Director of football

Director of football

"Director of football" is a term describing a senior management figure at a football club, most commonly used in Europe. The exact nature of the role is often unclear and extremely variable and causes much debate in the sports media. The term is almost exclusively used in the UK, with 'sporting director' or 'general manager' often used elsewhere.

The presence of a director of football acts as an intermediary between the manager and the board and may relieve pressure on a manager by handling aspects away from day-to-day coaching, allowing a manager to focus on on-pitch performance. The director may also help to stabilise the club – many examples exist of director stepping in as a caretaker manager on the departure of the manager. The director – often an experienced football figure – may also positively advise a less experienced manager or the board of a less well developed club.

In contrast, there are many examples of tensions arising between director and manager, often due to questions over the remit and powers of the two positions; particularly with regard to control over transfer policy. This had led to many well publicised and often, highly damaging disputes within clubs.

In general, directors of football are not shareholders in the club, or hold a nominal stake. This is opposed to other members of the board with whom the director of football will sit.


As a figurehead

The level of power and influence in the day-to-day and transfer operations of the club held by a director of football may vary considerably. In some cases, the position may be as a figurehead or as a club ambassador, with transfer dealings, team affairs, squad selection and day-to-day operations handled exclusively by the manager and his staff. Often, the position in this case is filled by a former famous player. Bobby Charlton at Manchester United is such an example. In such a case, the role of the director of football is more one of club promotion and marketing than that of actual control over footballing operations. Employing a well-known football personality in such a position may also be used to enhance the perceived prestige of the club, improving the club's position in the transfer market.

Tension may arise even in this role between manager and director, even if the director is merely a figurehead – should the role be filled by a former (often successful) manager, the presence of that individual within the club may act to undermine the authority of the present manager and act to add pressure during periods of poor performance (for example, from the fans wishing the return of the director to managerial duties). The presence of Sir Matt Busby at Manchester United as general manager after retirement is generally considered to have undermined his immediate successors, despite his retirement from day-to-day club affairs.[1]

Appointments in this case are often long-term, likely due to the negative reaction of fans to the removal of a former club legend. On occasion, the role has been filled until the death of the director – such as the aforementioned Busby, Bob Paisley for Liverpool FC and others.

As a technical director

In this case, the director of football may be sought by a board – or even manager – in order to provide advice or technical assistance on footballing or other aspects that are perceived as lacking or desired by the club. This may be the case where the manager is inexperienced or perceived as naive in a particular aspect, allowing the director to advise against potentially costly errors. This may also be the case where a club in a lesser league or lower division with ambitions to develop further and improve their league position seeks an experienced former manager or director from a more prominent league or club in order to use their experience to further the club. Such an example is that of Giovanni Trapattoni at Red Bull Salzburg or Sven-Göran Eriksson at Notts County.

However, in this case the tag 'director of football' may be dropped in order to prevent the 'director' from undermining the present manager by his presence at the club with the person taking up a position such as with the youth academy perceived as subordinate to the manager.

Appointments in this case are often short term – for between 1/2 seasons – with the director imparting their advice and departing to another club.

As a go-between

In other cases, the role of the director of football may include control over transfer dealings and targets and aspects outside coaching and squad selection which are handled by the manager. The director may oversee all levels of the club – youth to first team – with the manager dedicated to first team affairs. Often, a director in this case is a former manager or experienced former coach, often a predecessor of the present manager. This type of director is often installed at the behest of the owners of a club to oversee the manager and act as a go-between between the board and managerial team, or if required help select a new manager. However, such an arrangement has led to controversy in English football due to issues over roles and responsibilities of manager and director – either perceived excessive interference of the director in affairs (such as squad selection) beyond his remit or by attempting to control and criticise aspects of management. A notable recent example of such tension is that of manager Kevin Keegan and director of football Dennis Wise at Newcastle United.

An example of the description of the role in this case as from the perspective of the manager is given by Dave Bassett as:

" ..... a buffer. The director of football is answerable to the board but there to assist the manager. He's experienced in football and there to help the board members who don't have that experience."

Length of appointments in this case are often linked to the fortunes and tastes of the manager and board – directors often departing after the sacking of a manager (for example, Damien Comolli at Tottenham Hotspur) or on appointment of his replacement. On occasion, the director may remain through a number of managers, such as David Pleat.

As a general manager

In the most extreme case, the director of football may act in a role similar to the continental club 'sporting director' or general manager; holding control over transfer policy and targets, team affairs, stadium and training affairs, travel, fixture selection and having input into squad selection and day-to-day club affairs. This is generally confined to the 'sporting' side of the club, with marketing and financial aspects handled by another director or executive. However, rarely is such a position referred to as 'director of football', with 'sporting director' or akin preferred.

The director of football's job is sometimes compared to that of a general manager in a North American professional sports organisation, and often referred to as 'sporting director' or some equivalent in continental Europe. In a structure with a powerful director of football, the position of manager may be officially called 'head coach' or 'head of 1st team affairs' in order to more clearly define the remit of the traditional 'manager' and 'director of football'.

