Five of the best sporting directors in world football

The role of a technical director is one of the most ambiguous jobs in football – many clubs have one, but what exactly do they do? 

Successes in transfer markets are often attributed to this person, with Manchester United’s poor transfer strategy post-Ferguson often blamed on their lack of someone who acts as an intermediary between the coaching staff and the board of directors. 

Ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger didn’t have a clue what one was. “I don’t know what director of football means,” Wenger said. “Is it somebody who stands in the road and directs play right and left? I don’t understand and I never did understand what it means.” 

If Wenger doesn’t know, not many people can define one for sure, but we’ve had a go regardless: 

A sporting director acts as an intermediary between the on-pitch staff (the manager, players, coaches) and the off-pitch hierarchy (the board, the senior figureheads). (S)he will handle matters on a day-to-day basis off the field allowing the manager to focus on the field. The sporting director is key in transfers, both in and out, as well as contracts and other matters. This allows for the manager to put all of their efforts into the on-pitch matters. The director of football is often an experienced football figure that will remain constant throughout managerial and even ownership changes.

So, we’ve loosely defined what they are, we’ve established what they do, now let’s give some examples.

Here, we’ve listed five of the best sporting directors in world football…

Luís Campos (LOSC Lille, formerly AS Monaco) 

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Currently at Lille, who finished second in Ligue Un this season, Luís Campos is perhaps the most underrated sporting director in the game, and we could well see him move to AC Milan to replace Leonardo who departed the club last week. 

After stepping down from his role at AS Monaco, Campos vowed to replicate the “masterpiece” he created at Stade Louis II. There, the Portuguese director boasted the ‘discovery’ of the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Fabinho, as well as the huge profits he turned in sales of James Rodriguez, 

Capital gains are seen off the pitch, but Campos has thus far brought results too, with Monaco winning the Ligue Un title in 2017 and reaching the Champions League semifinal in the same year, with many of that squad signed or discovered by him.

Lille finished second to only Paris this season, with Campos’ latest jewel Nicolas Pépé, set to sell for north of €75m. His work is not limited to finding stars and selling them for huge profits though, he has an eye for transfers that will impact the squad, demonstrated with his deal for Rafael Leão – who was linked with some European giants – as well as an ageing Jose Fonte and a relatively unknown Jonathan Bamba, both of whom excelled this season.

If Milan can tie down a deal for Campos, they are getting a star that can guarantee them results and hopefully return them to the elite.

Michael Zorc (Borussia Dortmund)

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One of many sporting directors that fall into the category of ‘Arsenal tried and failed to hire’, Michael Zorc is perhaps the figurehead of the role, that many failing clubs on and off the pitch should try to emulate. 

Born and bred in the city of Dortmund, Zorc played his entire career as a midfielder for BVB in the 80s and 90s, and rarely blinked under the pressure of playing in front of the raucous ‘Yellow Wall’, a skill which he has seemingly transferred to the negotiating table.

Just this month, news of Dortmund’s trio of signings – Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt and Nico Schulz – went viral on social media due to the (lack of) expenditure. For little over the fee they received for the American star Christian Pulisic, Dortmund had signed three players who have proven themselves in the Bundesliga, all of whom of an age where they are entering their best years.

He has overseen a memorable decade at the club, signing unknown youngsters such as Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, Ilkay Gündogan and others to the club, as well as recent sales in Ousmane Dembélé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, both of whom were bought for nominal fees from the French leagues.

Zorc won the Champions League as a player, as they toppled Juventus in 1997, and he has rejuvenated the club back to a position where it can regularly challenge for top prizes domestically and continentally.

Michael Edwards (Liverpool)

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So far on this list, we have seen directors able to spot youngsters and sell them for profit, or those to pul the strings from above, but Michael Edwards at Liverpool does a bit of everything and he is the king of extracting value for players deemed surplus to requirements.

For example Fabinho, who is crucial to Jürgen Klopp and will no doubt grow further next season, was signed for the same value that Edwards managed to gain from the sales of Danny Ings (Southampton) and Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth). Both of the latter were surplus to Liverpool, and have gone on to have poor seasons on the south coast.

It was Edwards who negotiated the £142m sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January 2018, with it being rumoured that those talks placed a clause that would put an additional £100m fee on any future Liverpool player Barcelona try to sign. While no one doubted Coutinho’s talent, he has flopped at Barcelona and the deal looks a huge success for Edwards now, with Van Dijk and Alisson Becker costing around that price when combined.

By using data, Edwards and his team find undervalued players like Mo Salah and Andrew Robertson and sign them for a lot less than they are worth. 

Monchi (Sevilla, formerly AS Roma)

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Now back in Andalusia after a two-year spell in Rome, Monchi is one of the most well known sporting directors in the game, with Manchester United and Arsenal both targeting him at times in the past.

