Directing transfers – The new faces behind Premier League spending

Sven Mislintat’s much championed arrival at Arsenal and his sudden departure, along with Ed Woodward’s role in signing players for Manchester Utd has put the role of The director of Football firmly back in the spotlight this season. A position that has been around for years in Continental Europe is only now coming to the forefront in England.

More and more owners are willing to open their cheque books and invest record breaking sums on players they think might help bring them the success they desire more than ever before, be it staving off relegation, securing a spot in the Champions League or winning the league title.

Clubs that normally wouldn’t be associated with having the financial muscle of some of the bigger teams in the Premier League are still breaking their own transfer records more frequently than previously seen, sometimes on a yearly basis.

This season we have seen promoted teams Wolves and Fulham both spend enormous amounts in the summer transfer window, in Fulham’s case a figure of around one hundred million pounds was invested on players this summer.

The increase in Television revenue has been a huge factor and has seen the income generated by Premier League clubs rise massively in the last few years.

Stoke, Swansea and West Brom all generated over ninety-four million pounds in broadcast revenue for the 2017/18 season which is a staggering figure for three teams that are not known for playing the most attractive football going.

All three of teams were subsequently relegated to The Championship at the end of that season.

So, with all this money floating about and even the smallest teams being able to attract the best players, what can teams do to gain an edge over their rivals in the transfer market?

It isn’t enough anymore just to have financial muscle to compete with the clubs around you. Club’s need to have a clear vision of what they want their team to become and a transfer strategy to match.

This has led to the introduction of Directors of Football and transfer committee’s in the last number of years, who’s job it is to chart a path for success in the long term.

For a lot of teams now, the days of the manager ruling over players comings and goings solely by himself and with the aid of the chief executive are a thing of the past.

Alex Ferguson and David Gill being one of the best examples of a successful partnership in the Premier League era when it came to buying players. A formula that Manchester United have struggled to replicate since Ferguson has left.

Managers aren’t afford the luxury of time as the Scot was when he was in charge and with a new manager every few seasons, so to comes the demand for new players as the new manager wants to put his own stamp on the team.

This type of short term thinking has become less successful and a lot more costly as managers get less time to achieve their employer’s targets.

When José Mourinho left Old Trafford earlier this season, a lot of fans pointed out that it was going to take much more than a change of manager to bring success back. It was going to take a total overhaul of how the club signs players and how it plans for the future.

Chief executive Ed Woodward had come in for plenty of criticism in the last couple of seasons, having taken on the responsibility of signing key players with little knowledge of the playing side of the game. Plans are apparently in place though to install a Director of football in time for next the start of next season.

We have seen newly promoted clubs take these types of long term transfer strategies on board though in the last few years. Wolves being the latest example of a club who have a clear idea of how they want to play and what type of player they need to implement it.

In Nuno Espírito Santo they have a manager that matches this philosophy. “We’re looking at doing more than surviving,” the managing director, Laurie Dalrymple, said in the summer.

I think the strategy we’ve had … has been about building a squad and a structure we think is going to be viable to take further, beyond promotion.

This kind of planning with the help of Agent Jorge Mendes who is acting in an unofficial capacity as a director of football, has helped Wolves gain an advantage over clubs around them such as Fulham.

Fulham were the biggest spenders of the promoted clubs this year, but that spending didn’t seem to be as structured as rivals Wolves. They invested large sums on only three or four players and spent little on bolstering their defence, a move that ultimately cost Slavisa Jokanovic his job before Christmas.

Two clubs who have spent big in the last couple of seasons with contrasting results are Liverpool and Everton.

The joke amongst Liverpool fans is when are the club going to erect a statue of Michael Edwards outside Anfield. Edwards is the man responsible for signing players like Virgil Van Dijk and Mohamed Salah whilst also recouping most of that money selling on players such as Philippe Coutinho and Dominic Solanke for above the going rate.

Gone is the club’s fabled transfer committee, replaced with Edwards who identifies potential targets with Klopp and Mike Gordon who handles the financials for FSG.

Across Stanley Park, Everton have been spending large sums in the last few transfer windows but that has not heralded much success on the pitch.

This January though, no players came or left the club as new Director of football Marcel Brands, who’s work at Az Alkmaar and PSV previously, had been much lauded, decided to advise Fahrad Moshiri to keep his hands in his pockets.

Everton’s spending under Moshiri had, so far, been plentiful, but like Fulham, it lacked direction. The appointment of Brand as Director of football this January though is a sign of the club moving in line with their neighbours and putting together a long term strategy that will allow them to compete at the top.

Simply having a big bank balance that allows you to spend these days isn’t enough as more and more clubs are bought out or invested in. The advantages you once had in having more spending power than your rivals is becoming less and less.

Directors of Football and what type of approach you take to signing players are becoming more and more important in a game that is saturated with money.

Author Details

Philip Flanagan

A West of Ireland based football writer/blogger. You can find me daily over at The Bottomless pit of football.

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