but I can’t think of a time when four teams have been so influencial – I guess partly because if the old European format, but still). As an aside I think it is telling how the League standard has dropped since the departure of the aforementioned evidenced by generally how poorly our sides have done in both the european competitions and by how well the promoted teams have done.
The point is though Kenny has missed this revolution of ‘association’, his teams in the 80’s and 90’s didn’t really come up against it. I do believe though Kenny can be a great leader, in the same way Fergie is a leader – a setter of mentalities, a man to create and maintain the culture of winning, a Genral for the whole club; the difference is though Fergie has been stung by better tactitions and learnt from it, Kenny is playing catch up. In the same way I often think it would have been better to have had Evans before Souness (Kenny’s team needed evolution not revolution, and the spice boys needed a firm hand), Kenny is the man to follow Rafa, but only after Rafa has us at the top. Once there I think Kenny has the leadership to demand we stay the course, I just don’t think he’s the guy who can get us to that level.
Excellent article.Agree totally with need for a blueprint for the playing style of a club.
I’ve been saying for some time that we don’t seem to have any pattern to our play and the tactics are very basic.
You can see the results of this in our lack of goals.I would love to see some stats of the number of goals scored from a move of 2 or more passes.
It seems to me that the majority of our goals are 1) individual efforts from Suarez 2)mistakes by opposing players 3)set-pieces.
Compared to the way we played under Rafa which involved more passes and movement to create field positions to set up scoring opportunities.This style also included the continental style of slow slow quick quick slow.
Iwould love to see Rafa back to finish the work he started.
I agree with Didi the man is a genius!
Johnny Blaze,I didn’t mean to offend you,so,apologies!
My point is this: I played football at a decent level till I was in my teens.I once scored the perfect hat-trick (left foot,right foot and header)at Deepdale in a County Schools Final.I thought I would become a superstar.It was only later that I realised that I never had the dedication and committment to become a first class player.
So I don’t think it matters too much about formations.I just think that if you asked Carroll to play left-back he would probably do a decent job.And Suarez would probably be a capable goal keeper!
My main point is that attitudes and committment count for more than anything else in football;much more than formationsl.I don’t see that desire in some of the players we have at the moment and I don’t blame Dalglish for that.
Just like Shankly and Paisley,Dalglish signed out and out Winners in his previous successes and I’ve no doubt that given time he’ll do it again.
So don’t worry too much about the formation of the team.Remember that we never played rigid formations in our most successful years.How else would you explain the goal scoring feats of Chris Lawler,Phil Neal,Alan Kennedy,John Wark,Ray Houghton and Terry McDermott?
It’s attitude and desire that counts for more than anything!And Kenny knows this,That’s why he was far and away the best player of his generation and more besides.
So,give him a little more time,he knows how to spot a winner!
I’d just like to pick up on an earlier post comparing football from the 50’s to football of the 70’s, and how they would not like to assert which was better. I think the answer is pretty obvious, I watched the World Cup through the 70’s and 80’s, seen the great teams of Brazil, Italy and West (then Just) Germany, Holland and Argentina, and I think that not only players have necessarily become better by dint of being fitter, stronger, better conditioned and trained (Socrates smoked 20 fags a day), but the game has evolved as well. It is an unfair comparison I agree, Messi may be the greatest player of all time, he may not, but he can only be compared to others in his own time, as Pele, Cruyff or Beckenbauer,among other greats, can only be compared to what was around in their era. Those great teams can take their place in the evolution of the beautiful game, some contributed brilliant, individual, skilful play, some contributed tactically, some contributed through determination and spirit, but the best teams today evoke memories of these great teams and players, hence the comparisons that will not go away.
When Carroll joined, I remember a lot of fans on forums convinced that the acquisition of 2 decent wingers would provide Carroll with great service, and all the great man had to do was ‘get on the end of it’ and he would score 20 or 30 goals a season. That was the master plan, that would get us back to winning ways. But this was completely ignoring what actually HAD got us back to winning ways, and THAT wasn’t a number 9 in the style of Malcolm MacDonald.
What had got us back to the top, (and make no mistake, that is where we were in 2006 to 2009) was a progressive thinking coach, who had taken a squad that included Igor Biscan and Djimi Traore to a European Cup final, and a system that almost unbelievebaly fitted the players we had. Do you remember looking forward to games against Europe’s best? Remember hoping we would draw Chelsea?
I am more a Shankly/Paisley fan. I was gutted when Keegan left. I can remember where I was when I heard we had bought Dalglish to replace him for 440,000. I don’t have the blind faith in Kenny that a lot of fans have, I like hi, but I thought he was left a damn good team, and he left us in a worse position. Although IMO, anyone looking for a reason why we slipped from the top for so long, look no further that the retirement of Hansen. We had to wait until Hyppia for a half-decent centre back. I remember shouting at the TV when we played Arsenal in the league decider for the team to attack, I remember as well doing the same against Palace in the semi-final, a team we had slotted 9 against earlier that season. Barnes and Beardsley were inspired, I mean really inspired signings, Molby just would not give up the ball, (a trait that Alonso possessed as well) So yes, he did build a great team, but as another contributor has said, he did not have to do it from scratch, and ultimately we were worse off when he left.
I ain’t calling for his head, we cannot sack another manager now. But maybe it’s time that Liverpool realised that the world has changed.
Abramovic changes managers like he changes underwear. Citi too. Real Madrid will sack a manager even though he wins the Champions league, Barcelona too aren’t behind the door when it comes to firing bosses, Inter, Juve and AC all do it too, and are they any the less for it? Does their history suffer because of it? Do we hear that the Real manager has been sacked and think “bloody two-bit outfit that”
I always thought that history would be very much kinder to Rafa than the vocal minority that agitated for his dismissal, I certainly do not want it to be kinder to him than to Dalglish, but we seem to have found ourselves in a bit of a pickle here and the only way out is for Kenny to start winning things. If he does not, the alternative does not bear thinking about. I think the future has been shown to us, the necessarily unified style of the club, from top to bottom, the required philosophy of the owners, the transparency we need. And maybe the Liverpool Way needs to be examined. Although the moral is, in future, we should be careful what we wish for.