The Sporting Director model is becoming increasingly popular in English football. Once seen as the “continental” way of doing things as football clubs have grown in size and profesionalised a lot of clubs have come to the conclusion that the role is necessary.
What needs to happen before you join the likes of Sevilla’s Monchi in having your face reproduced on socks on the club’s merchandise site?
But what is the role?
Here is where it can get complicated. There is no single interpretation of the role.
I’ve seen job descriptions and observed practice where a Sporting Direcor essentially runs the club. They are the ultimate decision maker signing off on every aspect of the running of the club.
I’ve also seen descriptions where recruitment is by far the main focus.
Others where it is a project management role covering football operations (ground staff, box office).
Others where it is about instilling a football philosophy across the club, what some might call a Technical Director.
The requirements and individual profiles of who would suit these roles therefore differ wildly. Some will be line managing the Head Coach, some will be spending a lot of time in the boardroom, others in the dressing room.
This means there is no one profile of who is a suitable on the rare occasions when these jobs are put through a proper recruitment process.
So how do I get one of these jobs?
There aren’t many of them. So it is going to be difficult. A lot of club owners will still look for a “name”, either someone who has done the job before, or a well known former player. Depending on the nature of the role this can be a good decision.
For people without a footballing background you need to be offering transferable skills. Football can learn a lot from best practice in other industries. However, you will still need a strong grounding in professional football. At least 10-20 years in key departments, probably in a variety of clubs and different roles.
What skills and qualities do I need?
Good people skills are essential, in most circumstances this is a people facing role, you will be hiring and firing, and responsble for dealing with owners and interns. You have to be able to both communicate a vision and have awkward conversations.
Organisation is key too, you are running a multi-million pound company and are responsible for making every department as good as it can be.
Knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, football is essential. You have to want to be relentless in looking for improvements.
Learn to bridge the football and business roles. You need to learn about how to present business cases, and how to deal with investors looking for a return as well as coaches looking for new players.
What can I do to prepare for the role?
Build up experience and knowledge of what excellent looks like in each key department of a club. Research and build up dossiers of what you would do in a variety of circumstances.
Be realistic you are more likely to walk into a mess, have 5, 30 and 100 day plans of what you would do to turn the club around.
Seek our really good examples of well run clubs, but also study where things have gone wrong. Speak to people who have seen success and failure.
Build your networks, who shares your vision, who would you want involved and advising you if you were in that role?
When you reach senior roles apply to present at conferences, join the Association of Sporting Directors, try and gain FA Level 5 or Masters in Sports Directorship qualifications.
What do MRKT Insights do with Sporting Directors?
There are three main areas
Firstly we work with the Association of Sporting Directors. This allows us to attend events with, and learn from the best senior leaders in football. This helps us to advise our own clients on industry best practice.
Secondly we provide assistance to clubs and ownership who are looking to recruit senior football staff. We have a database of people who we have prescreened for suitability. There are people who “get it” working at all levels and we enjoy helping these people progress in their careers.
Thirdly we like to support those in post. Fundamentally the job is about making decisions based on the available information. We have been working for three years to build up the knowledge of what sporting directors need to know, and how we can help. This can be by adding capacity to key departments, developing systems to support the efficient operation of the club, management reporting, and helping them talk through big decisions.
Please get in touch if you’d like to talk to us firstname.lastname@example.org