THE first time Liverpool’s board floated the idea of appointing a director of football, Roy Evans was in charge and John Toshack — being a mate of his — was the target because it was believed they could work together.
There was a feeling inside the club that Liverpool were losing touch with European trends and Toshack, having managed in Portugal, Spain and Turkey, was considered an ideal recruit given his links with the club as a former player with six major honours won wearing a red shirt.
Instead, Liverpool’s eventual solution was to go to Paris and get Gérard Houllier without thinking first about a clearly defined role for him. In the end, a job share with Evans lasted less than five months with ‘joint manager’ Evans — a servant of the club for 33 years — deciding to call it a day.
It was much later, in 2010, when Damien Comolli became the first director of football in Liverpool’s history.
The Frenchman gained experience as a European scout at Arsenal before moving to Tottenham Hotspur, where his responsibility was almost total. He joined Saint-Étienne, where he lasted two seasons, until the call came from Liverpool.
At each of his clubs, Comolli’s success has widely been considered varied. At Liverpool, his signature was on the contract of 11 new players that would feature in the first team (selling 14), before it was ultimately determined by Fenway Sports Group that the failure of Andy Carroll as a record signing should earn him the sack.
Fenway considered directly replacing Comolli in the summer of 2012 and Louis Van Gaal and Johan Cruyff were among the candidates considered.
Yet Brendan Rodgers’ resolve to go it alone ended that probability and since the constitution has run from owners to manager, chief executive and transfer committee, though it was unclear while Rodgers was actually in charge who, below ownership level, held the most sway.
Fenway have been honest from the beginning about a lack of football knowledge and their understanding of the sport’s mechanics.
Yet they have since appeared to stumble between having faith in others with that knowledge and understanding — albeit through an unlikely partnership involving Comolli and Kenny Dalglish — and withdrawing their support of that structure altogether, instead creating an environment which in theory did not rely solely on the supposed football people but simultaneously made accountability blurred.
When it was announced this week that Ian Ayre will stand down in 2017, the immediate aftermath was filled, quite rightly, with questions as to why the development was being made public so soon before it becomes relevant.
Liverpool’s reasoning was simple and rational: Ayre’s contract was due to expire in 2017 and this gives ample time to consider what to do next.
To that logic, it reflects how much they realise just how important their next move is. Those who believe Ayre’s role is insignificant are wrong. Fenway have trusted him to run Liverpool.
The ultimate conclusions are made in United States between John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon. Although Gordon is involved day-to-day more than the other two, Ayre’s influence in their absence is critical. Behind every decision — whether it seems to be important or not — he is there, and ultimately that’s the way it should be for any chief executive when a football club is organised in this fashion.
Just as Ed Woodward’s personality is projected across Manchester United’s business offices, so is Ayre’s at Chapel Street in Liverpool’s city centre.
In the interests of continuity, it would make sense for Billy Hogan to step into Ayre’s shoes. The commercial director, who is based at the club’s London headquarters, already knows some of the ropes having been appointed commercial director in 2012. Few speak badly of him.
This, however, is a unique opportunity for Fenway to ease their way out of an era where the commercial director affects the most significant football-related outcomes.
Ayre will not be remembered by the lucrative and more respectable sounding sponsorship deals sealed under his stewardship — those with Standard Chartered and Garuda Indonesia. That’s because the sight of Pelé turning up at Anfield in a Subway t-shirt appeals more to the visionary senses.
Liverpool supporters do not care for what Ayre may call the more positive “details” of his reign because of all the failed signings, when he was involved at the business end of the process.
Maybe football clubs are such big multi-national companies now that it is unrealistic for a chief executive to do everything to the standard that is expected by the fans who part with so much money to be involved in the show.
It would be shrewd of Fenway, indeed, to recognise the marriage between commercial and football matters is an unhealthy one. It leaves the possibility that one morning a chief executive might be photographed agreeing a money-spinning sponsorship deal with an obscure car tyre maker from a foreign country only for a bad news story to follow in the afternoon, where the next big centre forward has signed for a club that is not Liverpool despite an attempted but ultimately hopeless pursuit.
For public relations, it affects how Fenway are perceived and they are clearly conscious of this, especially when you read back the statement on the club’s website after the ticket fiasco in February.
The most successful clubs set their agenda from within. They lead rather than copy. They are preemptive rather than reactive.
The rebuilding of the new Main Stand will be nearly five years in the making (or 20 if you consider the plans under David Moores), so the appointment of Jürgen Klopp has been the most aggressive and ambitious thing Fenway have done — dispensing with a talented, albeit unpopular, young manager in Rodgers while the season is still early and replacing him with a certified winner; someone with a huge personality who has the potential to carry an entire club and set the blueprint for subsequent generations.
It is going reasonably well under Klopp and so long as he is happy as he is now, he will remain. This is not a career manager who dreams of jobs at Barcelona or Real Madrid. He appreciates what he’s got at Liverpool.
If he is going to be here for a long time, it makes sense to appoint a director of football he can work with rather than one that is enforced upon him.
Fenway would be helping Klopp if they decided it was time to return to the idea they had at the beginning of their reign, one that was not necessarily wrong just because the appointment of Comolli did not work out as they expected.
Yeah, but Jurgen should be involved in the selection and appointment of a DoF.
Yup absolutely a la Pete Carroll and John Schneider at the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL.
