When Wilder left Sheffield United the perceived wisdom was that once the self-proclaimed “hands-on manager” knew the Blades wanted a director of football, he wanted out.
“I know there’s a lot of talk about me wanting to run everything. That’s nonsense,” he said in his first press conference as Middlesbrough manager, where he will work with/under director of football Kieran Scott.
Manager/coach, with/under, director of football/sporting director – it is a semantics minefield but whatever the exact title, directors of football are now a big part of the English game.
Some are prominent, some, thanks partly to the fudging of words, well hidden but a good or bad one can have a big effect. Much has been made this week of Michael Edwards’s importance to Liverpool, where he will step down as sporting director at the end of the season. Very little was made of it over his 10 years at Anfield, which is a good sign.
Even managers in charge of recruitment have to ask the board for the money, which is why Wilder was openly unhappy some of his “recommendations” last season – current Blades defender Ben Davies amongst them – were knocked back.
Middlesbrough’s Steve Gibson has a well-earned reputation as England’s best chairman but Neil Warnock’s parting words were a warning to Wilder: “I haven’t had much support from the club, with the exception of Steve.”
Owner, chief executive, director of football and coach have to be of the same mind.
Even without a director of football, that was not the case towards the end of Wilder’s time at Bramall Lane. He does not expect those problems this time having been careful about picking his next job.
The owner must have a vision for his club that extends beyond avoiding relegation that season – he needs to know the ambitions he will judge his manager/coach on, where the balance between entertainment and results lies, how important developing home-grown players is, and how willing he is to spend on transfers and wages. The director of football needs to build structures and recruit to make that possible.
The most dispensable piece, the coach, has to fit in.
Replacing, say, Aitor Karanka with Jonathan Woodgate then Warnock makes no sense because fluctuating styles require very different players, resulting in higgledy-piggledy squads. Wilder seems a more natural evolution from Warnock.
Chopping and changing between hands-on managers and coaches, as at Bradford City, makes no sense either.
Huddersfield Town are having a better-than-expected Championship season, Barnsley the opposite.
When Terriers coach Carlos Corberan knew he had to massively improve defensively but owner Phil Hodgkinson could not free up much cash, “head of football operations” Leigh Bromby signed low-cost defenders (and an excellent free transfer goalkeeper in Lee Nicholls) who could do the job.
When Markus Schopp asked for an experienced Championship midfielder to replace Alex Mowatt at Barnsley, he was given 21-year-olds Josh Benson and Claudio Gomes. Combined Championship appearances: None.
Joined-up thinking, more than job titles, will decide if Wilder, with his incredible track record, can kick Boro out of mediocrity.
Who has the final say on what is not such a drama if everyone thinks along similar lines.