Director of Football: The Case Against Disrupted Continuity at Liverpool

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FSG and John Henry wanted to learn about the business of soccer in an alien region. Well, it is alien compared to the sporting industry in the United States, and a basic part of this learning process was to quickly identify their mistakes and learn from them. One key mistake that was still fresh a few months prior to the hiring of Brendan Rodgers, was affording the total accountability of the role of coach and manager on the long term direction of the club that they’ve heavily invested in. This total accountability risks the role to be almost indispensable with the spectre of ‘disrupted continuity’ looming above the club.


Here’s how ‘disrupted continuity’ can be described in simple words. A manager procures players for his team that would be for immediate campaigns and for the long term continuity of future campaigns. His team, not the club’s team, let’s be clear here. When this manager’s tenure is no more tenable, his replacement would then need to do the same. The transition from the incumbent to his replacement would be another transition typically taking 2 seasons at least; until the dust settles and until his replacement’s team starts playing to his replacement’s style and methodology. His replacement’s team and not the club’s team, let’s be clear again. Rinse and repeat this with a few subsequent successors and this period of transition will no more be a transition, rather more the Jekyll and Hyde transformation of teams struggling to adapt to the successfully built platforms of the other uber-rich clubs in Europe. The team would be the perennial ‘have-beens’, ‘the sleeping giants’ always on the verge of making a comeback but not quite. Not coincidently, we are where we are because of this.

In a fierce environment where football clubs struggle to remain competitive and profitable at the same time, the one-man-show model that has created messiah-like personalities in Liverpool’s illustrious history cannot do the job anymore. It’s just not efficient and has no long-termism inculcated in it. Remember, this is the same environment that the manager is no more sacred and can be sacrificed faster than you can say ‘5 year plan’. A committee where the manager has veto power is just another glorified version of the same old, where the manager has a few scouting agents reporting to him about players that can make the cut.  A footballing mind, with an extensive knowledge of the business, the grassroot movements, the fast evolving tactics is required to chart the strategy of the club over 5 year periods. This plan treats the manager as just another facet in the strategy, a role and not a personality. A box in an organisation chart and not a name. If the results don’t indicate the competition required and the profits from it, then the box remains, the name in it changes. The style and the methodology remains recognisable if not identical to the tee. It remains the club’s and not the manager’s. This continuity is vital for progress, that goes without saying. The lesser the transition, the lower the risk for planned progress. This is why the Director of Football or the Sporting Director was the role that FSG had wanted to plant in their tiered management structure for the club after letting Kenny go. This was in spite of the Comolli fiasco as the pseudo Director of Football.

Brendan Rodgers displayed an audacious show of confidence, almost arrogantly, on his first day as Liverpool Football Club manager when he politely contradicted Ian Ayre about working with a Director of Football in his new tenure. FSG decides to allow Rodgers to entertain this marker he laid down, their memories of Dalglish’s failed tenure as the one fully responsible for the mess of mediocrity still very fresh. They were prepared for a new transition from Kenny’s season, after all they had already committed that Kenny was always meant to be an interim. The idea of a Director of Football was filed under the KIV folder, buying FSG more time to evaluate their candidates further, hoping that it would not be another transition if the services of one is required.

But FSG also demanded results ruthlessly, which was to progress from where the interim ended. It’s safe to say that getting 4th, qualifying for Champions League, from the 7th position of Kenny within 3 seasons was as reasonable for any club of Liverpool’s stature as possible. It wasn’t announced nor tweeted by John Henry, but climbing up the ladder one step at a time from 7th to 4th in 3 seasons seemed logical, if not reasonable. It has to be also taken into account that a young inexperienced manager like Rodgers had to learn on the job, as long as he doesn’t regress in his path to the goal.

Getting 2nd in his 2nd season was an anomaly, a delightful surprise for FSG and all, a spike in their expected steady rise to 4th in an XY graph. But that steady rise still remains in their plans, 4th a mid point in that slanting horizontal line that ends with 1st. This is why getting 4th was always the priority, not trophies. Not for now anyway. 1000 more words would be required to debate the pros of getting 4th, which totally outweighs winning a trophy like the FA Cup but I digress…

The loss of Suarez completely forced the hand of the Rodgers to completely change his playing DNA. This was because of the lack of proper replacements to play the numerous roles Suarez played. But Suarez was irreplaceable, he was more a phenomenon, wasn’t he? Rodgers had to adapt but completely dismantling this very successful formula would need another transition. This was further exacerbated with many a new additions to the team, new players needing time to settle down. Ironically, it didn’t matter where these new players came from, abroad or ‘Premier Proven’ players took longer than expected. With Suarez, the Liverpool of last season is your Jekyll .Without Suarez, the Liverpool of this season is your Hyde. But the root of all this wasn’t the large gaping hole of Suarez, it was the dismantling of Rodgers’ settled play that the 10 other players were already comfortable with, their individual games programmed with what was so successful the season before. Unprogramming, and reprogramming, building new partnerships, settling new players, all these were ingredients for the perfect storm. The descent from the heady heights of second last May to mid-table doldrums in December was for all to see. The dust has yet to settle, the losses to both United and Arsenal jolting the cold hard truth of the transition we’ve been in since last season. Rodgers’ 3rd season, mind you. A dismantling of such fashion would’ve been discouraged at the very least by the mandate of a Director of Football. A strong character would’ve ensured the player requirements in the summer were to minimise disruption to the successful play and managed the manager to the same aim as well. The ‘continuity’ mantra would’ve been banged into Rodgers’ forehead.

But Rodgers would need to eat his own words should a Director of Football be shipped in during the summer, something I foresee not happening. His failure to get 4th, the analysis of his failure would be fully fledged, and his credibility more than chronically damaged. A shiny FA Cup would mean not a single jot because it does not appear as a milestone in that XY chart of progress. A new transition beckons and the risks for the manager to pull the team back into the plans of XY progress would be identical for a new manager, under the stewardship of the spanking brand new Director of Football. The new combination of names between both new Head Coach and Director of Football should compensate for the lack of pulling power to attract players of Champions League calibre. These players aren’t for competing in the Champions League, mind you. These players are there for the long term with the end objective of winning the league, with the new Head Coach charting his new ship back to the same slanting horizontal line in the XY chart.

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