PODCAST: The Evolving Role of the Sport Director

For decades, the role of the Sport Director has been central to the key management structure at some of the leading clubs around mainland Europe, but in English football it is a role which is still very much in its infancy.

That said, it appears that the English game has come a long way in the last twenty-five years, from when we first starting seeing clubs appointing people to the role of Director of Football. Initially the perception of the role, particularly in media circles, was that it could easily undermine the authority of the traditional first-team Manager.

Now, if we look at the make-up of clubs who will be playing in the 2017/18 Premier League, you will find that nine now have a Sporting Director, Director of Football, or Technical Director in place within its Management structure, with several others having someone in a similar Head of Football Operations position.

It also seems to be a role which has been embraced by some of the league’s most successful clubs. Each of the last four Premier League Champions have adopted this structure and three of last season’s top four had someone in this role: Michael Emenalo (Chelsea), Txiki Begiristain (Manchester City) and Michael Edwards (Liverpool).

Given the size of the modern professional club, it should probably come as no surprise that the role is being seen as more and more essential. The ownership of clubs is changing and millions of pounds are being invested into both club infrastructure and playing personnel. On top of that, performance and recruitment departments are expanding and leading academies are working to multi-million pound budgets.

Given this expansion, it would suggest that if a club is going to achieve the goals it sets itself, from youth development through to first-team success, good corporate governance is vital and in an increasing number of cases, clubs are seeing the Sport Director model as being the preferred way of achieving this.

The role even has its own academically accredited MA courses now, awarded by the University of Salford and Manchester Metropolitan University, which has seen the likes of Steve McClaren and Steve Round enrol.

With this in mind, and given the crucial role that scouting and recruitment plays in the Sport Director’s remit, we felt it would be worthwhile dedicating an entire episode of the Scout7 Podcast to the role, to find out how it is evolving and the challenges the modern Sport Director faces on a daily basis.

We have been incredibly fortunate to assemble an outstanding panel of experts, who all have direct experience either in the role, or in reporting to a Sport Director-type figure.

Our first guest is Stuart Webber, who was appointed Sporting Director at Norwich City earlier this year as part of a club restructure. He is joined by Mike Rigg, who has previously worked as Technical Director at Manchester City and was most recently the Chief Football Officer at Fulham.

The panel is completed by Steve Head, who has worked in various coaching and recruitment management roles at Southampton, Fulham, Reading, Norwich City and most recently Charlton Athletic, where he was the Chief Scout.

Stuart Webber left Huddersfield to become Norwich City's new Sporting Director

During the episode, they talk about the importance of the Sport Director understanding the identity of the club, the skill-sets required for the role and the interaction required with both the football staff and with the business side of the club, as well as their relationship with the Manager or Head Coach, the Chief Executive and the Board.

They also discuss the bigger picture and how a club can go about achieving its long-term aims and objectives, with succession planning across all departments being essential to ensuring a club isn’t sent off-course in the event of unexpected departures.

As well as internal communication, they also talk about the challenges of being able to communicate with the club’s supporters effectively, so they are aware of not only what their role is, but also what they are trying to achieve and the reasons behind key decisions.

There also appears to be a desire amongst people who have worked in the role, past and present, to understand it better and the challenges faced in different club environments. To that end, Rigg talks about how he is looking to set up an Association of Sport Directors, similar to one that is already in place in Italy, which is recognised by the FA and can help industry professionals to develop the role and further professionalise the industry.

Finally, they also ponder how the role will be seen in a decade’s time, both in the Boardroom and by Head Coaches, not only at the top level, but also further down the pyramid in the third and fourth tiers.

It all makes for a fascinating listen. No matter whether you are currently in a Sport Director-type role, report to someone in that role or have aspirations yourself in becoming a potential Sport Director in the future, it is well worth listening to what they have to say.

You can listen to the hour-long discussion by clicking on the player at the bottom of the page.

If you would like to listen to this podcast using your smartphone or tablet, you can subscribe via the iTunes App: search for ‘The Scout7 Podcast’. Once you subscribe you can listen to all previous episodes available in our archive for free. You will also receive automatic notifications when new episodes are available.

by Andy Cooper PR & Project Manager

Published 15 June 2017