Football: Headaches in the director's chair

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The Independent Online
Football management, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman Alan Sugar has concluded, is just too stressful a business for any one person to deal with alone. He is, therefore, looking for a director of football to ease the load on his new coach, Christian Gross.

"The workload of the traditional English manager is too great," said Sugar. "He has to be in charge of everything, the first team, reserves even, buying, selling, youth. It's physically impossible. I have observed what Chelsea, Arsenal and Blackburn are doing, and moving towards the continental system, splitting roles, is the way to go."

Sugar feels that the coach needs someone on the board who can speak on his level, "where some may feel they are but I can tell you they are not". He admits that he, himself, can offer moral and financial support but is not expert enough on tactical or technical matters. The new man would be someone with a deep knowledge of the game and the European market, as well as business matters. We can safely assume it will not be Terry Venables.

In fact, the speculation has centred on David Pleat as he was offered the self-same job three years ago when Sugar first had the idea, and it does seem logical, as does the position. While the coach concentrates on the training ground with the first team, the director of football flies hither and thither to watch players and opponents, then liaising with the board while offering expertise to the coach.

In reality, one suspects that most managers or coaches would find such a figure at least a distraction - as a procession of them at Old Trafford did when Sir Matt Busby became probably the first - while the director of football himself hankers again to be allowed to play with the train set.

Take Kenny Dalglish and Ron Atkinson. Both were managers, at Blackburn and Coventry respectively, before becoming directors of football. "Director of fookall" it was actually said among the players at Blackburn. The itchy- footed pair are now back on the training grounds of Newcastle and Sheffield Wednesday.

Pleat knew the pitfalls when he declined the position the last time around. Thus an older man is obviously required, one who no longer wants the daily grind of training and two matches a week. Bobby Robson, now 65, perhaps? Except that, Robson is already in the role at Barcelona, and, though more marginalised there than he might be in England, he has already turned down several such offers to contemplate actual coaching jobs.

The fact is that any manager or coach, continental or not, likes to be left alone to do the job and wants his finger on the pulse of every aspect of the club. Contrary to popular belief, Arsene Wenger is involved in transfer deals and salary negotiations at Arsenal. Alex Ferguson can be found at a Manchester United Under-13s match one week and in Chile to scout Marcelo Salas the next.

It is probably not that a manager - who would surely prefer an assistant and chief scout he can trust - needs a conduit to the board, more the other way around. Directors are often fans with money; they like the gossip and intrigue from the training ground as much as anybody.

Otherwise, when it comes to the "director of football" position, which seems to afford ample scope for improving a golf handicap, one is reminded of the little boy watching a politician parading and glad-handing. "Mummy," he wondered, "what is that man for?"

SOME things, however, are clearly best left to the professionals. Lawrie McMenemy, formerly England No 2 and Southampton's director of football, was giving marks out of 10 for England's players at last weekend's match against Cameroon for a Sunday tabloid.

In the first edition, Paul Scholes warranted only a seven having been "trying too hard and playing too deep". By the last edition, after receiving the man of the match award, he was worth an eight and "showing Shearer, Sheringham and Wright that he was breathing down their necks". Nigel Martyn's one save, incidentally, was also worth an eight.

IN THE run-up to the England match, Ian Wright ventured that to improve his chances of making the World Cup squad, he would be concentrating on his game and cutting down on his commercial work. Then last week came publicity for a mobile phone advertisement in which he says he would have liked to have had a conversation with Martin Luther King. Sounds good, but nevertheless...Unpredictability is an important weapon for any striker. Mind you, inconsistency is the bane.

NOW there was an example to youngsters. During Arsenal's Coca-Cola Cup match against Coventry City last week, Dennis Bergkamp was subjected to a buffeting - sometimes a groping - by his marker, Richard Shaw. One began to see why Arsene Wenger has defended his five-times booked man so vigorously this season, offering the more-sinned-against-than-sinning explanation.

While at Crystal Palace, Shaw, it may be remembered, once went unpunished while similarly frustrating Manchester United's Eric Cantona and we all know what happened then. On Tuesday, though piqued, Bergkamp simply got on with the game. His reward? The winning goal in extra time.