Sergio Ramos, Jesús Navas, José Antonio Reyes, Ivan Rakitic, Dani Alves, Federico Fazio, Seydou Keita – we would be here all day if we listed all of Monchi’s success stories, but to cut it short, he knows his way around a transfer window and is the undisputed architect of Sevilla’s recent glory that saw them win three Europa Leagues amongst other domestic . 

When Monchi took over at Sevilla, they had just been relegated and were deep in financial trouble, but the ex-goalkeeper transformed their fortunes and made them a regular top four-six club in La Liga. 

The project in Rome didn’t go quite as well, with him leaving the club prematurely, before returning to Seville where he will look to emulate his previous successes.

Txiki Begiristain (Manchester City, formerly FC Barcelona)

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The successes of most on our list has been in the sales department, but Txiki Begiristain’s role at Manchester City has been slightly different, as a stubborn negotiator used to get City the best players in order to fight for the Premier League.

Joan Laporta, once president of FC Barcelona, appointed Begiristain in 2003 on the back of a spell of four years without a trophy after Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ and the spells of Bobby Robson and Louis Van Gaal. Barça were in trouble, but Txiki oversaw a new era at the Camp Nou, that included perhaps the greatest club team we have seen in recent history under Pep Guardiola.

He then moved to Manchester City, and he is often dubbed the man who helped City confirm the acquisition of Pep Guardiola, which is Begiristain’s biggest achievement so far.

Not all signings have worked out, but the transfer policy Begiristain has implemented has held City in good stead: rather than spend £100m on one proven talent, City often spend less on two or three talents not at the ‘top of the market’, who they nurture into top players.

City may have the money to spend, but Txiki Begiristain is the intermediary between Guardiola and the board, and as we have seen with Manchester United, having money does not guarantee success unless there is an order and strategy in place. 

Honourable mentions go to: Fredi Bobic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Andrea Berta (Atletico Madrid), Ralf Rangnick (RB Leipzig), Les Reed (ex-Southampton), Marc Overmars (Ajax).

FC Start and the legend of the ‘Death Match’ of 1942

By Saikat Chakrobarty 

After a cruel and bloody siege that lasted for 72 days, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s capital, Kyiv, was occupied by the Nazis in September 1941. In a attempt to not look like brutal tyrants in the eyes of the local population, the Nazi government tried to create the illusion of a prosperous life by organising various cultural events and incorporating sports into the daily life of the ordinary citizen.

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The Vietnamese football team: paving the way for a bright future in South East Asia

By Alex Brotherton

Within the cultural, racial and political melting pot that is Asian football, the region of South East Asia often finds itself forgotten. The likes of Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia have over the years made multiple appearances at World Cups and have won numerous Asian Cups. Meanwhile, Australia’s membership of the South East Asia Football Federation (ASEAN) notwithstanding, South East Asia has been under-represented. But while westerners associate that corner of the world with anything but football, a sleeping giant appears to be awakening. Keen to known for more than just a war, Vietnam is on the rise.

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5WFootball Crest of the Week: CA Hurucán, the Argentinian aviators

Welcome to a weekly feature on 5WFootball, where we will look at some of the best crests in football. When you think of past teams, the first thought may well be the players, but secondary, the thought turns to the identity: the kit, the crest, the stadium, the fans. The emblem, like many elements in football, is rather cliché like – yes, some look nice, but nobody really knows what they mean. They are the symbol for the passion shared between fans and teams. This weekly feature celebrates the best, from all over the world. Welcome to week 5: CA Hurucán.

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Stop comparing Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden, they are both the future of England

Video Assistant Referee. Messi and Ronaldo. Who will win the title race? Three debates that are unavoidable on a daily basis that, if you’re like me, will make your ears (or eyes, in the age of social media) metaphorically bleed. Three torturously annoying debates that have no real answer, but are still discussed on the daily. Another argument that seemingly pops up in conversation nearly as frequent as Brexit does is whether or not young Englishmen making the move to the German Bundesliga – or other foreign top leagues for that matter – is better than sitting on the bench back here.

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Alexander Hleb, BATE Borisov’s Belarusian bustling creator

“Arsenal was the best time in my career. I was absolutely, 100% happy. I had an unbelievable coach, fantastic friends and amazing team-mates. It was a dream come true”.

Speaking to FourFourTwo magazine in 2017, Alexander Hleb recalled his time at the North London club as the best of his lengthy career that has taken him from Belarus to London and back again, via Birmingham, Barcelona, Stuttgart, Samara and Ankara.

Now in his fifth spell at BATE Borisov of the industrial city of Barysaw in Belarus, the 37-year-old has had a career like few others, and can probably stake a huge claim to the tag of the greatest footballer from Belarus, of all time.

As the winger prepares to face his old club Arsenal in the Europa League round of 32, we take a look back on Hleb’s career, and reach a decision on how highly he will be remembered in the game…

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