Hitchens60 asks an interesting question;
The position Director of Football or Sporting Director – what’s in a name; aren’t they essentially the same roles? -raises an interesting dynamic.
For the Head Coach the role provides a degree of protection; if the players don’t come up to expectation (or more importantly show improvement) it’s because the DoF failed to recruit the right players; for the MD who makes the appointment, given the same scenario the DoF has failed in the role expected of him and can be removed.
On that basis the DoF appears to be firmly positioned between a rock and a hard place and any opportunities to succeed appear limited!
Of course the role of DoF encapsulates more than just player recruitment and includes areas such as developing a culture and playing styles that are recognisable throughout the club from the first team through the U23’s right down to the youngest of the junior teams and, of course, the women’s team. It also includes developing and improving sports science which now has a prominent role in all professional sports.
Villa, of course have an unenviable record in this area.
First there was Gary Karsa. Sacked after two years.
Henrik Almstadt then teamed up with Paddy Riley and the reaction was – at last an identity and new modern thinking direction for the club. Sacked within a year.
They were followed by Steve Round and the so called ‘Villa Engine’. Another new identity – surely we now have the right new direction but no, within two years Round is sacked and Suso is appointed with the strong Spanish and European scouting network – finally this must be it; the new direction we’ve been looking for – again sacked!
Now Johan Lange, the best there is in Europe with his highly successful FC Copenhagen model.
There’s a familiar pattern developing here – yet another new direction but this has to be the one!
The question is – is it?
There is a world of difference between FC Copenhagen playing in the Danish Superliga and Villa in the EPL. Yes, they win trophies and regularly qualify for the Champions League – but then they should be if you believe the recent analogy with Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. Like Celtic they rarely make it through the group stages and more often play in the Europa League – not that we should knock that from our 17th position – but the point is generally still valid. Copenhagen are known as a ‘feeder club’ which has been successful in developing local talent and selling them into the German and Italian leagues for values in and around £10m. These are functional players sold at inflated prices who don’t necessarily go onto better things – don’t we already have plenty of these? – not that I’m knocking it, if that’s the limit of our ambition.
Our owners’ stated ambition though is very different – to improve from our current lowly position to be regularly challenging the top clubs in Europe (where have we heard that before?).
The point is they don’t just want us to be a feeder club so Lange is therefore operating in a very different environment from that at Copenhagen. His challenge is to respond to much higher expectations than at Copenhagen and in a tougher, more competitive market place. Can he do it? – well at least he has previous experience of living in the West Midlands and English football as assistant manager at Wolves – albeit for six unsuccessful months!
But what of our two other summer recruits – Craig Shakespeare and Rob MacKenzie?
Both have excellent CV’s and a lot of experience in the EPL – particularly with helping Leicester City break the mould.
When Pearson was being suggested as Villa manager, many fans wanted us to go for his assistant Shakespeare instead.
Mackenzie is credited with playing a pivotal role in signing Kante, Knockaert, Mahrez and Vardy for Leicester – just now, I suspect, most of us would take just one of those signings at Villa.
I think these are both very savvy signings. It’s clear we don’t just need quality and EPL knowhow on the field; we need it to reinforce a very inexperienced management team and it’s something which both Shakespeare and Mackenzie can provide. Will they prove to be more valuable acquisitions than Lange?
Only time will tell.