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Should West Ham have a director of football

Jack and Jackson debate who should have say over signings

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

It’s a strange feeling being a West Ham fan right now. Things are looking optimistic, we have a world class manager and our owners say they’re ready to invest in the squad like never before.

However, not so long ago David Sullivan said we’d have a new recruitment policy and system and likely a Director of Football. The Director part has been fought over by fans and other members of the board for months now.

The question we have at our hands is should West Ham United have a Director of Football, or should it all be down to the manager? Brace the Hammer’s Jackson Schmidtke and Jack Kavanaugh debate the topic.

Why you should have a DoF, By Jackson Schmidtke

To me it’s obvious having a director of football creates consistency. The one thing West Ham need more than anything is consistency and the current recruitment and signing model doesn’t allow for that.

I can understand the argument that you want a manager to get the players that will play to his system, but the issue is that managers drop like flies and then you’re stuck with players that might not be suited to a new style and you have to reboot the roster every single window.

AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United - Premier League
Roster reboot: Adios Andre!
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

A director of football would set out a vision for how the team is supposed to play. That vision would guide everything from signing a manger, player recruitment, and player development. They’d have the big picture view and the five year plan which a manager cannot have.

Manager’s only focus on one year, they don’t look toward the future. In this day and age if you want to break into Europe and stay there you need to have a long range plan. Look at Spurs, they were where we are now. Today, they’re playing Champions League football consistently.

This is the model that many US sports franchises use. They have a general manager who oversees much of the player personnel work and has the long term vision. Very rarely has the head coach/general manager role worked out well in the American sports leagues.

A director of football would also likely prevent the retread of managers that happens in the Premier League. The director would have their preferred style or vision of play and then hire a manager that would execute it. The director would ensure that the manager has players that can play that style, and when eventually the manager loses the locker room the director could hire another manager that plays a similar style.

The hammers have had a distinct lack of consistency with style. Big Sam and David Moyes preferred to play the pragmatic lone hold-up striker style of football. That doesn’t lend itself to a signing like Chicharito who needs to either have a striker partner, or needs the ball to be played through the middle rather than bombing crosses in. Slaven Bilic didn’t really have a style other than saying “Hey Dimitri, go out there and make good things happen.”

West Ham United v Liverpool - Premier League
Loved his passion but his tactics were awful
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The director would also ensure that the youth teams play a similar style to the senior team to allow a more seamless transition between the two levels. One only needs to look at our recent youth strikers to realize that there wasn’t any consistency. Elliot Lee, Sean Maguire, and Toni Martinez do not fit the bombing cross lone hold up striker style that we’ve been trying to play since signing Andy Carroll. Maguire has gone on to play really well in Irish League and the Championship and will likely get a Premier League call at some point. I mean heck Jordan Hugil is in the Premier League right now.

Northampton Town v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League Two Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

The manager in this role is responsible for ensuring the squad is fit, well drilled in the tactics, and prepared for their games. While there is some input into player personnel the manager is not out scouting players and actively recruiting them. The manager is focused solely on training and match day. There would be a dialogue between the manager and director but the director would have ultimate say on who is brought in.

Here’s how I imagine a discussion during a transfer window.

DoF: Howdy there Manager X how are our players performing and where could we use help.

M: Things have been going ok so far, our central midfield needs some help, we need a player who can break things up and move the ball to Lanzini to get things rolling.

DoF: Thanks gaffer, here’s a few names of guys we have our eyes on, thoughts?

M: I really fancy X, but Y would also be good. Z isn’t on your list but I’ve heard great things about him from W.

DoF: Thanks for that I’ll see what we can do.

M: Cheers mate!

The reporting structure would have the manager reporting to the director and the director reports to the board. In an ideal world this would work seamlessly, but David Sullivan’s meddling would likely prevent this model from working as well as it should. Ideally the Davids and Karen Brady would keep their mouths shut, sign the checks, and leave the director of football and manager alone. In this world though that isn’t going to happen. I can dream though.

Why we don’t need a DoF, By Jack Kavanaugh

Directors of football appears to be a more European concept, but is growing in popularity in British football - with Glasgow Rangers recently announcing plans to appoint one. West Ham have history with the position, Ron Greenwood took a similar position in the mid-1970s with first-team duties handed over to John Lyall.

With Manuel Pellegrini preferring to work with a director of football this is something that I am not completely morally opposed to. Anything is better than having our idiot chairmen being responsible for transfers, this is how we ended up with Jordan Hugill, Álvaro Arbeloa and the litany of disastrous signings we’ve endured over the years.

Brighton and Hove Albion v West Ham United - Premier League
Jordan: “Omg, why am I in the Premier League? How did they pay £10 million for me?”
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Perhaps I’m old school in my belief that the best way for a manager to operate is to have complete control over the signings as well as team selection. It is the ideal to foster harmony between the players entering the club and appearing on the pitch.

Those days appear on the decline and one man running the entire football operations in the Premier League appears to have ended with Arsene Wenger’s tenure. West Ham are openly looking to implement a director of football with the hopes of guiding a stable transfer policy over the next few seasons but these directors don’t seem to last much longer than the players they are signing at the moment.

Huddersfield Town v Arsenal - Premier League
The days of one man show may well be over.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Huddersfield Town v Arsenal - Premier League
The days of one man show may well be over.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

But what about the players? Regardless of the amount of ‘player power’ we are seeing in modern football, it is surely encouraging to know that the manager wants to sign you in order to play you consistently.

From what we know about Pellegrini so far at West Ham, he wants to retain a strong control over transfers, despite whether the club appoints a director of football. One day into his reign and we have rumours that Yaya Toure and Salomon Rondon are on the radar, both players enjoyed the most successful periods of their career under the Chilean’s leadership.

While I have my doubts about Rondon, if Pellegrini knows these players and can get the most out of them then I endorse it. For me, he’s got enough credit in the bank to justify signing another average striker. Considering character fits such as this is something that a director of football would be unable to achieve.

Pellegrini appears to have a clear idea of where he wants to take the club, and it is his right as incoming manager to make bold changes. If there were already a structure in place where the manager didn’t have control over transfers, it might be less likely for West Ham to have to complete clearout of the squad that we badly need. A director of football might be loyal to his players and impair such sweeping reforms. Changing managers means that we can make a clean break from the dismal end of the Bilic / Moyes era.

Ideally we’d have the manager guiding this transfer policy directly, rather than being subject to the whims of another. While this might not happen, I am at the very least glad that Sullivan has taken the advice which has been screamed at him for the past few years and will be much less involved in transfers than before.