STEVE Hothersall recently interviewed Damien Comolli about his time at Liverpool for City Talk 105.9 and it got me thinking about Anfield’s former director of football strategy and later director of football.
I thought about him while watching Luis Suarez for Barcelona. I thought about him when Memphis Depay decided to go to Manchester United after Liverpool’s earlier interest in the player. And I thought about him when Jerome Sinclair made his Premier League debut on Sunday at Stamford Bridge aged 18, with 19-year-old Jordan Ibe joining him on the pitch soon after.
All the time I wondered whether it was time to have a look at Comolli’s time at Liverpool again.
The Frenchman, who has also worked with Monaco, St Etienne, Arsenal and Spurs, was sacked by FSG just 18 months after being appointed in November 2010.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to try to convince you that Andy Carroll was worth £35million, or that Charlie Adam was ever the right fit for the club. But here are the signings most attribute to his hand during his time at the club:
- Andy Carroll: £35m
- Luis Suárez: £22.7m
- Jordan Henderson £20m
- Charlie Adam £8.5m
- Stewart Downing £20m
- Doni: Free
- José Enrique: £7m
- Sebastián Coates: £7m
- Craig Bellamy: Free
- Jordan Ibe: £500k
- Danny Ward: £100k
- Sheyi Ojo: Undisclosed
- Jerome Sinclair: Free
Like at Spurs, his record reads a superstar, a couple of notable successes, some fantastic youth players and plenty who leave you scratching your head. But forget the players for a moment, instead it’s the strategy and implementation during Comolli’s reign that I believe is worth some fresh consideration.
I will touch on the Suarez transfer though. It seems Comolli is part of the growing number of people who don’t get any credit for what Luis Suarez did at Liverpool.
Earlier in the year, in an attack on Comolli, Ian Doyle of the Liverpool Echo called the Suarez transfer ‘something of a no-brainer’ which seems ridiculously harsh considering every other club in Europe knew about him and didn’t put a bid in. For example, here is Harry Redknapp:
“We looked at Suarez. He was a player who we probably should have taken, looking back on it. We just weren’t sure.”
And that was for bloody Tottenham! We’re not talking Real Madrid here. Comolli was part of the team that identified the player as someone who improved us and, crucially, he then got the job done.
This is what I want to focus on: Comolli as a man who got shit done. In January 2011, less than three months after joining Liverpool, he managed to negotiate a fee of £50million for a striker who didn’t want to play for Liverpool and bring in two who did. This was during the January transfer window — a time when Liverpool haven’t managed to sign anyone for the last two seasons because apparently it’s impossible.
So back then, against all the odds, we managed to lose one of the most highly thought of strikers in Europe and, for a few extra quid, come out better off. And he still found time to sell Ryan Babel, too.
There has been plenty written and said about the players brought in during the summer of 2011, but from a director of football point of view it must be said that the club seemed to have a clear strategy and managed to secure most of their first-choice targets.
A focus on midfielders who created chances might not have been the best strategy in the world; I would argue that any system that values Charlie Adam above Xabi Alonso is ultimately flawed, while I also doubt how many of Stewart Downing’s floated balls into the box a striker probably wants.
But it was a clearer strategy than the one which sent us from Sanchez to Remy to Balotelli in the summer. And I’d have fancied Comolli over anyone at the club now to at least manage to a chat with Alexis Sanchez.
Away from the headline-grabbing deals, there was also a recruitment strategy of poaching the best teenage talent in the country for nominal fees. Comolli helped secure Sinclair, Ibe and Sheyi Ojo in a short space of time. Since he left we either haven’t been as successful at this, or we simply haven’t bothered with it.
Also under the radar, and less referenced in print and online, are the players Comolli helped shift on during the summer of 2011. He got a healthy £12m for Raul Meireles, a generous £4m for David N’gog, a ‘tops off’ £1.5m for Paul Konchesky and a champagne popping £1m for Christian Poulsen. SERIOUSLY, SOMEONE GAVE US MONEY FOR CHRISTIAN POULSEN.
He also got notable amounts for a few young players who were never going to make the grade, including Gerardo Bruna (once hailed as the ‘new Lionel Messi’), who was recently seen playing for Whitehawk in the sixth tier of English football before moving to Accrington Stanley. Whitehawk? Yeah, me neither. They sound like a metal band from Wolverhampton.
On top of all that, Comolli managed to get the eye-watering £120,000-a-week salary of Milan Jovanovic off the wage bill.
He did much of this, by all accounts, by not being terribly nice to footballers Liverpool didn’t want anymore. A much underrated Comolli quality — and another which might be lacking from the club at the moment.
The Fabio Borini situation is a good example of this. Last summer the manager clearly wanted him gone, but in the back of his mind he is thinking, ‘If he doesn’t go, I might need him’. He also might be thinking, ‘I might end up at another club in a few years’ time and he might be playing there’. This is a tough one for managers all over the country. How much can you truly ostracise a footballer?
What was needed then was Damien Comolli flushing Borini’s head down the toilet and shoving a National Express bus ticket in his back pocket.
As Liverpool fans, it was our first real experience of a director of football, and it was always going to be an uneasy one, especially with someone with a limited experience of playing and coaching. “Who is this fella to tell Kenny Dalglish who he should and shouldn’t be buying?”
But Kenny spoke highly of Comolli both during and after their work together. In late April 2012, when Comolli had been sacked but Dalglish was just about hanging on, Kenny said:”The director of football role in this country is much maligned. I think people just have something against the job title or the principles.
“For me, the role Damien played was a fantastic help. I think it would be for any manager, as long as everyone knows the lines that they cannot cross, that’s fine.”
Dalglish spoke of the need to replace Comolli, but the club never did, instead moving towards a committee of men, some of whom make Comolli’s footballing career look like Johan Cruyff’s.
Is it time to replace him now? Would we as a fan base be more welcome to it?
The manager famously refused to work under one, telling the media on his appointment as Liverpool boss in June 2012: “One of the items I brought up when I was speaking to the club was that I wouldn’t directly work with a director of football.
“I feel that if you are going to do that as a club you have to do that first. That was my recommendation. If you want to have a sporting director, get him in and then you can pick your manager from there but if you do I won’t be the manager.”
Rodgers’ hand could be weakened after a disappointing season. Or, if it makes him feel any better, maybe we can call it something else.
I’m not advocating the return of Comolli. He’s still the fella who spent £20m on Stewart Downing. I just want someone who is out there getting deals done. Moving players on. Committed and able to ensure the best young talent in the country is moving to our academy. Making sure that, when top talent is looking to move, Liverpool are at least part of the conversation.
I think we’d all welcome that individual at the club. Whoever they may be.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo