A big name signing in League One this week as Tim Sherwood, former Spurs player and manager and, more recently, Aston Villa manager for their FA Cup run two years ago, joins Swindon. Not as a manager mind you – but as Director of Football (DoF).
Historically the role has been far more popular in the cosmopolitan European leagues than in England. It’s still very much stigmatised here. Harry Redknapp labelled the use of DoFs a ‘disgrace’ a couple of years back, before briefly doing the job at Derby County and now, bizarrely, at Wimborne Town in the eighth tier of English football.
The reason they’re popular in Europe is that a DoF takes care of a lot of the off-field matters that relate directly to the team, such as negotiating transfers, wages, budgets and so on, often right through the youth teams as well. They typically have a say in the appointment of a manager as well, and assist the manager directly on all these matters.
In principle it makes sense: let the manager coach the team, build a squad and focus on getting his side to play how they want. The more time spent on that the better, frankly. You’d think it can only be beneficial to give managers more time to train with a focus on their players.
But we don’t like it here, and that’s what makes it a really brave, brave call by Swindon Town. Results aren’t really going their way and the easy option would be for them to sack Luke Williams, like many clubs probably would. Credit to them for saying to him, “We believe in your managerial abilities, so here’s a little help with the off-field rubbish”.
It’s clever work, I think. Williams didn’t have an illustrious playing career so he won’t have built any real experience of off-field matters at this level. Having played plenty though, what he will have developed is a strong tactical knowledge of the game, while his coaching qualifications will have crafted his talents in that area. His strengths lie more in managing a squad than budgets, transfers and wage bills.
Sherwood, on the other hand, captained Spurs, played for England, managed in the Premier League and learned from a massive wealth of people around him, such as Kenny Dalglish, Roy Hodgson, David Pleat, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan who all managed him at some point. He’s naturally bound to be more of a dab hand at the sort of things he’ll be responsible for in his new position, due to his exposure to it. I’d love to see Williams turn the results around now he’s got more time to spend with the team.
I didn’t expect things to change immediately, but this weekend The Robins cruised to a 3-0 win at home to the difficult Charlton. An impressive, and surprising, start to this new structure at the club. The change also comes at a crucial time with the busy Christmas period and January transfer window coming up. Keep an eye on Swindon in the next three of four months – they might just turn this around at the turn of the year and prove all us closed-minded sticklers wrong about DoFs.