Man Utd used to be against the prospect of hiring a director of football but times have changed in the board’s power play with Jose Mourinho.
You might remember Jose Mourinho’s post-Sevilla sermon in March; the one where he harped on about ‘football heritage’ and charted
United’s Champions League failings since their 2011 final appearance at Wembley. Mourinho was as gripping as Brando in that opening section and the embargoed portion was The Godfather Part 2 of press conferences.
Mourinho bristled at the very mention United had lost to La Liga’s fifth-placed side with a minus goal difference. “We went out to a side that’s more successful than Manchester United in last seven years in Europe,” Mourinho scoffed. “We went out to a side that has a huge tradition in knockout competitions, a side in the Spanish cup final. We are out to a team that knocked out Atletico Madrid in two legs.
“We are knocked out to a team that is brilliant in their approach for many years, with their scouting system, the way they invest with every Euro.”
It is that last sentence which has gained greater significance as United prepare to install their first director of football. Sevilla’s former DoF, Monchi, held the post for 16 years and the club lifted five Uefa Cups, the Super Cup and two Copa del Reys before the Andalusian joined Roma in April 2017. Monchi, a former goalkeeper, discovered Sergio Ramos and recruited Ivan Rakitic, among others and was touted as a possible United DoF upon Mourinho’s appointment, albeit by starstruck supporters.
When it emerged that United would appoint a director of football operations in March, club sources clarified it would be a new position which is an updated version of the traditional club secretary role. The remit was to ‘head up logistics, facilities, travel registrations and other similar departments’.
That role remains unoccupied and the ‘operations’ might be about to be dropped. United’s need for a conduit between Mourinho and Ed Woodward has become pressing in the wake of the split transfer policy in recent summer windows, where Mourinho’s late 20-something targets have been vetoed by the board and spending has plummeted from £140.9million last year to a frugal £73.2m this summer.
Senior staff at United were against the role being created in the past out of fear it diluted the manager’s role, something Mourinho alluded to when he requested his title switch to ‘head coach’ rather than manager on Friday night. The feeling now is it is necessary and John Alexander’s departure as club secretary has provided the platform to rejig operations. The head of development, John Murtough, has previously referred to himself as the club’s DoF in meetings and was previously technical director.
Steven Nzonzi, Javier Pastore and Justin Kluivert are among the 14 recruits Monchi has clinched at Roma this summer and the Serie A market stall is still open until Friday evening. The giallorossi have chiselled a Scudetto and two Coppa Italias to the honours’ board this century and have embarked on a £120.05million spree, although Gabriel Batistuta remains their record buy.
Regardless of Mourinho’s spin that the Sevilla scandal was anything but, Monchi operated on a bargain budget in Andalusia, which partly consisted of identifying Premier League rejects like Nzonzi, Samir Nasri, Stevan Jovetic, Gael Kakuta, Iago Aspas, Didier Zokora and the like. Sevilla also banked handsome profits on Rakitic, Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Alberto Moreno et al. as they failed to crack the glass ceiling.
Monchi would be ideal not just because he is one of the best in the business but he has Mourinho’s approval. “Do you think they didn’t have any players who could play in my team?” shot back in March. “I cannot name them. If I name them their agents will jump with happiness and they will say: ‘Tag, tag, price’, this and that. In Sevilla, there are many players who would play in my team.”
United resisted a Sevilla signing, having glanced at Clement Lenglet prior to his Barcelona move, but Mourinho historically clashes with DoFs and thrives on autonomy. Autonomy that is eroding under the Old Trafford bean-counters.
Michael Emenalo and Avram Grant’s appointments at Chelsea in July 2007 undermined Mourinho and hastened his September sacking before Emenalo returned to haunt him in 2015. At Internazionale, Mourinho operated under technical director Marco Branca yet you only need glance at his signings’ ages to know who pulled rank in the transfer market: Wesley Sneijder was 25, Thiago Motta: 27, Samuel Eto’o: 28, Diego Milito: 30 and Lucio: 31. An Inter fan site described Branca as ‘the man who ruined Inter’ in 2013.
When Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was asked why general director Jorge Valdano, a former player who coached the club to their 1995 title, had been ousted in May 2011, he responded: “Mourinho did not make any demands. He asked for more autonomy in line with how English clubs are organised.” Valdano later said: “I couldn’t understand him because he is in the antithesis of my sensitivity. Intelligence and ego are enemies.”
As the Glazer family toast three more sponsorship deals in United’s most frugal summer window since 2013, appointing a DoF who is on the same page as the board is desirable. Be it Monchi, Luis Campos, formerly of Monaco, or the Football Association’s technical director Dan Ashworth, – previously at West Brom – they are men renowned for using their wits more than their wallet, which would be in keeping with the recent regression to miserliness.
This is modern football heritage.