The Premier League is the most popular football league in the world, but it’s also one of the oldest. The changing face of English football has led to some interesting discussions about how much influence clubs have on players’ transfer fees. This piece argues that this change comes from a shift towards all-inclusive contracts and away from individual partnerships between club and player which will give way for more transparency into transfers across leagues as well as less restrictive clauses for both signing new talent or selling them abroad..
The “Premier League’s shift from all” is a change in the Premier League that has been taking place for some time. The Premier League will be switching to a table system next season, and it will be interesting to see how the new format works. Read more in detail here: premier league table.
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“It’s basically simply a naming convention,” Phil Giles, Brentford’s co-technical director, told ESPN. “In my perspective, the roles of sporting director, technical director, and director of football are more or less the same. Every club will have a somewhat different version of how it works, including who reports to whom, who reports to whom, and how that works in connection to the board. The sports director should be the one who hires the head coach.
“The benefit of bringing in a head coach like me and Rasmus [Ankersen] is that you can build that relationship and set the expectations before they come in, so they know exactly what they’re getting themselves into.”
Giles has worked with Ankersen for six years, assisting in the club’s ascent from the Championship to the Premier League in 2020. Ankersen revealed last Friday that he will be leaving the company at the end of the month to start his own sports agency. It will leave Giles as the club’s only technical director, and although Ankersen leaves under a barrage of praise, Giles describes a division of labor that he will regret.
“We have quite clear obligations,” Giles remarked before the announcement. Thomas, for example, is in charge of the day-to-day operations at the training facility, as well as team selection and other matters. Rasmus and I are concentrating our efforts on expanding the club. We’re also rather different. Rasmus is lot more outgoing, talking to people, building connections, and planning for the future, whether it’s additional coaches we might hire or anything. I’m considerably more involved in the day-to-day operations management.
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TUESDAY, DEC. 14 • Stuttgart will face Bayern Munich (12:30 p.m. ET) • Cologne vs. Wolfsburg (2:30 p.m. ET)
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“In a sense, we’re the training ground’s CEOs.” We are far more focused outside of transfer windows on laying the foundations of the club, ensuring that [Matthew Benham] the owner’s ideas are incorporated into the club and that he is satisfied with the way the football side of things operates.
“[The owner] has some very clear ideas, and we are the ones who will put them into action. For example, before the start of the season, we’ll draft a football strategy paper that outlines our goals and objectives for the next year. We’ll work with our team to make sure we set the goals correctly so that everyone gets a good workout.”
The absence of native talent entrusted to fulfill these responsibilities seems to be one of the consequences of English football’s sluggish transformation. Although Paul Mitchell, formerly of Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, is now at Monaco and Michael Edwards has had great success at Liverpool, prominent British technical directors, particularly those with the same profile as ex-players such as Leonardo at PSG or Marc Overmars, director football at Ajax, are still in short supply. Dan Ashworth, a pioneer in England, departed the Football Association in 2018 after overseeing the England squad to a World Cup semifinal and joined mid-table Brighton.
When Edwards steps down at the conclusion of the season, his deputy, Julian Ward, will take over, although the major Premier League teams continue to prefer international choices with greater experience as part of a technical director structure: Edu is the technical director at Arsenal, Granovskaia is in charge at Chelsea, Paratici is highly involved in Tottenham’s recruitment activities, City has Txiki Begiristain, and Rangnick will soon join Fletcher in bringing United ahead.
Webb rose to attention as the director of recruiting at Bournemouth in 2013, when the club surged through the divisions to reach the Premier League in 2015, where it stayed for five seasons. “There was a stigma against English people doing it when I first began,” Webb said, “because the European culture — Germany, France, Holland, Spain — they had the procedure in place for a lot of years.” “We were — and still are in certain aspects — culturally drifting away from the manager’s job having complete authority over the club in England.”
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Webb is likely to rejoin the British contingent, which is expanding. Several teams, notably Lazio, Celtic, and PAOK in Greece, have shown interest in him. Another Premier League team that hasn’t been mentioned might potentially be a possibility. “For me, it’s about having that clarity I described before and working on a project where a club has a vision of where they want to go and how exciting it is,” he added. “In addition, my skill set must be compatible with theirs and vice versa.”
Neither Webb nor Giles had a traditional path to become a sports director. Webb worked in advertising sales and also taught in a school, taking time off to travel throughout Europe and learn about various coaching techniques. Before landing a position at Crystal Palace in 2002, he had 15 job interviews. Before joining Brentford owner Matthew Benham’s firm, Smartodds, where he analyzed sport via a statistical lens, Giles had an interview with a hedge fund.
“I have years of experience outside of football,” Giles said. “There’s a lot of conversation about ensuring that top-level teams have incredibly good decision-making procedures.”
Although formal credentials are not necessary for this position, they are available. The Football Association offers a two-year programme called “Level 5 for Technical Directors,” which is open to candidates who are presently in a technical director post or who clubs or the FA assess as having the potential to take up a position within three years. The most recent course completed in October, with 12 alumni working for teams as diverse as Forest Green Rovers and Chelsea.
Michael Edwards, on the left, has contributed significantly to the development of Liverpool as a club, bringing a feeling of modernism and consistency to crucial off-field activities such as scouting, talent identification, and transfer transactions. Getty Images/John Powell/Liverpool FC
However, the performance of technical directors, sports directors, or whatever title they’re given is often measured from the outside, via the prism of the transfer window.
“As genuine directors of the club, myself and Rasmus have an inherent obligation in terms of fiduciary responsibilities and financial needs,” Giles said. “If something goes wrong with what we do, we’re the ones on the hook.”
In that perspective, transfers are always loaded with danger. Since FIFA deregulated the market in 2015, the expansion of agents has far exceeded the proliferation of technical directors. Before FIFA decided that no entrance exam or formal qualification was required, there were an estimated 400 to 500 agents working in England. Within a year, the number was anticipated to have increased to 2,000, and the FA issued a list of registered intermediaries in England last month. It grew to be 54 pages long.
“Giles” stated: “It’s simple to see where things start to become difficult. What you must do is engage with a single agency who represents a player, and the player pays his agent to represent him. That is the most hygienic method. When a large number of agents join in on a negotiation, things grow a lot more difficult.”
Webb remembers one episode in particular. “At Tottenham, there was an example when we were looking for a top French talent,” he explained. “I can’t mention the name, but it got to the point where we’d done all of our technical, scouting, and profiling work, and we felt we had the player’s legitimate representation based on the documentation.”
“It turns out he’d issued four separate directives.” A family member claimed to be one, followed by a large agency, one of his acquaintances, and finally another smaller agent. At the end of the day, they all wanted an agency fee. We had a pretty specific criterion for what we’d pay as an agent fee in terms of a percentage, and it wasn’t enough when divided four ways. As a result, it became unmanageable.
“Despite our strong desire for the player, we decided that walking away and pursuing another alternative was the best choice for us. A technical director’s life is seldom simple.”
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The “football technical directors” are the people in charge of football. They are responsible for making sure that the rules of soccer, as well as the players and teams, are up to date.
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