This is an extract from Richard Foster's book The A-Z of Football Hates which is available in bookshops online.
D is for Director of Football
‘Judge me on my signings.’
Joe Kinnear, June 2013
There cannot be many more unloved, derided job titles than the Director of Football. The very idea of having someone who hovers between the chairman and the manager is flawed, as there is so little room to operate. The best run clubs are those with a cigarette paper between the two and anyone caught in the middle will be irrelevant at best, generally obstructive and at worst disruptive. Thus you can count the successful incumbents comfortably on one hand, with a few digits to spare.
When they were first introduced into British football, they were lauded as being progressive and part of a European revolution. And so that club with such great foresight, Newcastle United, appointed Dennis Wise during Keegan’s second managerial reign. The choice of Wise was interesting as Dennis’ main strength as a player was his combative tenacity rather than as being one of the game’s great thinkers. But Newcastle chairman, Mike Ashley was undeterred by such superficial observations and in 2008 Wise was hired with responsibility for scouting players across the world and developing the academy.
A fruitless year passed during which many people questioned the wisdom of the appointment and nobody shed a tear when the plug was pulled in April 2009. Wise himself summed up his tenure in not the most glowing terms with the terse summary. ‘It has all had a damaging effect on my career,’ and Newcastle did not exactly rip up any trees during this period.
But Mike Ashley is not a man to be cowed into submission or allow the facts get in the way of decisive action. So after a year or two of progress under Alan Pardew, Ashley played his trump card by appointing Joe Kinnear to be the new Director of Football. Kinnear proved to be another disaster, leaving his job less than nine months after joining in the summer of 2013.
Kinnear’s record of signing not one single permanent player in the first transfer window, with only Loic Remy joining Newcastle on loan from QPR, was brushed under the carpet. The fact that Kinnear did not meet Remy until after the loan was agreed suggests he was not especially influential in that piece of business.
But when Kinnear repeated the trick in January with just one solitary loan signing of Luuk de Jong, allied to the departure of their best player by a country mile, the end was nigh. When Johan Cabaye upped sticks to Paris St. Germain there were howls of dissension that eventually led to Kinnear’s resignation in February 2014 and Ashley again found himself light of a Director of Football and a growing mutinous feeling amongst the fans. As Kinnear asked to be judged on his signings when he took the job, there can be little doubt as to the evaluation. Whether Newcastle go for third time lucky is open to debate but their recent experience suggests this is not going to bear much fruit and may be better for all concerned to let it lie.