What is the Sporting Director role?

Sporting director or football director topic is one of the most talked topics about the football clubs’s evolution in recent years. Well, what does a sporting director do? And how can people’s suspicions about this role be solved?

We talked for these questions with Dr. Dan Parnell, who is Sport Policy Unit(Unit Leader-Sporting Directorship in Practice), Department of Economics, Policy & International Business(EPIB) of Manchester Metropolitan University and Management Board member of the Association of Sporting Directors.

Who is a sporting director? What does he do?

The Sporting Director is the custodian of the club’s sporting performance and is 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 include:

· Support the first team and head coach

· Maintain and manage a positive working relationship with the owner

· Employ the best people within budget as department heads

· Oversee the implementation of the club’s DNA and identity a suitable playing philosophy across all teams, from first team to Academy.

· Implement and maintain a scouting network

· Manage the movement of players in and out of the club

· Oversee the academy and development teams (extending to community foundations for talent identification)

· Oversee the performance departments including medical and sport science

· Oversee the training ground environment

What is the key responsibilities and priorities for this position? For example, come from the pitch; is it an advantage?

The Sporting Director is the custodian of the club’s sporting performance and one would expect a number of skills and capabilities. That said, the Sporting Directors we see can be described in different ways. There is ‘roughly’ six ways to becoming a Sporting Director:

1. Talent identification background – able to identify talent (and potential).

2. Recruitment background – able to negotiate deals.

3. Intermediary or agent background – able to work towards the above.

4. Coaching and /or talent development background – able to develop players from Academy to 1st team (i.e., they have been on the ‘grass’).

5. Legal and / or operation background – able to complete complex contract deals and organise the operations and environments.

6. Performance background (i.e., sport science or data analytics) – able to bring a competitive edge on the pitch.

Any iteration of these may include players or non-players, yet, being a player is not a determining factor of success in the role.

Ultimately, there are multiple pathways into the position and there is a number of factors that likely help. These include:

· Football industry knowledge

· Business and financial acumen

· Ability to lead and develop a high performance culture

· Ability to develop and deliver a strategy both strategically and operationally

· Understanding of – and the ability to deliver – good governance

· Ability to manage change and innovation

· Ability to manage research (monitor and evaluate) on relevant performance measures

Do the clubs need other changings to create a plan with a sporting director? What else should be in the clubs for a sporting director to work properly?

Our research undertaken through interviews with Sporting Directors from across Europe indicates that there is a number of key considerations Clubs must be aware of:

1. The title used for the Sporting Director role is flexible and the roles and tasks associated with the role are complex, interconnected and varied.

2. The job-role varies across football clubs, and therefore the knowledge, expertise and skill required to perform the role may vary. However, some level of sports specific expertise is required within the role.

3. Sporting Directors currently do not always assume a Board level position. However, Sporting Directors are often required to influence senior executives and boardroom decision-making processes (managing both up and down).

4. Internal and external stakeholders do not appear to fully understand the Sporting Director role and can lead to ambiguity both internally and externally to the organization. Therefore, this needs to be clearly addressed and communicated

This research is some of the first of its kind. We identified that the role of Sporting Director is undergoing a period of professionalization. In this respect, we believe additional work is required to be undertaken through in the following six key areas:

1) Conceptual Clarity – Clearly defined remit and role descriptors for the Sporting Director role for employers for employees.

2) Education – The further development of professional education and qualifications to support the Sporting Director role.

3) Recruitment and Development Pathways- The creation of clear career structures and pathways within sporting organizations for the recruitment and development of Sporting Directors.

4) Research – A distinct body of context-specific knowledge to inform the practices of the Sporting Director beyond existing disciplinary boundaries.

5) Regulation and Support – An independent and inclusive professional membership body to supportDirector of Football of AS Roma (Img.: https://www.mundodeportivo.com/) members.

6) Ethics and Code of Conduct – A clearly defined set a value and ethical principles to guide professional practice.

EFC U23 Coach David Unsworth and EFC Football Director Marcel Brands Img: http://evertonfc.com
EFC U23 Coach David Unsworth and EFC Football Director Marcel Brands(Img: http://evertonfc.com)

When choosing a sporting director, club’s sustainable football identity is important as well as a sporting director’s skills. Without it, a failure is not a surprise. Do you think same as me?

It would be reasonable to choose a Sporting Director that has the track record and / or shared aspirations of the Club. There are a number of considerations, some outlined above that must be considered when recruiting a Sporting Director. I have wrote more about challenging the old boys network here and also sent a message to CEOs in a bid to support this process, see here.

Sometimes managers and sporting directors have problems about authority limits. While there is a manager, is it healthy to hire a sporting director on him? Or, is it better to work with a manager chosen by the sporting director for a right model?

Ideally, you recruit a Sporting Director with a clear title and job description and specification. This is then communicated internally and externally. Part of the Sporting Directors role would be to recruit a 1st team head coach / manager. However, the realities of football often dictates that this does not happen in logical order. As such, tension, misinformation, lack of clear roles, confusion and discontent occur internally and externally for football stakeholders. In England, some Clubs could argue that they a more advanced than others in this process or model / method of approach, whilst others without this model would (quite rightly) argue that it is not their preferred approach. Like outlined above, each Club utilises version of the role under different titles and roles at the discretion of the Club.

Your institute works on this area. When do you say “He/she is okey!” for one of the students?

Great question. We would recommend Clubs engage in a thorough, rigorous and transparent recruitment process. Such a professional approach could help address many of the considerations raised from our research. This will no-doubt include a clear job role and clear ‘key performance indicators’ – it is these KPIs that will help us judge whether anyone is doing ‘OK’ or not. In the absence of this clear information on Sporting Directors job role and KPIs, we are all guessing whether they are doing a good job – a position whereby many commentators judge the Sporting Director on 1st team player recruitment and/or 1st team on the pitch performance results.

Gökhan Sezer, Founder & General Director, Academy Sportive.