Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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When Daniel Levy replaced Alan Sugar as Tottenham chairman in 2001 his formula for breaking the club into the top 4 was to structure the club upon a traditionally continental hierarchy: a sporting director responsible for bringing in players and a manager responsible coaching and tactics.Could Harry Redkapp’s appointment as Tottenham manager be the final nail in the coffin for sporting directors in the Premier League? Late on Friday night Spurs threw their blueprint for Champion’s League qualification out the window - along with Juande Ramos, Gus Poyet, Damien Commoli and ₤20 million.


Such a system is in place at many of Europe’s biggest clubs. Most notably in Italy and Spain where the successes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, Valencia, AC Milan and Juventus have been built upon a similar approach.

By taking absolute power out of the hands of a manager who may be gone after a few bad results, the structure supposedly allows for continuity and longer-term planning. On top of this, theoretically, each party should be able to focus more closely upon their own particular role.

Great when it works, but Tottenham’s ad hoc approach was fundamentally flawed in comparison to functioning models seen elsewhere on the continent.

Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid are non-profit making, fully democratic, organizations. Elections by the club’s members/owners appoint a club president every four years. The president is all powerful during his tenure and able to mould the club by signing players and appointing a manager as he sees fit.

Although this system is sometimes flawed and often leads to a populist bent - i.e. the Galcticos, Thierry Henry and the pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo - it is an inherent part of the fabric and history of the club.

In Italy the division of power is similar, but the approach more conservative. With clubs often in the hands of wealthy businessmen, such as Silvio Burlesconi and Massimo Moratti, presidents are appointed by the owners themselves. The presidents act as CEOs, given the responsibility of managing the club’s purse strings and, therefore, transfer dealings; along with other off-field issues.

Tottenham’s ramshackle efforts at such a model have been badly undermined by poorly defined roles in which the interests of the manager, the sporting director and the chairman have all too often been in conflict.

The lack of harmony has been further compounded by the continual chopping and changing of personell. In the seven years since Levy took charge Tottenham have had David Pleat, Martin Jol, Frank Arnesan and Damien Commoli as sporting directors, and Glenn Hoddle, David Pleat, Jaques Santini, Martin Jol, Juande Ramos and now Harry Redknapp in charge of the first team.

The continental system seems fated to not succeed in the Premier League. Whereas the structure at major European club’s is part of their fabric, the model attempted by clubs such as Porstmouth (back with Avram Grant), West Ham and Newcastle has been based upon naive belief that by appointing someone exclusively to sign players you are adopting a model a progressive model for success.

Even across town at Stamford Bridge Big Phil’s transfer autonomy isn’t complete. Tottenham old boy Frank Arnesen is lurking somewhere behind the scenes. After watching a toothless Chelsea finally lose a home game yesterday it’s unlikely the irony of seeing Robinho scoring a hat-trick for Man City will have been lost on the Brazilian.

The role of a sporting director hasn’t worked in the Premier League. Great English teams are traditionally built around the vision of a great manager. Would Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger have achieved what they have if they had had to answer to a sporting director for transfer dealings? Aston Villa, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Everton are all close to fulfilling their potential having given time, money and autonomy to a British manager. Tottenham, not for the first time, are looking to copy what seems to be working elsewhere.


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