Do Celtic Need a Director of Football?

Celtic’s meagre transfer budget is a constant source of frustration for supporters but the lack of care and forethought in spending the funds available should be equally frustrating. Is it time for Celtic to appoint a “Director of Football” to improve the club’s success rate in the transfer market?

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The term Director of Football has negative connotations in the UK where it's associated with interference, meddling, power-struggles and generally adding a layer of unnecessary administration to a football club. The situation hasn't been helped by a few high profile examples (including Celtic's own experience with Kenny Dalglish) but bad implementation is different to a bad idea.

The role of a “general manager” can vary but there are plenty of successful football clubs who have a liaison between the Board of Directors and the manager. In fact it’s rare for the bigger European clubs to operate without this role so it’s certainly not a barrier to success in its own right. Extending this into other sports, virtually every professional sporting organisation in US sports employs a general manager who will ensure a continuity in recruitment policy that doesn’t always exist in the UK model of professional football clubs. With managers staying at clubs for ever-decreasing time periods, the more strategic role of a director of football should be gaining importance.

Celtic have had a turbulent couple of seasons which has been understandably reflected in a turnover of managers, but also in a scattergun approach to player signings. Gordon Strachan left behind a relatively stale squad, to which Tony Mowbray added Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Jos Hooiveld, Danny Fox, Ki Sung-Yueng, Thomas Rogne, Zheng Zhi, Morten Rasmussen and on permanent deals. Only Ki, Rogne and Rasmussen remain in the squad, with the latter clearly surplus to the current manager’s plans.

Even since then Neil Lennon has signed Freddie Ljungberg, Daryl Murphy, Efrain Juarez and Oliver Kapo and released each of them before a year had passed. John Park is Celtic’s Head of Football Development but the exact remit of his role with recruiting senior players has never been clear. It’s impossible to argue against the success of Ki, Kayal, Izaguirre and Hooper in the last two seasons but can Celtic really afford to spend £5m on two strikers (Fortuné and Rasmussen) that the next manager doesn’t rate?

Not every signing will be successful and Lennon (and Park presumably) can take credit for a high success rate last summer. However Celtic aren’t in a financial position to throw away £3.8m on two players (Juarez and Murphy) that the manager who signed them has decided aren’t good enough twelve months later - or three months later in the case of Juarez. And the failure to attract any interest in Hooiveld and Rasmussen, and the loss incurred on Fortuné last summer suggests that the Celtic Board have not been adhering to any sort of medium-term investment strategy. That this reckless transfer-market trading has taken place during an era of acute parsimony is all the more surprising.

It may well be that John Park is carrying out the duties of an Uli Hoeness or a Zubizaretta but the strategy does not appear to be working from a football development perspective. The talent spotting element of his work is not really under question and the signings of Ki, Kayal and Izaguirre in particular have more than paid for his salary and resources. But there’s a strategic outlook to a director of football that seems to be absent from Celtic’s signing policy. How else could the Board sanction the purchase of Fortuné for (what looked at the time a bloated) £3.8m only to incur a significant loss a year later? There was never a re-sale value in Fortuné, he didn’t fit any particular style of play Celtic were hoping to adopt and he wasn’t underpriced on acquisition. He seemed like a panic buy at the time, much the same way that Henri Camara was a crazily shortsighted purchase a few years back.

This is not a problem unique to Celtic obviously. Liverpool have been undergoing a similar clearout under Dalglish (despite having Comoli in the very role that should guard against panic acquisitions by under-pressure managers). However Celtic are operating on a restricted budget and do need to work hard to attract players to the SPL. It’s imperative that those who are signed fit into plans that extend beyond the next six months. It would be even better if they were bought with a style of play in mind, a style of play that the manager would buy into on appointment.

There will always be activity as the transfer window closes but there’s a suspicion that Celtic don’t use this time just to complete signings but to identify them. Peter Lawwell has often spoken of a multi-target transfer strategy that Celtic operate but hopping on a flight to Portugal on Sunday evening suggested the club were a little behind the play in identifying this summer’s targets. A planned approach to the transfer market might just make those last-ditch scouting trips a thing of the past.

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A good point and a subject I was thinking about broaching myself. Lawwell is clearly a corporate wanker concerned solely with what his big fat bonus will be. We can’t hope to grow and improve with someone like him taking such a prominent role in transfers, we need a football man in charge of getting the transfer targets sorted. Lawwell only sees money and his petty policy combined with his vested interests in the financial accounts see us regressing more and more on the pitch. I can see the need for prudence and understand the fact we can’t compete with clubs from the bigger leagues but Lawwell brings it to an absolute extreme.

Lawwell should be the guy on the Board who we have to convince of a player’s worth. He’ll certainly be negative in that part of his job but at least he’d be there representing the Board only and talking only finances. At the moment he’s the guy that players meet and he’s an important part of our recruitment strategy. He evidently knows precious little about the guys who are signing. He should be moved back to the role of Financial Director and let someone else represent the football team on the Board.

Agreed, Lawwell should have nothing to do with transfer decisions. The only thing he could/should be involved is working under the DoF when it comes to the actual negotiating process - i.e. follow orders from the DoF on what is his valuation or maximum price for the player in question, that should be his final remit. Our budget this year seems to have been £2m, this despite being in a relatively healthy financial position and I’d hazard a guess that our playing wage bill has reduced significantly for the 3rd season running.

Lawwell is not even a great negotiator - look at the deal he signed off for Balde.

Really depressing times, thought we would have kicked on after a good transfer market last season and Lennon would have got a budget in the region of £5-8m. I’m sure we could have also got some transfer fees in rather than the mass exodus of loans that took place. To recap, Lawwell is a thouroughly useless cunt.

The difference between him and the likes of Sabatini is enormous.