Chris Young column: Director of football – help or hindrance?

Roberto De Fanti.
Roberto De Fanti.
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MORE tears have been shed on Wearside than Tyneside that Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.

Undoubtedly, it benefits Newcastle United to be rid of the blustering Joe Kinnear, whose promises have been as empty as his contacts book.

It was inevitable that there would be a sacrificial lamb after the Magpies were so timid in last Saturday’s derby, yet Kinnear looked to have a higher place in Mike Ashley’s affections than manager Alan Pardew.

Kinnear, not Pardew, was the one paraded with Loic Remy when the striker joined on loan from QPR in the summer, while the ex-director of football’s ghost-written column appeared ahead of the manager’s in the club’s matchday programme.

But the 67-year-old’s resignation brings to an end a pair of doomed director of football appointments at both Sunderland and Newcastle.

Roberto De Fanti and Kinnear proved to be polar opposites in the transfer market.

While Kinnear only managed to sign and seal a pair of loan moves during two transfer windows, De Fanti penned deals for anyone who was going.

Yet neither were ever going to succeed.

De Fanti had no experience of English football.

In fact, he didn’t have experience of much, other than being an agent.

If anything, Kinnear had too much experience of the transfer market.

Unfortunately for the Magpies, the bulk of it was in the 1980s and 90s.

Football is a totally different beast now.

But during a ludicrously hectic period of fixtures and transfer activity, the question of whether De Fanti should or could be replaced has been put on the back-burner.

In all likelihood it’s a poser which Sunderland’s hierarchy are likely to spend the remainder of the campaign considering. Unlike a manager, there is no rush in appointing a successor.

During the fortnight after Ellis Short realised his mistake and pulled the plug on De Fanti, Sunderland did not manage too badly either – the Black Cats sealing deals for four players, including Gus Poyet’s number one target, Liam Bridcutt.

That’s how you do it, Joe!

Yet De Fanti’s dismissal has put extra demands on Poyet’s already heavily-loaded plate.

In the long run, Poyet will need someone to lighten that load and let the Uruguayan concentrate on what he has done so impressively since his appointment last October.

The term “director of football” seems to be a dirty phrase in this country though.

Old professionals can’t get their head around a manager not being all powerful at a club and there have been too many examples of the director of football system being abused on these shores.

Either that’s through incompetence – as was the case with De Fanti and Kinnear – or from the director of football undermining the manager because they wanted to be in the dug-out themselves – as was the case at Chelsea with Avram Grant and Jose Mourinho.

But if the director of football – or one of the array of titles they seem to be given – is there to oversee the scouting department, liaise with agents and handle contract negotiations, then that removes a significant burden off the manager’s shoulders.

Prior to the last 10-15 years, those issues were relatively minor demands on a manager’s schedule. Now they are not.

Contrary to popular belief, there are examples of the system working in English football too.

Dan Ashworth was hugely successful in that role at West Brom for five years before being poached by the FA 18 months ago.

Since he left The Hawthorns last summer – with owner Jeremy Peace taking on a more “hands-on” role – the Baggies have crumbled.

Their August buys were accompanied by panic on transfer deadline day – including ex-Sunderland man Stephane Sessegnon – Steve Clarke was ludicrously dismissed as head coach and they have slumped down the table to find themselves lodged firmly in the relegation dogfight.

If the right man can be sourced for the director of football role, then it can bring stability and a long-term strategy.

That was what led Short to appoint De Fanti in the first place.

After pumping more than £100million into Sunderland’s squad and seeing little progress, Short was understandably beginning to question what his investment was reaping and wanted someone to oversee the club’s transfer policy, even if the man in the dug-out changed.

De Fanti’s failure shouldn’t make that policy redundant.

But if Sunderland are to persist with the system – and it seems likely that they will – his replacement must be far more capable and crucially, boast far more knowledge of the English game.

Sunderland have already been linked with ex-Leeds technical director Gwyn Williams – the man who took Gus Poyet from Real Zaragoza to Chelsea in the 1990s.

That is the kind of skill-set which is needed.

But whether it takes one, six or 12 months to find him, if Sunderland can find the right man to be crowned director of football, it can be an asset, not a hindrance.