The irony of ‘useless’ Comolli

Posted: November 6, 2010 by mcdonaldtaf in Business, Liverpool FC
Tags: , ,

Oh the irony! On the day the most effusive praise for Gareth Bale was delivered from every news outlet, the man who secured his services for Tottenham Hotspur was labelled as ‘useless‘. Wednesday was also the day Damien Comolli joined Liverpool Football Club as director of football strategy.

That ’useless’ label was tweeted by Lord Sugar of ‘The Apprentice’ fame and I’m unsure of his justification; other than of course any director of football being frowned upon within the English game. You would expect that, given his wealth, Lord Sugar has relied on his own ability to shrewdly assess and appoint up and coming talent. So to deride the man who signed Gareth Bale, Tom Huddleston, Michael Dawson, Jermaine Defoe and Jermaine Jenas for Spurs seems unfair.

Although Comolli was pushed out from his position as director of football at Spurs. It would appear he was (as Lord Sugar would put it) ‘fired’ before his best talents were allowed time to flourish. But I guess that’s the nature of football, isn’t it? When things aren’t going right ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’. This reactionary and knee jerk mentality working against the exact principles of appointing a director of football in the first place. Who is appointed to provide continuity and stability at a football club, no matter which managers come and go.

At the time of Comolli’s sacking from Spurs, fans were sceptical about recent signings like Heurelho Gomes, Asou-Ekotto and ironically Gareth Bale. Yet when you look at the full compliment of players he signed for Spurs you would have to question where they would have finished last season (or where they’ll finish this one) without them.

Many European clubs work with a director of football operating within the grey areas, where business and football collide. Arguably one of the most successful clubs being Lyon who have delivered consistent on the pitch success, from manager to manager, by providing that bedrock of stability. They have developed a business model which keeps them profitable, not laden with debts and successful on the pitch. All of this is achieved by not being scared to think differently.

Of course it’s important to get the right man and people will no doubt point at some of Comolli’s failed signings, but does anyone in any business always get it right?  There are going to be some failures, but as long as they are outweighed by the successes, what’s the big deal? And key to all of this is considering whether a manager would do any better in the transfer market, or is it better to have someone focussed on that element of the club?

What is just as important though, and what has been missing for many years at Anfield, is a team off the pitch which shares a single vision. If Hodgson, or any other manager for that matter, sees value in older players while Comolli believes in younger players it won’t work. It is absolutely imperative that the owners, board members, Comolli and Hodgson are all on the same song sheet.

Comolli’s appointment would possibly explain what many see as an over-extension of patience in relation to Roy Hodgson. The more reds I speak to, the more perplexing this seemingly never ending patience appears to be. Yes, some of the pressure has been relieved with a few ‘squeaky bum’ wins against, what we should deem, lesser opposition. But our performances are not in line with expectations. A few people have mentioned though how important it is to bring a manager into a club with an existing director of football, rather than the other way round. Therefore NESV may have made an astute tactical move by bringing in Comolli with a weaker manager in situ.

So do we write off this season? Well I suspect that Roy is going to remain in place for most of it, and unless there is a major change in his approach I can’t see us winning anything. So I guess we may have to view this season as one of major transition, with the re-building commencing at the start of the 2011/12 season. The rest of this season should be viewed as NESV getting the new building blocks ready, of which Comolli is one of many.

The model may take some time to get right, but is one that I welcome. Football is evolving and in order to gain competitive advantage we have to get ahead of the game. NESV need to think differently and must look to break the paradigm of the English Premier League. By not following the rest of the flock we can stamp our own mark on the game and, given time, deliver on and off the pitch success.

Importantly Comolli must be given time, more so than any manager. If NESV are convinced he is the right man to secure up and coming talent (at the right prices) we may not be able to judge his effectiveness for some seasons to come. Rome wasn’t built in a day and our club will not be re-built with a couple of miracle signings. We shouldn’t expect too much, too soon and should align our expectations in line with a longer term vision; which will hopefully be a shared vision.

  1. Marcus Evans says:

    First visit to this web-site. although active on many LFC threads. A well-balanced article. I also believe that this new LFC project is long-term. Comoli and this structure provides consistency beyond management/coach.
    Whatever happens this season is irrelevant to the NESV management – the next 6 months are about creating a management structure to succeed.
    As all fans, if we finish 4th or reach a final it will be deem the season succesful – but the target has to be when the new UEFA rules apply and beyond the current Fergy Mancs, Wealthy CFC and ManCity regimes. A realistic target is the EPL in 2013, possibly 2012.
    It appears that we have thoughtful, succesful new owners – let them do what they believe is necessary – they have done it before.

