Sam Wallace: An extraordinary tale of our time – the rise and fall of Damien Comolli
Talking football: Having wreaked havoc on Jol's career, Comolli then preceded to do the same with Juande Ramos
Monday 27 October 2008
Had Daniel Levy had access to a piece of information that appeared in the Arsenal match-day programme for the game against Manchester United last November then there is a chance that the Tottenham chairman might not have made what turned out to be the most catastrophic appointment in his club's history since Christian Gross.
It came at the end of an innocuous interview with the Arsenal chief scout Steve Rowley who, as the bloke whose job it is to know the identity of the best 14-year-old right-back in Burkina Faso and other such facts crucial to Arsène Wenger, evidently knows a thing or too about scouting. In the final question, Rowley was asked what he thought of Spurs' then director of football Damien Comolli, previously a scout for Arsenal, who at the time had just seen off Martin Jol in a nasty power struggle within the club.
"Well," answered Rowley, in the manner of a man who seemed to be weighing his words carefully while inviting us to read between the lines. "I always thought he [Comolli] was very ambitious. He was a hard-working member of my staff for about seven or eight years and the player he found for us was Gaël Clichy. He was enthusiastic and ambitious and now he's got a different role at Spurs."
A different role at Spurs? You can say that again; in fact, Levy had virtually given Comolli the keys to White Hart Lane. Presumably he did so on the basis that Comolli had been the man who, at Arsenal, put together one of the most exciting generations of young footballers in the history of the game. Er, no, in the space of eight years, Comolli discovered Gaël Clichy.
In fact, the man who did not discover Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna, Abou Diaby or Philippe Senderos and had bugger all to do with uncovering the talent of Denilson, Johan Djourou, Nicklas Bendtner, Armand Traoré or Emmanuel Eboué got more than a different role. He got a job at Tottenham that made him even more powerful than the manager.
The rise and fall of Comolli – he was finally sacked at the weekend – is one of those stories that is hard to believe even by the fantastical standards of English football. Having discovered one young French left-back – one of the best left-backs in the Premier League but, nonetheless, just one left-back – Comolli was effectively made Jol's boss. His word on transfers was final. Jol's two fifth-place finishes in the Premier League, Spurs' highest finishes since 1990, were of secondary concern alongside the judgement of the man who discovered Gaël Clichy.
Once at Spurs, Comolli discovered some more players: Adel Taarabt, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Younes Kaboul, Benoït Assou-Ekotto, Didier Zokora and Dorian Dervite. The strange thing was that none of them was really up to muster. In fact, you could say with some confidence that none was nearly as good as Gaël Clichy and the suspicion was that Levy had thought that Comolli was responsible for discovering rather more of Arsenal's young stars than Rowley was prepared to give him credit for.
Having wreaked havoc on Jol's career, Comolli then preceded to do the same with Juande Ramos. The now former Spurs manager has said as much over the last few months, hinting in his hesitant English that he was unhappy at the way in which the sale of Dimitar Berbatov was handled – and the subsequent failure to replace him. Comolli had already undermined Jol the previous summer by buying Darren Bent and Kaboul against the manager's wishes. Amazingly, with Levy's help, he managed to do exactly the same to their new manager the following summer.
Comolli has overseen the disposal of Spurs' three best strikers – Berbatov, Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe – and left the club considerably weaker than when he found it. He has failed at the job to such an extent that not only has he been sacked but Levy has also abandoned the entire director of football system. It takes some effort to do a job so badly that your employer not only gets rid of you but your whole position as well.
Buying and selling footballers – it must be a great job. Unfortunately, it also comes with the caveat that if you make mistakes over a period of time and if the team suffers as a result, then you get the sack. For a while it seemed that Comolli was immune to the consequences of the mess he made at Spurs while Jol, and then Ramos, were the men to cop it. Eventually, however, the continuity that Levy once hoped the director of football system would give his club had to be junked when it turned out the director of football was the problem. Comolli leaves Spurs with the greatest achievement on his CV still the fact that he discovered Gaël Clichy.
The world according to Bolton's chairman...
Coming from a selfish, self-obsessed football chairman, Phil Gartside's suggestion that the Premier League should abolish relegation would have sounded bad enough. That they come from a member of the Football Association's main board would have been plain old depressing were it not for the fact that Gartside's logic makes him the biggest comedy act out of Bolton since Peter Kay.
The Bolton chairman suggested a Premier League divided into two 18-team leagues. "I don't have the answers but it is certainly time for a debate," he said, "perhaps even on not having relegation from a second division of the Premier League."
He is right on one point – he certainly doesn't have all the answers. Laughably, he justifies this point by saying that English owners like Bolton's Eddie Davies (surprise, surprise) and Middlesbrough's Steve Gibson need to be protected against relegation because they are in competition with foreign owners. Thus discounting the scores of other English owners in the Football League who have ambitions for their clubs to be promoted to the Premier League.
"Once we have 14 foreign owners in the Premier League we have a problem," chuntered Gartside. "At the moment we can still muster enough votes against anything that might change the structure for the worse. Come the day when you have 14 foreign owners, we won't be able to do that." If you were to apply that Gartsidian logic to your own life, it could be interpreted thus: before going on holiday you should ransack your own house just so any potential burglars don't have the privilege. And isn't it great the way that Gartside simply assumes that "foreigners", be they from the Middle East, Iceland or America, will all automatically vote the same way?
Barton's little England
Joey Barton on his assault on Ousmane Dabo: "Maybe if it was English guys, it never leaves the training ground." Amid all the apologies, that line tells you that Barton's sense of perspective is still not what it should be.
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