Why Manchester City are still searching for their own identity
00:00 GMT, 11 November 2012
Sporting director, technical director,
director of football: call it what you will, the idea of having an
executive director with football responsibilities who supervises the
manager of a club has always seemed a bit foreign to us in England.
We have been brought up on strong
managers with dominant personalities, going back to Bill Shankly, Brian
Clough, Don Revie and now Sir Alex Ferguson. We find it hard to get our
heads around the idea of someone telling the manager who he ought to
But as more and more businessmen and
billionaires buy into the sport and look to replicate more conventional
corporate structures, it is something we’re becoming increasingly used
to in English football.
Which is why it will be interesting to
watch what happens in the next few months at Manchester City, where
Txiki Begiristain has been appointed director of football to work
alongside Roberto Mancini.
The new man: Manchester City's director of football Txiki Begiristain (left) with chief executive Ferran Soriano
The new man comes with an impressive
record, having been the technical director at Barcelona and one of the
directors there who pushed hard for Pep Guardiola to be promoted from
his role of reserve team manager to take on the first team in 2008; a
risky move that now looks to be one the best decisions ever made in
He will be a strong character with
confidence in his own views working alongside Mancini, who himself has
strident opinions. In fact, Mancini would often publicly question the
role of Brian Marwood, the former football administrator, who has been
made managing director of the club’s academy to make way for
But you can see why Begiristain has
been appointed. Despite the success that Mancini and City have had in
winning the FA Cup and the Premier League, they still seem to be a club
in search of a strong identity. /11/10/article-0-15E1F313000005DC-707_634x442.jpg” width=”634″ height=”442″ alt=”Identity crisis: Manchester City are on the brink of their second straight Champions League group stage exit” class=”blkBorder” />
Identity crisis: Manchester City are on the brink of their second straight Champions League group stage exit
And you sense that Sheik Mansour and
chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak want something more than just cups. They
seem to want to create a legacy. They are building a spectacular new
academy, with similarities to the Barcelona model, and seem to want to
put people in place to dictate the style of play over the next 10 years.
In business terms, they are building a brand.
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We’ve seen at Chelsea that owners who
invest billions of pounds are not just content to win trophies. They
want the world to praise the manner in which they win them. That’s what
Begiristain will have been brought in to do, interestingly working
alongside the new chief executive at the club, Ferran Soriano, who was
also at Barcelona.
When you think about the biggest clubs in Europe, such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United, you know what they stand for, on and off the pitch. The tactics and the commitment to entertaining football have been forged over years.
So Manchester City’s challenge now is not just to win the Premier League but to build a strong working relationship between Begiristain and Mancini that forges an identity.
There is no reason why employing a technical director can’t work. West Brom cemented their place in the top five by winning 2-1 at Wigan. They have probably been the best club in England at using the model of the sporting director, with Dan Ashworth, who is now the FA’s director of elite development, working in tandem with a number of coaches.
Ideally, the sporting director will have picked the manager. That way, they stand or fall together so there is a vested interest in making the relationship work and also a shared philosophy as to how to play the game.
Working relationship: How will Roberto Mancini and Begiristain get on
The key, though, is that the relationship between the manager and his sporting director must be based on trust. In the ideal situation the manager outlines the kind of player he wants — say, an attacking left-footed midfielder, physically strong but athletic and quick — and the sporting director produces a list of candidates according to the club’s budget.
Then the manager and the sporting director have to agree on which is the best buy, though the sporting director will be in charge of all the financial elements of the deal. Inevitably, there will be disagreements but there has to be the ability to compromise.
When this structure has failed in this country, it has often been when there have been two very different personalities trying to do the job.
At Tottenham, City’s opponents today, they once had George Graham as manager and David Pleat as sporting director. As well as being different characters, they both had diverse playing ideas.
At Liverpool, Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish were polar opposites. And there is always a problem when a club are deemed to have spent their transfer money unwisely. Who do you sack Usually it’s the manager, though at Liverpool both ended up paying with their jobs.
Uneasy alliance: Directors of football, such as Damien Comolli (left) have seldom gelled with managers in England, as Kenny Dalglish discovered during his second spell at Liverpool
And while the role may seem alien to us, even the strongest managers in England have actually often worked in tandem with a director they trusted. Think of David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson or David Dein and Arsene Wenger. Those relationships can be the heart and soul of a club.
Sir Alex has always said that he took huge comfort in his early days at United from the fact that Sir Bobby Charlton was a club director because he knew he had a voice in the boardroom that was a football man protecting him, who could see the progress behind the scenes.
Will Mancini now have a similar ally in the boardroom, backing his ideas He has already done a magnificent job, winning the FA Cup and Premier League after that 35-year wait for a trophy. You would imagine that the stability of backing a title-winning manager would be the way forward.
And certainly Mancini seems to have a very good relationship with Khaldoon al Mubarak. Their mutual trust at the end of last season, when the team were struggling, was probably crucial to City winning the title.
But look at how Real Madrid got rid of Fabio Capello after winning the title in 2007 or Roman Abramovich lost faith in Jose Mourinho the same year after he had won two Premier League titles and the FA Cup. Sometimes winning isn’t enough these days. You also have to fit the brand.
Does Roberto Mancini fit the brand that Begiristain has been instructed to build at Manchester City It will be fascinating to watch over the next few months as we find out.