  2. Sam Wanjere says:

    Totally spot on. I suspect Comolli’s newfound uselessness (apparently he wasn’t when uncovering talent in North London) is UK-press driven.

    This part of the fourth estate seems cryptically opposed to non 4-4-2 formation, zonal marking, rotation, foreign managers with some good track record (I think Carla and the Prof aside), things LFC and all manner of current innovations in soccer.

    Liverpool’s thinking long term and Comolli’s appointment and internal realignments is the space to watch.

    God (and I too suspect the same press) only knows how many more such useless things we need at Anfield.

  3. Ed Margerum says:

    I agree with your assessment, though I’m just a casual watcher of football. I have observed NESV’s baseball operation for some time. The game may be different, but the organizational structures are somewhat the same. The big difference is that player hirings/transfers in baseball are done by a General Manager, not the team manager. The team manager oversees training, selection of players for the game and setting up the game’s tactics and strategy. It remains to be seen what Comolli’s powers will be. However, NESV with the Red Sox have had absolute faith in the GM, Theo Epstein. He’s the only GM NESV has had and has absolute power except that player acquisitions which may go over budget have to be cleared with John Henry. As GM, Epstein hires the manager, again after consultation with John Henry. Terry Francona has been manager for 6 years and is not in danger of being replaced. NESV likes selecting managerial personnel they feel are the best for their model and keep them in place. To the best of my knowledge, nobody hired by NESV has gotten sacked in their 8 years. They did sack the old owner’s manager before the start of their first season as owners. They weren’t pleased with their first manager they hired and let him go when his contract expired. There was a extension clause in his contract which they chose not to exercise. My expectation is that Hodgson will last out the season and then be bought out. NESV does not like making changes, except with playing personnel, in the middle of a season. They like amiable partings. They also don’t panic and look for quick fixes. They evaluate personnel for their “fit” within the organization and don’t restrict themselves to obvious choices. One of their criteria is how well does the manager deal with the media. Roy, take notice! My perception is that they want an organization that functions as a team from top to bottom. Big names may get by-passed if NESV sees them as having a disruptive personality or being too self-centered. Much has been made of their reliance on statistics. They do use stats to determine value. They seek, not the best player, but the best affordable player within the framework of their team concept. That is their vision and it is carried out by GM Epstein. NESV, the Board, John Henry et al largely remain in the background going over the finances, and providing arms length oversight. They’re not “hands on” owners. Much of that can be carried over into football. I might add, that NESV’s goal for the Red Sox is to get into the playoffs. The team is constructed to win the playoffs, not necessarily to finish first in the league. This is in recognition that they will always be heavily outspent by the Yankees. I don’t know how that translates into football strategy.

    • mcdonaldtaf says:

      Ed, thank you for an excellent comment. I hope you don’t mind that I re-posted it to another site I write for (The Tomkins Times).

      • Ed Margerum says:

        Thank you. I should add that John Henry and his GM play their cards “close to the vest”. When possible, they don’t signal moves ahead of making them, but the impression is given that they’ve done a lot of planning. The acquisition of LFC falls into that category. They also tend toward a long term view. That may be frustrating for Liverpool supporters for the remainder of this season.

  4. Ed Margerum says:

    Oct 15, NESV gains control of LFC. John Henry goes over LFC’s finances and says the LFCs “books are terrifying”. (I think that was JWH’s phrase). Five days after taking control he appoints Joe Januszewski and rejects Ian Ayre’s resignation. In retrospect, these appointments were “no brainers”, but the speed they were made indicates an urgency in setting up the commercial end of the business. Less than a month after gaining control of LFC, John Henry announces the hiring of Damien Comolli. In retrospect no big surprise, given their mutual belief in stats. Again the speed with which Comolli was hired is startling, given that John Henry professes to know little about football. John Henry isn’t given to snap decisions and we wonder when he began talking to Comolli. Comolli must be the core figure the football operation will be built around. Unlike the CEO, there was no executive search for Comolli. John Henry decided Comolli was THE MAN. After that John Henry settled down to the more prosaic appointments of Chairman and Board. “It’s logical, Captain.” First set up the outside revenue operation. Then appoint the key man for football operations. After that, install the people responsible for oversight.

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