“We see that sometimes when managers leave a lot of the structure leaves with them. That is no use, you put a lot of time a lot of investment and a lot of resource into developing that side of the business and you can’t have that changing every time a manager changes. The director of football gives you that continuity. They oversee the overall football department, all aspects of it, including the academy, performance and preparation, analysis and everything as well as the first team.”
So Rangers’ Managing Director revealed today in an interview with the club’s website. It makes sense, and everything that he says above is perfectly correct. The days of Jim McLean, Alex Ferguson, and Guy Roux managing teams for 20 years seem to be firmly in the past (Wenger hanging on by his fingernails excepted.) Most managers seem to find some new source of masochism after a couple of years or so, whereupon the club appoints a new person with new ideas, and it’s back to square one. Since the demotion to Division 3 in 2012, Rangers have gone through two permanent and three temporary managers, and dozens of players, yet it doesn’t appear that there is any sort of long-term plan in place. Some people will blame Ally McCoist and Mark Warburton* for that, but in my opinion, that’s sort of infrastructure and strategy is the responsibility of the board to put in place. This didn’t seem to be a priority for the previous regime, so the club has been listing in a sea of transiency for the last two or three years. Indeed, in Ally McCoist’s first season in charge, back in the Premier League in 2011/12, the club didn’t have a proper scouting network. Six years on, that’s still the case.
It’s therefore vitally important that the club puts some sort of foundations in place over the next six months to allow the Director of Football model to flourish, for one key reason. The fans.
I find football fans fascinating, from a sociological and psychological point of view. 21st century football support is a curious mix of tribalism and religious fervour; dogma, rhetoric, zealotry, logical fallacies and confirmation bias are defining qualities of many fanbases. Rangers fans are particularly notable in this regard, I suppose because of the nature of Scottish football where the two big clubs have dominated the rest for the best part of 50 years (and all the other weird socio-political stuff that goes along with the Old Firm rivalry.) As a result of all of this, Rangers fans are not patient in the slightest. They’ll tell you they are, but they’re not. We’re not. You only have to look at the dizzying velocity of Warburton’s fall from grace to see that. In a little over 12 months he went from wizard to wizzard. Of course, much the same thing happened to Paul Le Guen, during his brief spell in charge ten years ago. Maybe it’s the cold winters that do it?
The fallout from last week has seen furious analyses about just who’s to blame for Warburton’s demise. The man himself, the board, the players – they’ve all been fingered as guilty. The fans though? Absolutely and completely without blame. A Cherubic choir that bestows vim and vitality upon their chosen XI, and who cannot be defiled by base human sins. It’s not true though, and I do get a wee bit exasperated by the piety – and it’s not just Rangers supporters that are guilty of it. Yes, football fans pay a huge amount of money to watch their teams, and roughly 75% of all football is terrible, but let’s not pretend football supporters around the world don’t spend half the time groaning, complaining, abusing players, leaving early, not even paying attention to the game, and being generally impatient. In addition, with more and more of us screaming our opinions into the void each day, clubs seem keener to canvass popular opinion when making decisions.
That’s why a director of football approach might work well for Rangers. If the head coach is struggling, and the fans have lost faith in him, unplug him from the system and replace. Similarly, if your coach is doing well, and is poached by a rival, you can replace him with a like-minded individual. The rest of the footballing infrastructure doesn’t have to be affected, and there’s a greater chance of continuity being maintained. Southampton apparently do it, and Hearts have just been through a head coach change process. It might just be the club’s only stab at long term stability. On the pitch, at least.
So let’s see what develops in the next few days or months, then meet back here in January 2018 to read how the director of football model isn’t working at Ibrox.
*The Rangers u-20s have been playing with much the same system as the first team this season, which has been attributed to Warburton, but this was also true when I went to see the reserves play in 2013, and probably many years before that, in fairness.