In this case, the length of appointment is intrinsically linked to on-pitch performance, in the same way as a manager.

Notable directors of football

People associated with football who have held the role as director of football or sporting director include:

Past directors of football

  • Sven-Göran Eriksson: Was handed the role at English League Two side Notts County in July 2009, but the role was short lived when he departed the club in February 2010
  • Craig Levein Was both Director of Football and Manager at Dundee United, until he departed to take charge of Scotland in early 2010
  • Avram Grant: Was appointed to the role at Chelsea in July 2007. His appointment was met with disapproval from then Head Coach Jose Mourinho and subsequently Mourinho left the club in September 2007 and was replaced by Grant. Announced as Director of Football at Portsmouth on 7 October 2009, but relinquished the role in favour of becoming the clubs manager following the departure of Paul Hart on 24 November
  • Alexi Lalas: Former general manager at MLS club LA Galaxy
  • Franco Baldini: The incumbent General Manager of England, served in the position at Roma from 1999–2005
  • Brian Kerr: Took the role at St Patrick's Athletic FC from 2007–2008
  • David Dein: Served as Vice-Chairman of Arsenal between 1983–2007, during which time, he performed the roles of a Director of Football
  • Predrag Mijatović: Appointed Director of Football at Real Madrid in July 2006 by Ramón Calderón, the then newly elected Club President. In May 2009, the club announced Mijatović's departure shortly after the disgraced Calderón resigned in the midst of electoral fraud allegations
  • Dennis Wise: Became Executive Director of Football at Newcastle United in January 2008, at the same time as Kevin Keegan's appointment as Manager. He left the club in April 2009 following the appointment of Alan Shearer as Manager
  • Damien Comolli: Took over at Tottenham Hotspur in 2005. He served until 2008 when he was sacked along with Head Coach Juande Ramos and the rest of the coaching staff
  • Joe Kinnear: After leaving the post at Oxford United, Kinnear briefly performed the role at Luton Town. In 2001, he went on to install himself as manager and demoted his predecessor Lil Fuccillo to First-Team Coach. In doing this he relinquished his Director of Football responsibilities
  • Lawrie McMenemy: Took the role at Southampton in 1993–1997. During this time he worked alongside managers, Alan Ball, Dave Merrington and Graeme Souness
  • Kenny Dalglish: Held the position at Blackburn Rovers from 1995–1996 and then at Celtic from 1999–2000
  • Ricardo Sá Pinto: The former player occupied this role at his beloved club, Sporting Clube de Portugal
  • David Pleat: Performed the role at Tottenham from 1998 to 2004, as well as performing three separate periods as caretaker manager
  • Steve Coppell: Took the role at Crystal Palace in 1995–1996 and then in 1998–1999 after two separate stints as manager
  • Harry Redknapp: Became Director of Football at Portsmouth in 2001. Following the clubs poor performance towards the end of the 2001–02 season, Redknapp replaced Graham Rix as Manager
  • Sir Clive Woodward: Accepted the role at Southampton in 2005 when George Burley was appointed Head Coach. He left in 2006
  • Murdo Mackay: Held the position at Derby County from 2003–2006. He played huge part in the appointment and removal of George Burley
  • Dave Bassett: Took the role at Leicester City in 2002 after serving as manager the previous season. He left the job in 2004
  • Bob Dowie: Held the position at Crystal Palace from 2004–2006 working alongside his brother Iain
  • Eduard Malofeyev: Held the position for four months at Hearts in 2006. He had a brief spell as interim Head Coach, before leaving in November to join MTZ-RIPO
  • Dick Advocaat: Held this position at Rangers for 3 months, after leaving his job as manager, but quickly resigned
  • Valdas Ivanauskas: After serving as Head Coach at Hearts for eight months, Ivanauskas was rumoured to be moving into the position in February 2007. This was never made official and he left the club in March 2007
  • John Deehan: Former Norwich manager, previously performed the role at Northampton and then at Lincoln City from 2006–2007 alongside Head Coach John Schofield
  • Keith Alexander: After to previously managing Lincoln City and Peterborough United accepted the role at Bury in May 2007. He was sacked at the same time as Head Coach Chris Casper in 2008
  • Giovanni Trapattoni: Was appointed to the position as Red Bull Salzburg in May 2006 to work alongside Head Coach, Lothar Matthäus. He served as Manager and Director of Football. Trapattoni left in May 2008 to take over the Irish national team
  • Craig Brown: Formerly performed the role at Fulham, went on to serve in the role at Derby County, but left at the same time as Manager Billy Davies in 2008
  • Mick Wadsworth: Has served as Director of Football and Assistant Manager at Gretna since July 2007. He left the club before they fell into liquidation and ceased to exist in 2008
  • Anatoly Korobochka: Served as Director of Football at Hearts from November 2006 until 22 July 2009 after stepping down to continue other footballing interests


  1. ^ 'Ambassador' Ferguson wins United battle of wills The Independent, 14 July 2001
  2. ^ "Lennie Lawrence arrives as Jamie Pitman confirmed as Hereford United manager". Hereford Times. 2010-12-16. Retrieved 2010-12-17. 

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