01 May 2009

Defining Roles - What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? To some managers, a director of football is a meddler, out to undermine their position. But others have successfully embraced the concept.

Scour the staff lists of football clubs across Spain, Italy, France and Portugal and you’ll find a technical director or general manager working alongside the head coach. While the job titles may vary, this kind of organisational structure is pretty much standard practice.

This side of the Channel, however, attempts by clubs to follow a similar model have been met with suspicion or criticism. Yet there are clubs that are proving that enlisting the help of a director in a structured environment can produce impressive results.

At Peterborough, manager Darren Ferguson and director of football Barry Fry are proof that this kind of alliance doesn’t have to be founded on suspicion or territorial demarcation.

“Barry Fry’s role in the club doesn’t affect how I do my job from day to day. It doesn’t even come into the equation,” says Ferguson. “Picking the team, and decisions on transfers and coaching are all down to me.” But he adds that Fry’s role is particularly valuable in seeing the process of buying and selling players through. “Once I’ve identified a possible new player to sign or sell, Barry sorts the deal out,” he says.

Draw the line

When Ferguson was interviewed for the job at Peterborough, he was keen to establish what his role would entail and how far Fry’s position would encroach on it.

It was vital that both parties agreed on the mechanics of the relationship. “You have to draw the boundaries and clearly define each role from the start,” says Ferguson. “If you stick to that, the arrangement should work.”

Working in this way also takes regular communication and a certain amount of chemistry to be successful and sustainable. “The partnership can be a delicate balance and you have to know and trust the other person,” says the Peterborough manager.

For a relative newcomer like Ferguson, the assistance of aseasoned pro like Fry is invaluable.

Ferguson has been happy to delegate some responsibilities, such as liaising with agents and dealing with contract negotiations and finances, freeing him up to spend more time with the team.

But, while Fry’s expertise in certain areas is key, understanding that Ferguson has the final say is important for both parties. “There can only be one gaffer, and that is Darren Ferguson,” says Fry. “It wouldn’t work if the director of football still wanted to manage. You have to support the manager in everything he does, right or wrong. If he wants your opinion then of course you give it, but the manager has the final decision.”

Back-up

The boundless support that Fry gives Ferguson is undoubtedly a factor in the success of their relationship. “I want him to succeed more than anyone else in the world,” says Fry. “Having managed for 31 years, I understand that no manager likes interference. From day one it was made clear that Darren identifies what players he wants and I negotiate the transfers. I also balance the books. However, whichever player Darren decides on and whatever the cost, we always find a way to do the deal.”

Peterborough’s chairman, Darragh MacAnthony, was also behind the set-up, in particular because of the help that Fry could offer Ferguson. “He knew it would allow Darren to concentrate on working with the players, improving them individually and as a team,” says Fry. “He’s done incredibly well over the last two years.”

Continental divide

While the director of football structure is clearly paying dividends for Peterborough, what is the future of this business model in England?

“It is normal in clubs abroad for the manager to work with whichever players are brought to the club by the director of football,” says Ferguson. “However, that isn’t how we operate at Peterborough. I don’t think it will ever be fully accepted in England, because the manager essentially loses control. In the past year, we’ve seen managers leave their clubs because of this.”

But, as Fry points out, the game may naturally evolve towards a more continental model:

“We are seeing more and more foreign owners come into the game and they are likely to want a director of football. If someone is investing millions into a club, they will run it how they see fit. Managers may have to accept that change in the future.”