Given how important managers are, it is remarkable clubs do not research candidates for the job more thoroughly
While the controversy surrounding Paolo Di Canio's appointment as Sunderland manager continues, this saga is an example of what happens when clubs are hurried into recruiting a new boss. But it's not only in questions related to a manager's reputation or public relations that clubs let themselves down. Rush, panic, lack of preparation and poor advice eventually lead to equally unfortunate sporting consequences.
It never ceases to amaze me that the appointment of a new manager (or head coach, depending on the club's structure) – surely the most important piece of recruitment a club is likely to make – seems to be given so little consideration. The shortlist seems more often than not to be made up of whoever is being touted by the press and anyone recommended by agents known to the chairman or board. And the selection committee's perceptions of their potential new managers are generally formed from hearsay and how they come across in the media – not necessarily an accurate portrayal of someone's real character. The reasoning rarely goes beyond "he did a good job at x, so let's have him".
I believe there is a whole range of issues to be considered when choosing a coach. There are so many dimensions to being a good one, or selecting one over the other, that it takes serious research over a long period of time to identify the right candidate, the person who slots into your particular setting, reality and philosophy, and could possibly contribute towards enhancing it. And in the global business that is football, you should be casting your net internationally.
Obviously you start with the style of football they prefer, their general approach to the game, tactics and systems, but also important are their man-management skills and personal-communication style. Perhaps your academy is important to your club – does your intended new manager like to play youngsters? Would he insist on a high level of input into transfers and would you be happy to give him that? If so, what is his previous record in the transfer market? Does he have the cultural understanding to make your foreign signings fire on all cylinders? How does your potential manager deal with pressure and would he be a good ambassador for your club? Does he have long-term visions or does he tend to burn out after the initial quick fix? The list goes on, there are many boxes to tick.
To learn this depth of information is something that can be done only by serious scouting, endless collection of data and meticulous analysis. Clubs are happy to sanction budgets often running into millions for player scouting but few seem to realise that it really pays off to do the same for coaches. After all, players come and go and having a squad should lessen the impact of a signing flopping – but, if your coach does not deliver, it is much more damaging.
While between jobs in recent years I was hired by a large European club to assist in tracking a couple of managers to fill in some gaps in their database of potential coaching candidates. They wanted me to follow them in training over a couple of weeks to file a detailed report on their approach – how they organised things, how hands-on they were, how the assistants worked etc – which entailed me skulking around behind trees and mingling with groups of fans in an effort to appear incognito.
I finally managed to approach them, again masquerading as a supporter, to gauge their language skills and get a more personal idea of their character. It was a real eye-opener for me to see how professionally and thoroughly this club approached the project, especially as they were happy with their current incumbent and had no plans to replace him at the time.
But it is not just in the event that you need to sack a coach that this type of research should be undertaken – you need to be prepared in case the one you have gets a better offer and wants to leave or should some unforeseen circumstance such as illness prevent him from continuing. Usually when a coach leaves you are left with a very small window of time to find the replacement – having a detailed, regularly updated shortlist means you can make a quick appointment that is much more likely to succeed than one made rapidly through panicking.
If you look at the top jobs in most other businesses, they are usually filled via headhunting firms. Yet there are no proper headhunters for football coaches, so who do the chairmen and boards making the decision turn to? Agents will tend to advocate their own clients or those who'll give them business. The media also have their favourites.
Personally – perhaps not surprisingly – I'd say this is one of many areas where it helps to have a director of football or sporting director of some ilk who can provide candidate recommendations based on extensive research, knowledge and expertise. This should be someone who understands the ethos and objectives of the club and who will put forward names who match these, which hopefully gives some stability and continuity to the club at a vulnerable time and lessens the need for wholesale change in the playing staff. It should be cost effective as well as effective on the pitch with decisions which fans should understand and feel able to support.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian football scout and executive, formerly the chief executive and sporting director at Monaco. He has previously worked as a scout for Grasshopper, Watford, Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover and Zenit St Petersburg and as sporting director for Fredrikstad FK