Five of the Premier League’s director of football disasters…

Ian Watson

Steve Walsh (Everton)
It was hoped Walsh might be able to sprinkle some glitter on Everton in a similar fashion to how he helped turn Leicester into Premier League champions with bargain signings like N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez. Instead, the man once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as ‘the most influential person in the Premier League’ just shovelled more sh*t onto the already steaming pile.

Walsh left Leicester before the start of their title defence and perhaps he got out just in time. The signings identified to strengthen Claudio Ranieri’s title defence – including club-record triptych Nampalys Mendy, Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani – were largely all flops and the manager paid with his job. At Goodison Park, Everton spent £70million in Walsh’s first year but it was only after the former Chelsea scout had got his feet under the table in 2017 when Farhad Moshiri really opened up his chequebook.

The Toffees spent around £175million for 2017/18 with Walsh overseeing at that time four of the five biggest deals in the club’s history. Jordan Pickford can be deemed a success; Gylfi Sigurdsson we’re still not sure about. The others – Cenk Tosun, Davy Klaassen, Theo Walcott, Michael Keane, Sandro Ramirez, Nikola Vlasic – ranged from ‘meh’ to ‘miserable’.

It was no surprise that when Sam Allardyce was shuffled towards the Goodison Park exit, so too was Walsh. On the same day in fact, so that Marcel Brands could be brought in from PSV Eindhoven.


Damien Comolli (Liverpool)
“Henderson is one of the main reasons I got sacked,” Comolli told talkSPORT four years after his Liverpool exit in 2012. “The day I got sacked they told me I had made a big mistake on Jordan and he was a waste of money.” In fairness, Henderson did look a waste of money back then. And though hindsight reflects rather kinder on Comolli in this instance, there are plenty of other examples Liverpool could have named to shame the Frenchman.

The Reds made nine first-team signings during Comolli’s two years at Anfield. Luis Suarez is the obvious success story; Henderson also proved him right eventually. But Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Sebastian Coates, at £70million, stank the place out.

Not that Kenny Dalglish held it against Comolli. “He has been really helpful in every transfer target that we’ve gone for,” said Dalglish after Comolli departed. “Everyone who has come into the club since Damien has been here was of my choice. Once I made the choice who I wanted, Damien went away and did a fantastic job of bringing them in.”

Liverpool was Comolli’s second Premier League club. He was sacked by Tottenham when Juande Ramos departed, with the Spaniard’s predecessor Martin Jol complaining that Comolli was signing players without the manager’s say so. Rather than replace Comolli, Daniel Levy decided simply not to bother with a sporting director.


Joe Kinnear (Newcastle) 
Kinnear’s previous spell at Newcastle, as manager in 2008, went so swimmingly that Mike Ashley thought it appropriate to give him even more responsibility and a three-year deal to be the club’s director of football in 2013.

Having begun his spell as manager by calling out the press during his first media conference, Kinnear went on the attack again having got his foot back in the door at St James’ Park. He spoke to talkSPORT and in a 15-minute interview, the then-66-year-old:

– Dismissed his critics, saying: “I have certainly got more intelligence than them, that’s for sure.”

– Claimed he could “open the door to any manager in the world… I’ve spent my whole life talking to Alex Ferguson, week in, week out. I can pick the phone up at any time of the day and speak to Arsene Wenger, any manager in the league. In all the divisions.”

– Boasted about his three manager of the year awards. He won it once, 19 years previously.

– Mispronounced several names, including calling Newcastle managing director Derek Llambias “Lambazi”, Yohan Cabaye “Yohan Cabab” and Shola Ameobi “Shola Amamobi”.

The day after Kinnear’s return was confirmed, Llambias, who himself had overseen plenty of chaos in his time at Newcastle, resigned from his post. In the eight months which followed, Newcastle failed to make a permanent signing, despite selling Cabaye to PSG for £19million. Kinnear was shuffled out of the door, presumably kicking and screaming in February 2014 after Newcastle had lost the Tyne-Wear derby 3-0.


Clive Woodward (Southampton)
If Southampton had teased the appointment of an England World Cup-winning coach as their new technical director then, well, it would have stumped us all since Sir Alf Ramsey was no longer with us in 2005. The answer to the trick question was Sir Clive Woodward, the man who led England to Rugby Union World Cup glory in 2003 and, handily, a good friend of Saints chairman Rupert Lowe.

It wasn’t the disaster many anticipated it might be – though it certainly wasn’t smooth sailing either. Woodward was labelled the ‘mad professor’ for his left-field ideas which helped England dominate the rugby world, but football, especially Harry Redknapp’s recently-relegated Southampton, was not ready to embrace the unknown quite so quickly.

Woodward wanted to employ a vision coach – something many clubs have since done – but Dr Sherylle Calder was said to have been so upset by the mocking reaction to her mooted arrival that she stayed away. Woodward brought in Simon Clifford, the maverick owner of Garforth Town and a network of Brazilian Soccer Schools. Clifford spoke of his befuddlement over why footballers did not rise for training at 4am like swimmers and why players needed so much time off in summer. Despite talking up a 15-year commitment to Woodward and Saints, he was out within a couple of months.

Once Lowe had given up control of the club the following year, Woodward ran short of allies. He left after 13 months at St Mary’s but Saints vowed to use his consultancy services after his departure.


Gianluca Nani (West Ham)
The Italian was tempted to Upton Park from Brescia where he had been sporting director since 1999. The fact Nani helped bring through Luca Toni and Andrea Pirlo attracted the Hammers, with then boss Alan Curbishley doing his very best to put a positive spin on the arrival.

“Gianluca is the person I need to help me in the recruitment at the club, venturing down into the academy level,” Curbishley said. “It is a big brief but I am sure he is up for it. He is vastly experienced. We took a good look at Brescia and what they have achieved. We are lacking at the club in terms of infrastructure and network, which you need now because it is a global game.”

Nani also read perfectly from his prepared script: “I know it is a club full of history, I know West Ham play the right way.”

Curbishley soon had reason to lament Nani’s arrival when the new man was said to have have sold Anton Ferdinand and George McCarthey behind the manager’s back. He also gave his former club Brescia a record £9million fee for Savio Nsereko, who managed 10 appearances for the club. When Davids Gold and Sullivan took over, they saw no need for Nani and mutually consented the Italian.

Ian Watson

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