The Director of Football role is one of the most misunderstood in football. Damien Comolli has a mixed reputation; some Spurs fans blame him for undermining Jol, but others recognise his contribution in bringing the likes of Bale and Modric to the club.
I believe in modern day football that the Comolli role is an essential one if you are planning for sustained success. In the modern game, where football is big business, you need a clear link between the boardroom and the game.
It isn’t the manager’s role to influence policy and strategy: and you need a football perspective in the decision making process. That was never more evident under the last regime where Purslow was making decisions he was ill-equipped to make.
Football strategy is a key thing for the FSG business model and vision for Liverpool. Our investment in the side will be dependent on our commercial performance; which means we can be competitive but we will not have the resources to throw money at players in the mould of a City or a Chelsea. Our success is going to depend on a sustainable academy and an investment in the best youth in world football.
That is where the Comolli role is vital. Investing big money in young players is a high risk strategy. It is essentially a gamble on potential; and in this day and age potential is as expensive a commodity as experience. When we are spending big money on players we are looking for a 5 year return in most cases, with a potential sell on value. Whereas when spending big on a 28/29 year old (Robbie Keane?) you are looking at a shorter period of return and little to no sell on value.
Comolli has a track record of identifying players. He isn’t afraid to spend big and take a gamble (Bale?). It is his role to take a 5 year view on a player; how good they are right now is important, but the critical factor is how good they can be in 3-5 years. That is where the criticism of Carroll and Henderson becomes redundant, both players have the attributes, but both are still in a phase of development.
The key with the Comolli role is that he is effectively a Director of football operations. He is ultimately responsible for football at every level of the club; aside from first team affairs where Kenny Dalglish leads. Dalglish and Comolli will dovetail on footballing matters, from the academy to transfer targets. The chemistry between the DoF and Manager has to be good, a divisive relationship is unhealthy.
The next generation series has been a good opportunity for Liverpool’s youngsters, but as the loss against Ajax demonstrates we still have work to do at academy level. Benitez kick started a cultural shift in our academy structure, and we now have some great people in situ. We need to put the loss to Ajax into some kind of perspective; they have the best academy structure in world football, the fact they knocked our Barcelona previously speaks volumes.
The academy will be a primary focus of Comolli. Whilst we all want to find the next Steven Gerrard or Robbie Fowler we need to continue looking beyond Liverpool for the stars of the future. In Suso and Sterling we look like we have two that are very close to making the step up to the first team. There are also a number of others that look like they have the ability to make it.
It is up to Comolli to work with our academy management team and Dalglish to bring the right players to the club at a young age. It is at the academy that technical skill and style of play should be drilled into our youngsters. So, when they step up into the first team, they are comfortable on the ball and tactically aware.
The Comolli role also takes away club politics from the manager’s role. We all witnessed how the division between Benitez and the club hierarchy played out. Comolli is the facilitator between the business and football sides: ensuring that footballing needs are balanced with financial resources.
The DoF role is a new one at Liverpool, and Comolli will be learning about the culture of the club all of the time. Comolli should have managed the footballing and business responses to the Suarez affair; and taken ownership of the issue with the LFC media team at an earlier stage. We are still a club struggling to modernise, and I am sure we will have learnt a lot from that once incident.
The Comolli role is one that cannot be judged in a season. His impact will be in 3-5 years; some of the stars of the current Tottenham side are all Comolli signings. Of course, he needs to take a responsibility for our transfer policy with Dalglish. Transfers always come with a risk, but having a Comolli in situ helps to mitigate it.
There has been plenty of talk about the ‘moneyball’ method favoured by FSG; and Comolli’s use of statistics in recruiting players. Both of those are only tools to identify player attributes and profiles the club is looking for. Cultural fits, personality and mentality will all be as important as statistics when signing players.
In the long term it remains to be seen if the Comolli role will work at Liverpool; but I favour a structure where there is a clear strategy and plan. I believe that sustainable success is best achieved from a long term vision. That is what we now have in place at the club: a vision. It is Comolli’s role to make sure that we have the right resources in place to give Dalglish the tools we need to progress.
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