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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  1. This is one of the most positive articles I have read, about the whole new structure FSG are currently trying to put in place. It’s certainly a positive thing that they are trying to move this club forward and I don’t really understand the negativity they are recieving! Anyway cut a long boring story short.. I think the only man for the job right now is BOBBY MARTINEZ. Can’t see AVB being 100% behind this whole new structure! I’m sceptical of him as well, after his mismanagement of certain players at chelsea! Couldn’t imagine MARTINEZ ever being that stubborn and completely ignoring one of the best players Chelsea have had over the last 30years!

  2. This is a good description, albeit based on speculation.

    Unfortunately, any structure will fail under poor leadership. Kenny could have been a spectacular success if the rest of the LFC hierarchy had provided proper oversight regarding transfer decisions and spending, and if there would have been more effective internal guidance and communications regarding the club`s PR strategy and media interface. Instead, Kenny seemed to be operating as if we lived in the 1980`s, disrespectful and antagonistic toward the media and treating the transfer market as if it consisted only of Northern England. In both areas we got punished for Kenny`s outdated approach, while nobody at the club stopped him until it was too late. To me, the entire club leadership have failed during the last year, and I hope FSG can put in place a functional leadership team that assures the interest of the club is put ahead of one individual`s ideology.

    • Sounds like your views are based on speculation to kengkinny! You are speculating on whether the LFC hierachy had provided proper oversight regarding transfers and spending. How did they not? How did it all work?

      • There was an obvious breakdown between upper management and the director of football, Damien Comolli. I don’t know where or how this took place, but it is apparent that there was some sort of breakdown there. He overspent on players and thus kept us from having more money to use on more squad players. This meant we had to either overplay certain players, or go without a position in times of injury. This was also apparent with the way he handled the Suarez saga. I think he was under too much pressure and had too much responsibility and as a result he performed badly at the original job they hired him for. This is just one example of the breakdown of upper management.

  3. Very good read Simon!
    I for one think that Rafa fits the sporting director role, let the man grow with the job.

    But if FSG chose Txiki then it’s alright for me.

  4. Good article and has cleared up a lot. I hope they pick a mix a people who get on with each other and share the same vision.

  5. Too many cooks spoil the broth is the term to summarise this. Fergie said recently that “the manager is the most important person at the football club”, this is a guy that wins trophies. e is right. The manager is responsible for the recruitment of players and who comes and goes. The manager chooses the team, the manager chooses the tactics, the manager runs the show.
    When he wants help to coach he recruits a coach. When he wants ADVISE on players he goes to his scouts (remember them). When he wants a player he doesn’t bother about fees and salaries. He gives the list to the Chief Exec/MD and they do the rest. It’s so simple.
    Director of football is a role that doesn’t exist.

    • I think if you look at Barcelona they are losing one of best managers in World but still no crisis even appointing their assistant manager Tito Vilanova as next manager to replace.

  6. Whoever come in as our manager should be able his tactics to match our players. We don’t have money to change the whole squad at once.

    KD tried to force them to play 4-4-2 while a season ago we were excellent in 4-2-3-1. As a result, few of better players had been left on bench. Ultimately, it costed KD job. Same thing happened with AVB.

    Bob Martinez is probably capable of this. However, the best and proven candidate for LFC would be Rafa. At least, he’s deserved the interview.

    • Fair comment, but if they are truly trying to go for a new regime as Si Steers suggests, then Rafa probably isn’t the best fit (as much as I don’t like to say that). He is used to running everything himself and prefers it that way. I’m not saying he couldn’t adapt, but would he want to? Then again, his style of managing, in my opinion, is still effective when combined with the right staff and players. It just doesn’t look like that is the way FSG are wanting to take the club though.

  7. All this is recipe for disaster. A number of individuals all with egos who will tear at each other. Liverpool only need a world class manager who wants to give his utmost to Liverpool FC. And I can only think of one….

    • If they choose the wrong individuals I agree, that’s why Barcelona went with Guardiola over Mourinho. A world class manager could be a disaster. A world class coach on the other hand…

      • I agree Ziggi. Prior to Souness we promoted internally. We lost that continuity and IMHO we need to start that again rather than chasing the next Special One. I don’t know who our next manager will be but I would place a (very) small wager that the one after him will be Rodolfo Borrell.

