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No room for the old school in modern transfer process

There are always misjudgments.

Chelsea have resigned Nemanja Matic for £20.75m. Picture: PA

Somebody at Chelsea decided three years ago that Nemanja Matic's worth to the club was as a makeweight in the purchase of David Luiz. Chelsea paid £21.3m, as well as sending Matic to Benfica, for the Brazilian defender, only to re-sign Matic yesterday for £20.75m.

Manchester United have been linked with trying to bring Paul Pogba back from Juventus, only to be quoted £40m. These are high-profile examples, but not all football clubs try as they might to limit the mistakes that can be made in the vagaries of the transfer market.

Carlo Ancelotti was the Chelsea manager at the time that Matic - who had been on loan at Vitesse Arhnem - was sent to Benfica as part of the Luiz deal. Months later, Michael Emenalo was promoted to the role of director of football, a position which he retains, although the power structure at Stamford Bridge is labyrinthine rather than vertical. None the less, a coherent, well-structured transfer policy with clearly defined parameters and measurable outcomes, is not the norm at every British team.

United may rue the way that Pogba became disgruntled by Sir Alex Ferguson's reluctance to play him in the first team, but the events of last summer were more indicative of the club's policy. When Ferguson decided to retire, and with chief executive David Gill stepping aside, the decision was made to pursue no transfer targets until David Moyes and Ed Woodward - the replacement for Gill - were in place. As a result, United toiled in the market and only managed to sign Marouane Fellaini, leaving the team to struggle so far.

The leading clubs try to maximise every area of the business, with executives charged with overseeing sponsorship, commercial revenue, marketing, ticketing, media, and yet often one of the core aspects of the football business - the transfer strategy - is left to relationships between the manager and agents, or is turned over with every new managerial appointment. Latterly, at least compared to the rest of Europe, British clubs are beginning to realise the worth of ensuring that the football department is treated with the same long-term strategy and policy-making.

Ferguson was, in a sense, one of the last of the autocratic managers. He ruled every aspect of United's football set-up, but the game today is different from the one that he first inhabited. Young managers are all schooled in coaching techniques and so spend their time on the training ground, while there are also media and community duties. It takes a whole department to oversee the scouting, and the process needs to be managed, not least because it is easily disrupted.

Managers always seek to bring their own staff, and appointments often prompt a turnover in players. The more savvy clubs have come to understand that this cycle, which is often every one to three years, is a waste of their resources. The likes of Reading and West Bromwich Albion have long employed technical or sporting directors, who oversee the recruitment strategy while head coaches are in charge of the first team. It is a relationship of equals, since there is little point in players being signed that the manager does not rate, but it allows an overall policy to be maintained, such as signing young, emerging talents, or players with a resale value, or players who fit certain technical or physical criteria. As a result, when managers fail or move on, the club does not experience a wholesale disruption. It also makes it more likely that clubs employ a manager who fits with their philosophy, and so can work with the current resources, rather than chopping and changing styles and personnel.

The benefits were evident last summer. While United toiled, two clubs with technical directors conducted their business swiftly and effectively. Manchester City, with Txiki Begiristain, and Tottenham Hotspur, with Franco Baldini, enjoyed the most fruitful summer transfer window, although a change in manager at White Hart Lane has meant that not all of the players have contributed as expected.

At West Ham United, around £15m was spent on Andy Carroll, the former Liverpool striker, leaving little budget for Sam Allardyce to spend elsewhere in the team. Carroll was soon injured, and West Ham have suffered this season due to their lack of centre-backs and other options up front.

With transfer windows limiting when deals can be made, scouting networks of increasing complexity, and new players from abroad needing help in adapting to life in a new country, it makes sense for clubs to employ a technical director to oversee the process. It is only further emphasised by the fact that multi-million pound transfers are asset purchases, and in any other aspect of the business those decisions would be pored over - the merits of the deal quantified, a risk assessment carried out - so why not with football players?

Some in the game still cling to the notion that identifying talent is an art rather than a science. Scouting knowledge is still pivotal, but leaving the process to chance, or hunches, and not employing an overarching strategy, seems self-defeating. Some leading English clubs, though, have not adapted.

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