THERE are various aspects of European life that tend to make Brits uncomfortable. The absence of an orderly queuing system and sitting down to dinner when it’s past our bedtime to name but two.

There is also something about the role of sporting director at a football club that leaves many of us befuddled and a little light-headed.

Common practice throughout the continent, we don’t seem to be able to get our heads around the notion that having someone working as a conduit between the dug-out and the directors box might actually not be the worst idea.

It seems very British to get hung up on specific titles, too. There are obviously different tasks attached to each one but, whether it is a director of football, technical director, general manager or sporting director, the general thrust of each role is largely the same: to assist with the running of the club without being directly involved with coaching players or picking the team on a matchday.


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In the Bundesliga, every club has a trainer and a manager. Der Trainer is the head coach who deals solely with on-field day-to-day matters, while Der Manager is the de facto sporting director in charge of player recruitment, contract negotiations, and other strategic issues. That position is about shaping the bigger picture as much as anything.

In Germany, most of the sporting directors are former players. At Borussia Dortmund the role has been filled for the past 20 years by Michael Zorc, a Champions League winner who now operates as the middle man between the ceo and head coach.

“I’m also responsible for the philosophy at the club from the youth academy to the first team,” Zorc explained recently about the extent of his vast remit.

If it is a role deemed vital in one of the most forward-thinking and successful leagues in world football, then it seems somewhat parochial that Scottish football continues to eye it with the sort of suspicion normally reserved for European cups of tea.

The topic returned to the local agenda this week following Craig Levein’s removal at Hearts and owner Ann Budge’s announcement that she plans on rejigging the roles at Tynecastle once again.

There is little doubt that the situation at Hearts had become untenable and also slightly farcical with Levein playing both head coach and director of football. Budge should never have facilitated that beyond a stop-gap temporary measure and it seemed always doomed to failure.

But that does not mean the system was a failure in itself. When it was first introduced – with Levein as director of football and Robbie Neilson as head coach – it worked well. There were clearly defined posts and each man knew what they had to do.


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That it did not work out for Neilson’s successor, Ian Cathro, and then with Levein in a dual role does not mean the structure in itself was at fault. In the first instance it was just a personnel problem – Cathro wasn’t up to the job of being head coach – while latterly the problem was one man trying to do two jobs.

Levein’s position as director of football involved player recruitment and retention, working with the academy, and just generally being hands on with every aspect of the club outside of the day-to-day preparation of the first-team.

And who better than a former Hearts captain and head coach to establish the bigger picture at Tynecastle? If only they hadn’t deviated from the plan.

Budge now wants a sporting director rather than a director of football without specifying in

any great detail what the difference will be. The inference seemed to be the successful candidate will fulfil an even wider role, taking an interest in other matters beyond football. That may involve the club’s medical department or its relationship with Oriam. Given Hearts’ stature, there will be an obvious overlap with what Levein was doing as director of football. This is a medium-sized Scottish football club, not Apple or Facebook. Organisations like Hearts can’t afford to appoint numerous individuals with strict remits and roles.

Job specifications will always be fluid. It is why it is pointless to get too hung up on the wording of titles. The role of sporting director at Hearts will be all-encompassing.

Other clubs should follow suit. But the culture of Scottish football will need to evolve so there is an understanding that the person in the role above the head coach – whatever it’s called – isn’t after his job or trying to pick the team. It is about setting parameters that everyone can understand and developing a bond of trust.

Hearts made a mess of it latterly with Levein but now have a clean slate and a chance to atone.

The sporting director and head coach model could be a success at most Scottish clubs. Hearts now have the chance to show the rest how it should be done.