Columnist

A brave new world

A look at what the new ‘footballing’ structure at Liverpool might be, and who is the best ‘fit’ for the manager role.

Times are changing at Liverpool Football Club. Historically, the club has always been true to the Shankly ‘Holy Trinity’ where the manager, players, and supporters are the very heartbeat of the football club. Much of that ethos will always be the case: but under Fenway Sports Group we are now evolving a new philosophy that will bring our footballing structure into a brave new era.

Another Shankly mantra ‘If you first you are first, if you are second you are nothing’ is an equally important component of the ‘Liverpool Way’. This is very much the vision that is driving change right throughout the club.

Whilst we don’t yet know the full picture of the new footballing structure at the club; there is enough information to be able to draw some conclusion of how it will possibly look. It is well known that the FSG ideology is that collective knowledge and decision making can lead to a competitive edge. Whilst there is a huge focus on the managerial appointment amongst fans and media, he will only be one voice in a team.

The culture of football in England has always seen the manager as being the ultimate power breaker at a football club. A manager generally has full control over footballing matters. But if you look to Europe, in particular Spain, the model is evolving. Barcelona has had huge success by bringing together a team of people; all with a specialist focus on every area of the football club.

Pep Guardiola is perhaps one of the most sought after ‘managers’ in world football at the moment; but the fact is that Guardiola isn’t a manager in the traditional sense. Guardiola is a new breed of football manager; his role is very much the front end of what is a well-oiled machine that sits behind him. Before Guardiola was appointed at Barcelona, there was a huge amount of rumblings in the media and amongst Barca supporters about his lack of managerial experience.

There is a lesson here for Liverpool. If you are new to football, and you are looking across the world at the right ideology and structure for your football club, the logical starting point is Barcelona. Despite a relatively poor season by their standards; they have been the best in world football for a sustained period. They have been so because they have taken an innovative approach to how they approach the game.

I believe that this is what FSG are trying to achieve for Liverpool. This is where the profile of managerial candidates has to be considered carefully. Whoever becomes the next manager of Liverpool has to be the right ‘fit’ into that structure. To put a little bit of context behind what I think the new structure at Liverpool will look like; I think that there will be four roles that form a management team with specific responsibilities as follows:

Sporting Director

This is the lead role on the footballing operation. It will have overall responsibility for all football matters, and will be responsible for player recruitment, scouting, development, and the playing philosophy of the football club.

The key responsibilities for this role will be player recruitment and scouting. It will be the responsibility of the Sporting Director to recruit players at every single level that fit into the technical blueprint of the club. He will work closely with others in the footballing operation to identify targets, but he will be the decision maker.

He will also be responsible for defining the value of a player both in terms of transfer fee and wages. He will then work closely with the MD (who will be lead negotiator) to recruit.

The likely candidates for this role would be in the profile of Txiki Begiristain, Johan Cryuff, or Louis Van Gaal. My preference would be Begiristain as he was an architect behind the Barcelona ideology, and would be a natural fit with Borrell and Segura, both already at Liverpool.

Technical Director

This is a role that I believe will be filled by Segura; he will be responsible for defining the playing philosophy at every single level of the football club. This would be from a tactical and technical viewpoint. This is an absolutely critical role: it defines a playing philosophy that can be rolled out across every level; so that recruitment and development will all be focused towards a natural eventual fit into the first team.

Development Director

I believe that Rodolfo Borrell has been earmarked for this role. He will be responsible for the development journey of every single player from academy through to reserves. He will be the person responsible for delivering the technical and tactical blueprint through coaching. He will work closely with Frank McParland at the academy to make sure that our youth development is all focused towards the playing philosophy of the football club.

Team Manager

Whilst this is very much the public face of the football club, it is part of the machinery in terms of overall approach. This role will exclusively focus on the first team; which is of course the ultimate existence of a football club. It will have sole responsibility for tactics, selection, coaching and player management. So it will need to have an input into all of the other areas.

The role of Team Manager is very much the front end of the club. In a similar structure to Barcelona, decision making on transfers, development and playing philosophy will be made as part of a team.

This departure from a traditional managers duties means that FSG will be looking for a very specific kind of candidate.

So who is the right ‘fit’ for Liverpool?

I said in an article a few weeks ago that if Dalglish was to leave Liverpool my two picks for the manager’s role would be either Villas-Boas or Martinez. The reason for this is that I believe they both fit into the new structure at Liverpool. I think both are young enough to keep an open mind: and I believe that both are progressive coaches that are part of the new breed of football thinking.

I understand that people have concerns about Martinez, but I strongly believe that if he came into this structure, with the support network around him, he could be a real success. My preference would be Villas Boas as I place him at the top of the pile in ‘progressive’ football thinkers with Guardiola given his achievements at Porto. I think if we get a post-Chelsea Villas Boas we get a much better manager, he will have learnt a lot from that experience.

Whilst I understand the romance of a Benitez return, I can’t see how Rafa would be the right fit into the new Liverpool structure. I do think he will make a brilliant Sporting Director one day, but don’t think he is ready to give up the traditional managerial role as yet. Rafa will always be a Liverpool legend, but that doesn’t mean he is the right fit now.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, this is a brave new dawn for Liverpool Football Club, and I hope all supporters can get behind the new regime whoever is appointed as the new ‘Manager’.

Professional communicator and fanatical Liverpool fan. I write for This is Anfield, Paul Tomkins (The Tomkins Times) and Liverpool FC.
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