The Sporting Director – Do They Work?

Without looking into the complex network of jobs a professional football team has, any fan would assume it’s just the manager that makes the most influential decisions for the club. The Sporting Director role in professional football is one of the most important yet overlooked roles a club can have. But what exactly is a Sporting Director?

The Sporting Director role is defined by Dr Daniel Parnell as “The person employed by the owner or board to be the guardian of the club’s future, to protect their investment and bring on-field success through effective leadership and decision making in the short, medium and long-term”. The Sporting Director in a club would have the job of aiding the manager or head coach with major decision making, however depending on their contract, they can commonly have an overruling vote. They arguably have the most important relationship to maintain; as conflict between the two could lead to drastic damage to a club’s organisational potential, both on and off the field.

The role has been used in most major European leagues, such as Serie A, Bundesliga and La Liga Santander, and has recently crept into the peak of English Football too. This has picked up lots of media attention from the English press, due to the debate as to how much it actually benefits teams. Ex-West Ham and Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has branded the role as a ‘joke’, as he believes it completely undermines the role of the manager, as it restricts the say they have in buying and selling players.

Research was conducted by Rasmus Nissen in 2016 aimed to profile and outline the various issues a Sporting Director aims to tackle. Nissen stated that the sporting director has a very important job in human resources, such as talent identification and scouting, they also play a vital part in maintaining a club’s culture. The Sporting Director must have a very good knowledge of the team they are working for let alone football itself, this can be seen with AFC Bournemouth, who employ Richard Hughes as their Sporting Director. Hughes made 157 senior appearances for Bournemouth between 1998 and 2002, he therefore understands the culture within the club, and can aim to maintain it as the Sporting Director.

Out of the current twenty Premier League clubs, only six do not employ a Sporting Director; being Arsenal, Cardiff, Chelsea, Huddersfield, Newcastle and Manchester United, albeit these clubs do have key figures who are heavily influential in making major decisions. With Huddersfield already relegated, and Cardiff sitting 5 points deep into the relegation zone, it is worth asking the question as to whether these clubs would improve if a Sporting Director was in place?

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