Norwich City go continental but how can it work for the Canaries?
Over the next few weeks, possibly months, Norwich City will make two of the most crucial appointments in their recent history.
Before the summer arrives a new sporting director will be in place before a head coach is brought in with the pair charged with steadying a turbulent ship at Carrow Road.
It is a management structure that has long been adopted on the continent but on these shores any sporting director, or equivalent, has been seen by some as eroding the authority of the manager.
Norfolk agent and sports lawyer, Dan Chapman, is used to dealing with all different types of football models and believes the club’s decision to depart from the traditional British model could reap reward for the Canaries.
“I think it’s definitely the right way to go for Norwich,” said Chapman, who works at Norwich-based Full Contact agency (a part of Leathes Prior Solicitors). “Norwich is such a unique club in its fanbase and location and the way it’s commercialised that it probably needs something different. The sporting director role is recognition that the most important person at that football club may not always be the manager – it’s the guy behind the scenes. That’s a real departure from how fans traditionally think – if it’s going well then fans chant the name of the manager and if it’s going badly then he’s the one that gets the abuse.”
Other clubs at the top end of the game are using the same management model City are pursuing. At Manchester City Txiki Begiristain works with Pep Guardiola under him as head coach.
Perhaps the biggest success story on these shores comes at Southampton where since 2010 Les Reed has helped oversee the club’s ascent from League One to a successful, well established, Premier League club.
But there is still an element of scepticism from those inside the game that a sporting director, or equivalent, is a challenge to the authority of others.
“I think it’s cultural thing – managers in this country have tended to be a lot more hands on,” added Chapman. “If you look at your typical Football League manager he has a lot more responsibilities than his German or Dutch counterparts.
“In this country you think of your Brian Cloughs and Sir Alex Fergusons as your typical all-seeing managers.
“Adopting this type of model has got to be something that’s led by the owners of a club. It impacts upon the traditional chief executive role just as it does the manager, both of whom have to give up some of their duties to the sporting director.”
It is looking increasingly likely that Huddersfield’s Stuart Webber will be installed as City’s new sporting director and he will then be heavily involved in the process of identifying Alex Neil’s successor.
That relationship between the sporting director and head coach will be pivotal to Norwich’s chances of getting back in the Premier League, says Chapman.
“It’s so crucial – that’s why Norwich are so determined to bring in the sporting director first,” he said. “It might restrict the type of coach Norwich will go for because the new head coach has to be a certain type of person although it might open more options abroad, too.
“A number of managers in this country might say that they will not work as a head coach. I know of one Football League manager who took the view that when things are going well it’s the sporting director that can take a lot of the credit for making good signings but when it’s going badly then it was still the manager’s head that was called for.
“But there are many head coaches that make it work very well. Someone like Jurgen Klopp is used to that structure from his time in Germany. You would also think he has the strength of personality to be treated as an equal to the sporting director.”
One area that Norwich need to see improvement in is that of recruitment and Chapman believes the new model could remove any uncertainty over who is responsible for incomings and outgoings at Carrow Road.
“I think most agents will say that they prefer this model because you’re only talking to one person and you know exactly who you need to deal with,” said Chapman. “One of the difficulties with some clubs is that you don’t know who you should be dealing with. You could have five or six people who all have relationships with agents but with this model everyone knows who to call. The same goes for if another club wants to buy a player from Norwich – they know who they need to contact – and the head coach can be left in glorious peace without fielding calls from agents!”