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Connolly column: United need middle man

David Connolly uses Michael Laudrup, Jose Mourinho and David Moyes to explain why he believes sporting directors could benefit English clubs.

Last Updated: 16/02/14 at 15:07 Post Comment

Michael Laudrup and David Moyes: Both given full control

Michael Laudrup and David Moyes: Both given full control

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David Connolly has played and scored in every division in England, as well as in the Eredivisie for Feyenoord and internationally for the Republic of Ireland. He has got the highest possible UEFA coaching licence and is still playing in Sky Bet League Two for Oxford, on loan from Portsmouth.

Every Thursday, David will provide an insight into life as a footballer throughout the leagues in his exclusive column for TEAMtalk.

Deadline Day great fun: David discusses transfer windows, training in Holland and England, and what he believes makes a good manager.

Spurs prove formation myth: David uses Tottenham to explain why there is no 'best' formation, while he says training ground rows like Dani Osvaldo's are common.

Refs can be influenced: David explains how referees can be influenced, insists diving players should 'protect the sport', and talks penalties and fan owners.

More should follow Hitz: David discusses Thomas Hitzlsperger's revelation and explains why he's never used an agent in his first exclusive column for TEAMtalk.

On the move again

In my last column a fortnight ago I wrote I had never moved clubs on transfer deadline day in January. The next day I joined Oxford - on transfer deadline day!

As I've explained before, my career has been a recurring theme of working with people whom I have worked with previously.

In this case, I played with (Oxford coach) Andy Melville 10 years ago and it was maybe him having worked with me before, knowing the type of character and player I am, that pushed through my move. I am glad someone who I have worked with before has had no hesitation in working with me again, much like Mick McCarthy, Alan Pardew, Nigel Adkins and Kenny Jackett previously.

Oxford have a cracking bunch of lads, and I am glad to be amongst them, but I will miss the lads back at Pompey and also playing in front of those great fans who I have a great relationship with.

The attendance for the recent home match against Torquay was the fifth largest attendance outside the Premier League - that is just phenomenal support and I hope to play in front of them again one day.

I took my little boy to football practice the other day and he still wore his Pompey kit. I am still a huge fan of the club and wish it well.

I came on for my Oxford debut at half-time after we had an injury, but I'd have preferred to earn my stripes by training well and showing what I can do rather than turning up a day before and then playing.

I've never liked that; I think you get more respect from everyone by working your way into the team. Also, a gradual introduction can benefit those players already in the team by pushing them to perform better knowing there are others waiting in the wings.

Clubs need a middle man

Michael Laudrup became the latest manager to lose his job earlier this month and there been reports that some of the Swansea players were happy to see him go.

I don't think it's right for players to celebrate when a manager loses his job but I have to say I haven't seen too much of that in my career, although I have seen players be very sad to see managers go. Some players are much closer to the manager than others and the manager moving on may spell the end to their careers at that club, too.

A club needs to be honest and clear when it relieves a manager of his duties but stories of player unrest mean someone has the ear of those in charge and that is wrong. Players' opinions are important but you cannot keep every player happy.

Having said that, with a managerial career being so short now, a difficult or poorly skilled man-manager is a big problem for clubs as the turnover of players who have fallen out with managers means a club's finances are directly linked with how adept a manager is at man-managing all these different personalities.

This may be particularly prevalent lower down the leagues as budgets are tightly managed and it is here where managers who can get the best out of players they have inherited or who can skilfully manage ins and outs so a club is financially stable really show their worth.

Although the manager is obviously key to a successful club, these days the litany of clubs that have sunk to the depths via managers spending on players fees and wages is so vast that can a manager be ever truly solely in charge these days? I don't think so.

Although many owners are hugely knowledgeable in the business world they could also benefit from expert advice from someone in the football world.

Could a middle man, a sporting director or director of football with a deep knowledge of football - what tactics are used, modern trends in players and scouting - be the answer? Somebody brought in by the club to oversee the manager's training, his man-management skills, his personality behind closed doors, his relationships with players, subsequent tactics on match days and so forth.

This person can ensure the same standards are being maintained across the whole club so the academy is also helped along the way with coaches being observed to make sure best practice is taking place.

The coaches and practices on at lower-age level must be the best you can offer otherwise the first team will suffer if the 16-18-year-olds do not have the required skills to make the step up.

A middle man can benefit the first-team manager too, knowing that there is someone else overseeing things so that you have the best tools at your disposal and that all you have to do is coach well and select the right team and tactics.

This is how a lot of clubs on the continent work and Ajax have undergone a revolution which has seen a lot of past players take over key roles which the club believes gives it the best chance of competing against the financial muscle of other clubs around Europe. Marc Overmars, for example, is their technical director in charge of transfers, scouting and youth development.

Three league titles in a row as well as Champions League success against Barcelona and Manchester City is testament to how things are progressing there.

Aside from Swansea, a club that might benefit from a middle man in this sort of role is Chelsea.

It was the owner there, Roman Abramovich, that bought Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres but would such costly moves have come about were a sporting director in place that knows the game, that was appointed by Abramovich and has his trust? That is preferable to an owner with no football experience believing they know best.

I believe Jose Mourinho has pushed to have the final say on transfers but the fact that he seems to move clubs every two years or so is another example of how a middle man can be useful because his successors are left with players that are particularly tailored to his style of play. A club philosophy, implemented by a middle man like Overmars, is key - the players bought should always suit that philosophy rather than that of one manager.

Succession planning

This model may not suit everybody, of course.

There are examples out there of clubs who have succession planning in place for coaches as well as players, so that if one leaves there is another one ready to take over, rooted in the club's philosophy.

This would ease the burden of hiring and firing but it takes great planning, resources and knowledge to have these processes in place.

Also, should a manager be allowed to bring in a whole new backroom staff? Should coaches also leave if a manager gets the sack?

This is a challenging subject because as manager you want the absolute best around you and to perform your job as best you can you may feel you need your staff around you.

Just dropping in a manager to work with the staff already there seems very difficult to me and is also a tad unfair on that manager. Those staff already there know they are relatively safe in their roles otherwise they would have been removed already, therefore will they be as desperate to succeed as the incoming manager?

On the other hand, I took a management course with Mike Phelan, who was a lovely man and has been so dignified regarding his departure from Manchester United. He had to work his way up for years to that role, often without much praise or recognition, and then it was taken away from him because David Moyes wanted to bring his own backroom staff in.

I hope Mike get back into football soon but you can also see Moyes' point of view; l he wants autonomy to build the team around him how he sees fit.

That is why, before someone is hired, the selection process has to be so meticulous because there are such far reaching consequences once the decision is made, further down the line.

Contrast what Moyes did with Arsene Wenger, who inherited Pat Rice and kept him alongside him for years until recently even when sometimes under pressure to bring in someone else. The two clubs' ideas on coaching staff seem vastly different.

For me, a manager these days cannot be backed too much just in case his decisions ruin the club. The days of letting a manager buy and sell how he deems and bring in his whole coaching staff may be gone and could be of benefit to many clubs.

A manager should be able to bring in his assistant and goalkeeping coach if lower down but at the top level you need to bring in the staff you believe are the best for the job, and sometimes they may already be there. You just need to give them a chance.

David Connolly's column comes to you courtesy of Sky Bet, the title sponsor of the Football League.

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