Who is more important to a football club, a sporting director or a manager?

By May 29, 2023 Articles

Well! Lets begin the debate!

This article was born out of episode 91 of our podcast, but via a conversation on TalkSport between Simon Jordan and Martin O’Neil. They discussed Martin’s time at Aston Villa, and his relationship with then owner Randy Lerner. But also, Tim Sherwood’s comments about Randy Lerner, and his then CEO Tom Fox, stating he knew more about the game than he did. But it raised the question of, who is more important to a football club, a sporting director or a manager.

The question of whom holds more importance to a football club is subjective, and can vary depending on various factors. Both roles are crucial and contribute significantly to a club’s success, but their responsibilities and areas of focus differ. For European clubs, sporting directors are the norm—but they have taken on a more significant role in recent years in English Premier League. Why?

With the success of this role, it’s only right we delve into the matter—the differences between the roles, some recent successes, and why it has taken on a more significant role in recent years.

A sporting director, often referred to as a director of football is responsible for shaping the club’s long-term strategy. They are responsible for player recruitment, and overall football philosophy. They work closely with the board, scouting departments, and coaching staff to identify talent, negotiate contracts, and ensure the club’s vision is implemented effectively. By working closely with the club’s board, scouting departments, and coaching staff, they lay the groundwork for sustained success. Sporting directors provide stability, continuity, and a strategic direction for the club’s future. This in theory, or in turn ‘should’ make both the manager, and the club’s CEO/owner job easier.

From strategic planning, team development and structure, player relations and conflict management, financial management, to communication and collaboration, this division of roles and responsibilities leads to a more streamlined and efficient operation. This allows the CEO and manager to focus on their respective areas of expertise, maximizing the chances of success for the club as a whole. In recent time, a great example of this need would be Chelsea FC and in the initial management from owner Todd Boehly.

On the other hand, a manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the team. They focus on tactical decisions, training sessions, motivating players, and game management. Managers work closely with the players, implementing strategies and formations that best suit the squad’s strengths and weaknesses. Their leadership and ability to get the best out of the players on the field are crucial to achieving success in competitions.

In reality, the success of a football club often depends on the synergy and collaboration between the sporting director and the manager. A harmonious relationship between the two can create a strong foundation for success, as the sporting director’s long-term vision aligns with the manager’s ability to translate that vision into on-field performances. The roles of the sporting director and the manager complement each other, and their combined efforts are necessary for sustained success. On that TalkSport show and conversation between Simon Jordan and Martin O’Neil, the discussion began over the breaking news Julian Nagelsmann turned down the Tottenham Hotspur job, for the reason in not knowing who the pending Director of Football would be—not knowing who he would be working for—speaking to the importance of synergy.

Ultimately, it is the effective collaboration and mutual understanding between the sporting director and the manager that create a strong foundation for a football club’s success. Their roles are interdependent, and the significance of one cannot be undermined at the expense of the other. The collaboration between a sporting director and a manager holds immense significance in determining the success of a football club. While their roles differ in scope, both positions contribute vital elements to the club’s overall strategy, player development, and on-field performance. By examining successful clubs such as Sevilla, FC Barcelona, Benfica, and Manchester City, we can gain insight and appreciate the shared importance of sporting directors and managers in achieving sustained success. The examples of successful clubs demonstrate the importance of both the sporting director and the manager being on the same page. These clubs have achieved notable success by striking a balance between the strategic vision set by the sporting director and the tactical acumen and leadership provided by the manager.

Sevilla’s Triumph with Monchi: Sevilla FC is a prime example of a club that has thrived under the guidance of a talented sporting director. Monchi, Sevilla’s revered sporting director, has been instrumental in their remarkable success. Monchi’s expertise in player recruitment, talent identification, and value-for-money signings has enabled Sevilla to consistently assemble competitive squads capable of challenging for domestic and European honours. His shrewdness in the transfer market has become a blueprint for success in modern football.

FC Barcelona’s Era of Dominance with Guardiola: FC Barcelona’s era of unprecedented success under the management of Pep Guardiola showcased the indispensable role of a visionary manager. Guardiola’s tactical acumen, emphasis on possession-based football, and nurturing of young talents propelled Barcelona to unparalleled heights. While working within the framework established by the club’s sporting directors, Guardiola’s managerial brilliance elevated Barcelona’s performances, resulting in numerous domestic and international titles. to nurture young talents were key factors in the club’s dominance during his tenure. While Barcelona had a strong sporting director in place, Guardiola’s managerial brilliance and ability to extract the best from his players elevated the club’s performance to unparalleled heights.

Benfica’s Balanced Approach: Benfica, a Portuguese powerhouse, has found success by striking a balance between their sporting director’s long-term vision and the manager’s ability to implement it effectively. With a strong sporting structure and a dynamic manager, Benfica has consistently challenged for domestic titles and displayed strong performances in European competitions. The harmony between the sporting director’s strategic planning and the manager’s tactical expertise has been pivotal in their recent achievements.

Manchester City’s Rise to Prominence: Manchester City’s ascendancy to the pinnacle of English football is a testament to the synergy between their sporting director and managers. The collaborative efforts of directors like Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano, and managers such as Pep Guardiola have revolutionized the club’s approach. By aligning their long-term vision with astute player acquisitions and innovative tactics, Manchester City has claimed multiple Premier League titles, showcasing the harmony between sporting directors and managers.

In the world of football, the roles of a sporting director and a manager are complementary—the success of a football club hinges upon the synergy between a sporting director and a manager. While the sporting director sets the strategic direction, player recruitment, and long-term vision, the manager brings that vision to life on the field through tactical decision-making and nurturing a winning culture. Sevilla, FC Barcelona, Benfica, and Manchester City exemplify the effectiveness of this collaboration, with each club showcasing sustained success through the joint efforts of their sporting directors and managers. Recognizing the complementary roles of these positions is vital for football clubs seeking long-term prosperity in an ever-evolving sport.

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Written by Andrew Mensah-Twumasi @andrewmensahjr (IG/Twitter)


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