Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.
This is a controversial subject of which I know many feel strongly about. However, the aim behind writing this is to encourage people to think beyond the superficial and ask questions of their opinions. It is not in any way, shape or form intended to patronise.
The Director of Football role is something of a curiosity in England. Commonplace across Europe, it hasn’t quite become part of the culture on these shores, and it’s there where the problem begins.
Much of our football is deeply rooted in the past. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, but it means certain there are some prevalent views as a result due in part to the average age of the football supporter and the football writer.
The manager is supposed to be autonomous, seeing all and knowing even more. Some of the great characters of the game have been bullish, confident, controlling sorts who became iconic for their achievements.
It also acts as something of an extension from the alpha-male world football once was. For years, decades even, a drinking culture persisted throughout the English game based heavily on male pride. That’s without getting into the hard-nosed game (particularly) of the 1970s where Ron Harris, Norman Hunter and contemporaries were revered for their ‘no-nonsense’ approach.
With this mentality in place, the manager is therefore expected to be in full control of ‘his’ club, for a man who doesn’t command the authority of all around him should have no place running a football team, right?
It’s here where the problems really begin. Because your typical non-player has had a career playing the game, ‘outsiders’ are looked upon suspiciously. After all, you can’t tell others to play the game if you haven’t yourself.
Consider Arrigo Sacchi’s famous quote however. A man with no discernible playing career, the Italian is one of the most successful coaches of all time. When doubts were raised as to his suitability to manage Italy’s biggest clubs, he was quick to point out that to be a jockey; one doesn’t have had to have previously been a horse.
The most prominent Directors of Football come from a range of backgrounds; from successful footballers Uli Hoeness, Txiki Beguiristain and Frank Arnesen through to the likes of Damien Comolli and Pantaleo Corvino, who didn’t kick a ball in anger.
Yet you only have to look at how the much-decorated Arnesen was received at Chelsea to realise it’s about more than just whether they played the game.
The English (largely tabloid, but not exclusively) media help perpetuate the myth that Directors of Football cause instability; that at the first sign of problems on the pitch, there must be friction behind the scenes. The DoF is the obvious target for their ire, for they have little to no idea of what the job entails.
Instead of educating themselves on the intricacies of the role and how it has worked successfully in tens, if not hundreds of cases worldwide across many sports, they choose the easy way out and criticise.
Supporters then have an easy scapegoat with which to direct their frustrations, and the vicious cycle of misunderstanding is complete. Look at the fates of Arnesen, Comolli at Tottenham, Gianluca Nani, David Pleat, Avram Grant and others in our domestic game.
Fans are quick to dismiss the media when they don’t like what’s being said, but are equally as swift to lap up opinion which backs up a pre-conceived notion. It’s a tad hypocritical to slate a journalist one minute and then cite him/her when supporting a point of view.
Michael Emenalo is set to be thrust into the same company, with rumours of his promotion to the role this week. The Nigerian remains a vastly unpopular figure at Stamford Bridge, but the foundation for the dislike appears to be unfounded, or at the very least misplaced.
After something of a nomadic career, the Nigerian international has taken in roles on both sides of the Atlantic and at different levels. Few of these have been notable to the casual follower, and, naturally, suspicion arises as to whether he is ‘qualified’ to work at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
This is where things become somewhat ironic, however. Andre Villas-Boas has just been welcomed with open arms despite being of similar ilk to his colleague. With no playing career, the Portuguese has accrued experience and qualifications at a tender age and, after just one season in charge of a club people have heard of, he takes the hot seat in London.
“Ah, but he worked with Jose Mourinho and learned from Bobby Robson, he comes from good stock” is the retort. Perhaps, but one suspects that had Chelsea hired Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp (a 44 year-old with an unremarkable playing history), for example, there would have been similar optimism about the future.
Guus Hiddink is believed to be the long-term target for the role of Director of Football, but he has exactly the same amount of experience in the post as Emenalo does. What makes him more qualified for it? His managerial career, of course.
We’ve also heard claims that Villas-Boas will be ‘hands-on’ and ‘his own man’ because of an erroneous report that Chelsea announced him as ‘manager’ instead of ‘first team coach’.
They did exactly the same with Carlo Ancelotti, and furthermore, Villas-Boas has no issue working with others:
‘I have no problem working with a director of football or technical director. The main thing is not to put somebody there to disrupt the manager, the main thing for us is to build on the future and put competent people in the right places and that’s what we are trying to do. We trust a lot the competences that are in and around this club, because we have a successful past of six years that shows us we are on the right track.’
Draw your own conclusions.
There are very few people who are privy to what goes on behind the tall bushes and trees at Cobham. You can speculate until the day is done, and you can comment on body language on the bench during matches, but at the end of the day, it’s churlish to claim that Emenalo ‘does nothing’ and is merely a device for Roman Abramovich to keep a close eye on things.
Nobody cared about him when he was operating solely as an opposition scout in a season where the club won the title in record-breaking fashion, and even fewer noted that when he was promoted to working with the first team squad upon Ray Wilkins’ absence, the team looked less prepared to deal with their opponents.
Was this as a consequence of Emenalo’s diminished involvement with opposition scouting? Was it because he was marginalised by Carlo Ancelotti? The answers to those questions will be guesswork at best, but they’re questions at least worth considering before going off half-cocked because the man doesn’t fit in with English football stereotypes.
We don’t have a clue as to how he’ll get on in the role, and there’s no denying that he could be a complete flop. The problem right now is that people are prejudiced against him simply based on reputation. That’s not fair.
A final note to consider is that even if he has the job title, Chelsea operate with a ‘Football Board’, which comprises the manager, the DoF, Bruce Buck, Eugene Tenenbaum, Ron Gourlay, David Barnard (club secretary) and Mike Forde (Head Technical Scout).
Decisions are taken on a consensus basis, and whilst some many hold greater sway than others, it’s incorrect to say that Emenalo/Arnesen/A.N.Other are ‘running Chelsea Football Club’.
It may not be traditional fare in England, and it may not be popular, but it’s a firmly established way of running an organisation worldwide and, for now, it’s here to stay at Stamford Bridge.
Think about things, that’s all I’m asking.