Ian Ayre’s departure from Liverpool could bring a structural change at the club, which may see a sporting director arrive in the hierarchy.
Liverpool announced Ayre’s decision to leave the club in a statement released on Monday evening, with the chief executive officer to step down from his position at the end of the 2016/17 campaign.
This marks three years in the role, having overseen a record kit manufacturer deal, as well as plans to redevelop Anfield; off the field, Ayre’s work can be considered a major success.
But Liverpool’s much-criticised transfer committee has tarnished Ayre’s reputation somewhat, with the 52-year-old held accountable for a number of a mistakes in the market alongside former manager Brendan Rodgers.
Ayre’s departure could prompt a reshuffle of Liverpool’s backroom staff, and John W. Henry and Tom Werner may to appoint a sporting director – as they had originally planned to prior to Rodgers’ appointment in 2012.
Such an appointment, especially a high-calibre, experienced sporting director, would aid recruitment — an arrangement manager Jurgen Klopp is comfortable with from his time at Borussia Dortmund.
Here are five potential candidates for the role, including Klopp’s former colleague, Michael Zorc.
Leaving from his role as Barcelona sporting director at the beginning of 2015, Zubizarreta has spent the past year on the sidelines, following an overhaul by the Catalan giants’ president, Josep Maria Bartomeu.
A former Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona and Valencia goalkeeper, Zubizarreta has a wealth of knowledge in La Liga, and this aided him in his position at Camp Nou.
Signing Javier Mascherano, Adriano, Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez, Jordi Alba, Alex Song, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Marc-Andre ter Stegen among others during his time at Barcelona, Zubizarreta proved his ability to seal high-profile deals.
But while Mascherano, Alba, Neymar, Suarez and Rakitic remain key first-team regulars under Luis Enrique, the failures of Song, Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen, along with the sale of Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich, hinted at a shortsighted approach from the 54-year-old.
However, the former trio were all hugely successful in their time at Arsenal, and the successes of Suarez and Co. outweigh their struggle.
If Liverpool want big-name clout, Zubizarreta would fit the bill.
Former Southampton man Nicola Cortese has already been mooted as a potential replacement, and it is easy to see why; the Italian fostered a strong reputation during his time on the south coast.
When Cortese resigned as the Saints’ chairman in 2014, the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino as manager was heralded as his finest achievement.
But while plucking the Argentinian from relatively obscurity should be commended, as Pochettino has since proved himself as one of Europe’s finest managers, Cortese’s influence spread much further.
In four-and-a-half years at Southampton, Cortese oversaw the club’s rise from League One to the Premier League’s top half, bolstered by intelligent, measured recruitment.
Cortese’s business acumen saw Jose Fonte, Rickie Lambert, Jason Puncheon, Jack Cork, Jay Rodriguez, Nathaniel Clyne, Steven Davis, Victor Wanyama and Dejan Lovren arrive to boost Southampton’s fortunes, with many going on to produce a profit.
Cortese has Premier League experience and has reportedly met with FSG previously.
Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici was linked with a move to Liverpool days after Klopp’s arrival in October, with Klopp said to have identified the 43-year-old as the ideal candidate as he looked to bring success to Merseyside.
Paratici remains at Juventus, however, but is believed to favour a move to the Premier League in the future.
If the former midfielder is open to a move to Liverpool, he would bring considerable pedigree, having initially cut his teeth with Sampdoria.
The jewel in Paratici’s crown in Turin remains the signing of Paul Pogba in 2012, with the Frenchman’s rise to become of the world’s best midfielders central to Juventus’ success in recent years.
Meanwhile, the signings of Sami Khedira (free), Patrice Evra (£1.1m), Daniele Rugani (£3.75m), Carlos Teves (£6.75m), Domenico Berardi (£3.4m), Fernando Llorente (free) and Arturo Vidal (£10m) further highlight Paratici’s ability to find value in a competitive, top-level market.
More recently, Juventus’ £24 million move to sign Paulo Dybala from Palermo showcased a swift, decisive approach from the Italian that could give Liverpool an edge as they rebuild under Klopp.
The first signings of Klopp’s reign on Merseyside, Marko Grujic and Joel Matip, show the German’s willingness to scour the market in search of bargains; and this will no doubt prove encouraging for Henry and Werner.
While Klopp has stressed he is not deterred by high valuations as he looks to build a squad capable of challenging for honours in the Premier League and Europe, this could continue.
If this is the case, Sevilla’s long-serving sporting director, Monchi, would be the perfect addition, with the 47-year-old highly capable of finding value, including the signing of Dani Alves in 2002.
Monchi can name Geoffrey Kondogbia (£3.5m), Ever Banega (£2m), Grzegorz Krychowiak (£5m), Carlos Bacca (£6m), Timothee Kolodziejczak (£2.5m), Gerard Deulofeu and Denis Suarez (both on loan) as success stories in recent seasons, identifying lesser-known talent to bolster Sevilla’s charge.
This would align with Klopp’s ideals, particularly in terms of young players, suggesting Monchi would be a strong candidate.
After 20 years as a player at Dortmund, Zorc retired in 1998, graduating to the role of sporting director, and has helped the side to three Bundesliga titles—two of which, in 2010/11 and 2011/12, came alongside Klopp.
Zorc enjoys a healthy relationship with Klopp, and working with the manager and CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, the ex-BVB midfielder has seen a number of exceptional talents come through the doors at the Westfalenstadion.
This includes Shinji Kagawa (free), Lukasz Piszczek (free), Robert Lewandowski (£3.3m), Mats Hummels (£3m), Ilkay Gundogan (£3.9m), Neven Subotic (£3.1m), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£9.1m); all signed for under £10 million, before going on to become key players at Dortmund.
Zorc was also instrumental in Dortmund signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan from under Liverpool noses in 2013, with the Armenian one of the most disappointing failures of Ayre’s reign on Merseyside.
Under contract at Dortmund until 2019, Zorc will be difficult to prise away from the Bundesliga club, but Klopp could hope to use his relationship with the 53-year-old to his advantage—as Zorc would be a surefire success at Liverpool.
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