It was viewed as madness that a Head Coach would help appoint their GM but it has very quickly created one of the best forward thinking franchises
Good piece btw. Spot on.
Couldn’t agree more, and Klopp has worked under this type of arrangement before, and said himself he doesnt want to be signing players contracts etc, he wants to manage the players and identify who he wants. A well respected and widely acclaimed ‘name’ from football that would he held in respect by any future targeted players could work well. Any takers? Stevie G understands LFC 100%, and would command instant respect from any player in the world, but i doubt if he did move back to work at #Anfield he would want to be so far removed from the footballing end of the business, and lets face it, he’d be just as fucking briliant as he was at playing for us.
Gerrard was a brilliant player, but his last 3 years were way short of what he used to be like. Give it a rest. He has nothing in coaching, knows nothing about management and even less about business. Bringing him back for your sentimental reasons would be a terrible move. The business world would laugh at him, corporates aren’t interested in has-been players. The guy probably doesn’t even have a O level. Just enjoy the many years of a world class player he had with us and move on.
The moving on bit it is really important. I don’t think you can overstate its importance. For too long Liverpool, as a city looked backwards. The Scouse Renaissance has been a consequence of facing the future. We need to be a forward looking club.
Does Stevie G have much experience in negotiating franchise opportunities in Indonesia?
That wouldn’t be a DoF role though, it would be for the commercial director. It seems the vast majority on here don’t understand what a DoF role actually entails.
I’ve said it repeatedly, Liverpool would do well to pull out all the stops to buy 1 man in particular out of his contract, Monchi (Sevilla Sporting Director).
A DoF role is principally to bring in young talent (as well as experienced players) to a club, overseeing the academy etc, its not a CEO role, and someone like Gerrard who spent his entire life in and around Anfield would be more than capable of fulfilling a DoF role.
If you think Commolli with a few years playing as a relative ‘no-mark’ with a few years scouting had/has more footballing acumen about him than Gerrard has, and especially inbred knowledge of doing things ‘the Liverpool Way’ then I will agree to disagree.
FSG want someone that understands football. [Tick]
FSG want someone that understands the mechanics of English Football. [Tick]
FSG want someone that understands LFC. [Tick]
BY the way, Richard Branson left school with 3 o’levels, Alan Sugar only got 1, they were successful not because they had qualifications, but because they lived and breathed and understood completely the business they started up in.
Even with a DoF, LFC in strictly business terms will still need a full time CEO/MD type role running ‘Liverpool the business’, and i’m sure that person will very likely have more than an O’level or two behind him (and probably be an accountant), particularly with the owners sat in the US for 99% of the year, apart from Wagner in the LFC token London office – setup in London simply because Wagner didnt want to move to liverpool/the north west, and nothing whatsoever to do with the lame excuses spouted at the time. Do Man U or Man City have their UK football HQ in London? Do any other teams around Europe do the same in their own capital cities, no they dont!).
So its not (all) sentiment, its about the importance of keeping ‘the Liverpool Way’ alive, of continuing the ‘boot room’ mentality, and not selling out to become a plastic flag waving or white shirt donating conglomerate.
For all that, I’d take Gerrard over an LVG/Cruyff/Commolli any day of the week, qualifications or not!
Is this the same Gerrard who thought replacing Rafa with Hodgson was a good idea?
Or one who thought that signing, Joe better-than-Messi Cole, was a step forward for the club?
Your reasoning shows an alarming disconnect between fantasy and reality.
Gerrard the player, may well be a Liverpool legend, but that doesn’t automatically qualify him for the role of DOF.
If we are indeed going to appoint one, then it should be someone with experience and a proven track record… we don’t need jobs for the boys.
Gerrard as DOF is a pretty ludicrous idea. He is a football player and possesses none of the additional skills and experiences for the role. He may go on to get them but he hasn’t got them now and he shouldn’t be learning the job at LFC. For me, it’s Klopp’s call…if he wants a DOF he can have one. If he doesn’t then it’s ridiculous to try and impose one on him. Klopp should ultimately be in charge of all things football related and that includes any DOF.
Completely agree. It should be Klopp’s shout on what structure he wants around him regarding the football. The manager being forced into working in a set up he’s not comfortable with is asking for failure and not conducive to this ‘one club mentality’. Rodgers with the transfer committee being the obvious example.
Seperate the football side from the business side is a good idea, instead of having one person i would set up a Football board of directors and have 4 or 5 ex-players Kenny, Kevin Keegan, Steve Mcmanaman, John Barnes, Didi Hamann etc together with experienced administraters like Brian Barwick even Rick Parry to give different perspectives and to act as a sounding board and basically to have a wealth of football knowledge that can be tapped up. An old school board of directors with a chairman, (a director of football). Not sure who that person is but the idea is they would work with the board and thrash out football matters from the academy to transfers. The DOF would be there to take the pressure off Klopp, take some of the interviews and to negotiate, but Klopp must be involved in the transfers with the DOF and CEO, the board are there to provide stability and sell the club to players. An experienced board of Directors would not have suggested paying 35 mil for Carroll and would have had replacements lined up in case Suarez left. If FSG want to stay in Boston then that is fine but they need to put in place a lot more that one person as a CEO / DOF. They need a proper structure that reflects the increased roles that need to be filled, the days have gone of one man being able to do everything like Peter Robinson there needs to be a team of people. In essence that was what the bootroom was and it needs to be implemented at the top of the club like Bayern Munich do, with ex players as figurheads on the world stage.