Manchester United get to grips with the appointment of a Sporting Director

Man in suit holding football
Manchester United get to grips with the appointment of a Sporting Director

Manchester United executives attempting to get to grips with the appointment of a Director of Football would do well to make the short walk from their Old Trafford offices to the University of Salford’s gleaming Media City HQ.

Academics from the Centre for Sport Business are delivering an MSc in Sporting Directorship to high profile athletes, coaches, managers and industry professionals with aspirations to become exactly the kind of strategic leader the Premiership giants have identified as being critical to their future.

The ground-breaking programme was the brain-child of VSI Executive Education co-founder, Tony Faulkner, who after his playing career at Manchester City was curtailed by injury, held a number of positions in football as well as working extensively across sport in the USA and Europe.

And he said: “It comes as no surprise to me that United is exploring what would be a radical change in their approach to leadership of football operations.

“They had perhaps the greatest Manager of all time in Sir Alex Ferguson but the days of one all powerful individual running such a corporate giant are long since gone.

“Key strategic decisions in a club must be driven by the club and not a coach who is most unlikely to have a life span exceeding three or four years. The Director of Football must be the custodian of the medium and long-term football strategy.

Professor Chris Brady, the academic head of the MSc programme insists that the modern coach views a Director of Football as being absolutely critical to his success and certainly not the threat perceived by many traditional English Managers. Indeed, the relationship is most effective if the Director of Football has been one of the key decision makers in the appointment of the coach. Although that would not be the case at United at the moment it may actually usher in the next successful phase of Mourinho’s career. The longevity of both Ferguson and Wenger were in large part due to them having the support of David Gill and David Dein in what amounted to a general managers (GM) role.
Faulkner believes that the Director of Football, CEO and the head coach relationship is, “really important.
“He is there to deliver a strategic plan and infrastructure across all football departments including under 21s, recruitment, medical, sport science as well as other performance domains that allows the coach to concentrate exclusively on coaching hence enjoying the best opportunity to deliver success on the pitch.

“The priorities of the Director of football must be to support the first-team and head coach in every respect.”

VSI research evidenced that it is not just football where a Sporting Director will be pivotal to sustainable on-filed success and established a multi-sport programme that is now recognised as a bench mark for those looking to move from the performance arena or training ground to the boardroom.

Faulkner and his team were driven by wide-spread industry demand to create a talent pool of formally educated sporting professionals to fill the type of void identified in United’s football structure.

He revealed: “It became increasingly clear over the last decade that football in particular was struggling to manage exponential financial growth at certain elite clubs while others, outside the top flight were teetering on the brink of insolvency.

“The game was something of a wild-west when it came to governance and it was evident to me that significant changes in corporate structuring was required.

“I engaged in discussions with owners and Chief Executives to establish their greatest challenges. The overwhelming message received was the need for management of sporting operations by a senior, educated professional.

“We set about creating that talent pool of individuals through a programme that was limited to an exclusive group of industry professional who would engage on a learning programme with elite academics and professionals from both the private and public sector.

Much reference has been made over a number of years to appointing Sporting Directors or Directors of Football. Early incumbents were in the main unsuccessful with little clarity around what the position looked like.

When old school managers such as Harry Redknapp were parachuted in to the role it was usually a precursor to them taking over from a soon to be sacked manager.

Faulkner and his VSI team have been working with the key stake-holders, not only in football but in a range of sports, to develop a clear understanding of the position and a cohort of professionals capable of protecting sports long-term future.

For more information on the VSI MSc in Sporting Directorship contact:
Tel: 0345 459 9765
Twitter: @MasterSportDir

VSI also host the Sporting Directors Summit. For more information see the link below