  8. A freind of mine has done his FA coaching badges and he said they went through a lot of examples of different management structures at football clubs. He recons Ferguson, Dalglish, Ancelott, and Redknapp are examples of managers who oversee their clubs from top to bottom but leave the coaching duties to their first team coaches and assistant managers. They would still be responsible for picking the team and consulting with the coaches but they aren’t actively training players in their tactical formations. Benitez also used similar methods and just like when Ferguson lost Queiroz and Ancelotti lost Wilkins, Benitez struggled to replicate the same kind of fluid performances out of liverpool than those they had when Pako Ayestarán was still at the club. Then he said if you look at Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola or Roberto Mancini they are very hands on kinds of managers from the new school of management. They join in with training and are HEAVILY involved in tactics and coaching their players to play in a certain way. That’s why Mourinho has continued to have success at every club he’s been too despite the fact that he changes his assistant at every club he goes too. The manager at a club usually gets either more credit than he deserves or less credit than he deserves but the hierarchy at liverpool have obviously taken advice on from people within the game and decided they want to move forward with a young manager who gets involved in the day to day training of the players. Liverpool will obviously fail if their fans don’t only change their attitudes towards what their owners are trying to do but also by refusing to back whoever the new manager may be.
    When I thought about what he said, I for one, thought it made a lot of sense.

    • “Benitez struggled to replicate the same kind of fluid performances
      And best season in points is without help of Paco.

    • Interesting. Thanks for sharing mate. After reading the article and your post, the approach that FSG are taking seems to make a wee bit more sense. Hope we are able to make the transition as a club and support base.

    • Thanks for posting this info, Viewpoint_X. What you say makes alot of sense. Your info gives an insight of what FSG might be thinking and their approach towards a new structure.

      And to Si Steers, Your article and points makes sense as well. I just don’t rate AVB personally, Even with the player problems he could not convince them for whatever reason. And yet his assistant did it. Maybe that says alot about his character and Ego. Getting someone similar to Guardiola will be very hard. We are talking about a guy who is a borderline obsessive when it comes to playing a template, And still a modest man at that. I believe he is a rare commodity like Rinus Michels, A once in a generation manager/coach. Martinez not enough European experience for me. We need someone with both, League and Euro experience. Maybe we should give Unai Emery a try or Luis Enrique.

      Enrique was the Barcelona B team coach left that to go to Roma only to discover the players are not ready to move to the new philosophy that mimics Barcelona. If we can’t get Pep Guardiola, We should be looking at Enrique due to both of them sharing the same vision. I remember Guardiola saying he felt like a part of him left when Enrique left for Roma. He was very upset and that was the end of last season. Not only that but lost a close Ally to negotiate with the board and president.

      Unai Emery, He would fit into the new structure. Having to sell all your best players for 3 seasons in a row and finish in the automatic qualification spot for CL is no mean feat. 3 seasons in a row 3rd place after loosing Vill, Silva and Mata all one after the other. Working on budget without having a say on who to recruit too.

      In my humble opinion, These 2 candidates are way better than Martinez and AVB.


  10. @MR GRUMPY – strange how Whelan wants to conduct every aspect of the negotiations through the media? Wondering who Wigan have lined as a replacement…Hughton?

    • It is interesting really isn’t it? Whelan seems far too calm about the prospect of losing his manager. Then again maybe he is trying to make the best out of a bad situation and not lose face in front of the media and fans.

  11. great article…i think your spot on in what FSG want to do. Over here in the US this pretty much how every singe major league sports team is run. The GM and his team find the players and bring them in, and the Coach manages the team and developes the players

  12. This article is absolutely dead on! IMO, it looks almost identical to the BoSox management structure or any other American sports structure. It has its pros and cons but American teams have found this structure to be the best for winning titles. From the looks of it with the BoSox not being in Liverpool on a day in and day out basis they can go directly to the Sporting Director if things go wrong or right. Like the owners have said openly they LOVE stability and in their opinion this structure gives them that. I am guessing King Kenny didn’t like the structure so he decided to leave the club. It will be interesting to see how this way of thinking goes but surely the Boston Red Sox have shown many Americans they win and consistently win in a year in and year out basis. I know this because I live in a competing American League city of the BoSox.

  13. I really hope you are right on this Si, but that is a lot of detailed structural information to speculate on!! Its certainly true the team needs to work well together for this type of structure to function, but if we want to move forward I believe this is the only way. Appointing a super coach is expensive and ultimately short cited. Once a real structure is in place, succession is indeed only mildly important. I love Rafa, and for the short term he would deliver, but I dont believe he would struggle as much as everyone seems to think with a good management structure. His key problem before was pretty much being the only footballing person in the heirachy. When that is the case why wouldnt you want more control? If on the other hand, some of the proposed Sporting Directors are in place, these are not people he can discount easily, all having established footballing reputations. Similarly, with a character like van Gaal in the directors box, a manager like Rafa wouldn’t allow him to completely do things his way. Having different ideas isnt a disadvantage, it can be a strength as long as a clear decision making structure is in place (democratic voting or otherwise). Personally I would love a structure of this nature, with one slight amendment; a strong second in charge independently brought in as both a wide angle lense, and ultimate successor – highly unlikely I know, considering costs, but a Rafa – AVB or Rafa-Martinez combination would do me just fine! (PS, when AVB left Chelsea, Di Matteo seemlessly took over).

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