The 7 best sporting directors in world football right now

Ralf Rangnick

Strategic planning often goes out of the window in the January market, when an intermediary between the board and manager can be invaluable. Blair Newman picks out the best in the business

1. Ralf Rangnick (RB Leipzig)

Rangnick has made excellent coaching appointments, such as Roger Schmidt at Salzburg and Ralph Hasenhuttl at Leipzig

Rangnick appears to get better the further he moves up the footballing hierarchy. He was a journeyman player, regularly moving around Germany’s lower leagues, but achieved greater renown as a manager, winning promotions at various levels and taking Schalke to second place in the Bundesliga and Champions League semi-finals over two separate spells.

In 2012 he left coaching for the sporting director role with Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig where, fuelled by the concepts he had worked on as a coach, he was able to institute a wider strategy built on his tactical expertise. These ideals included exciting, offensive football, high pressing and quick transitions.

Rangnick has made excellent coaching appointments, such as Roger Schmidt at Salzburg and more recently Ralph Hasenhuttl at Leipzig, and has prioritised signing players of a specific age profile to suit his clubs’ long-term aims. “We [are] only interested in players aged between 17 and 23,” he told The Blizzard in 2015. There are certainly some noteworthy names among his list of signings, including Sadio Mane, Joshua Kimmich and Naby Keita.

2. Marcel Brands (PSV)

After hiring the respected Art Lengeler as head of youth development and tweaking the club's transfer policy, PSV found success

There doesn’t appear to be anything scientific about Marcel Brands’ philosophy, but he 's enjoyed success wherever he's been. As RKC Waalwijk’s director of football he brought in Martin Jol and the club rose to mid-table in the Eredivisie, while at AZ he signed quality youngsters in Sergio Romero, Ragnar Klavan and Mousa Dembele to guide them to the title in 2009.

Brands’ time with PSV has been up and down. Arriving in 2010, his first few years were deeply underwhelming, with a lack of clarity over his strategy. Initially set on buying up domestic stars, the club were nonetheless unable to overthrow Ajax.

Marcel Brands

Brands shakes hands with Siem de Jong at the striker's unveiling last summer

But after hiring the respected Art Lengeler as head of youth development and tweaking the club's transfer policy, Brands armed manager Phillip Cocu with a hungry squad capable of winning PSV’s first Dutch title in seven years in 2015. He followed that up by wisely reinvesting the proceeds from Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay’s sales to enable the Eindhoven-based outfit to retain the championship.

3. Giuseppe Marotta (Juventus)

Andrea Pirlo, Sami Khedira and Paul Pogba were highly profitable free transfers, while Carlos Tevez, Patrice Evra, Andrea Barzagli and Arturo Vidal all joined on the cheap

The role of sporting director is absolutely fundamental within Italian football, and there's a strong argument to be made that Giuseppe Marotta is the best of an astute bunch. After positive spells with Atalanta and Sampdoria, he was hired in 2010 by a Juventus still feeling the aftershocks from Calciopoli. The results since have been exceptional.

The Bianconeri won five successive scudetti between 2011 and 2016, and are on course for a record-breaking sixth in a row this term. Much of this has to do with Marotta’s negotiation skills and bold appointments: it was his call to bring in Antonio Conte in 2011 – something that was seen as risky at the time due to the manager’s lack of top-level coaching experience – and replace him with Max Allegri three years later. 

Giuseppe Marotta

Moratta (right) was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2014

Marotta’s transfer policy has been punctuated by signing up quality, undervalued players. Andrea Pirlo, Sami Khedira and Paul Pogba were highly profitable free transfers, while Carlos Tevez, Patrice Evra, Andrea Barzagli and Arturo Vidal all joined for a remarkably low combined cost of under €22 million. These deals not only enabled Juventus to dominate domestically, but also to compete with the continental elite without being financially reckless.

4. Monchi (Sevilla)

A vast array of talent has been developed and broken into the first team before leaving for substantial fees, including Sergio Ramos, Alberto Moreno, Jesus Navas and Jose Antonio Reyes

Sevilla’s greatest period of achievement could easily be titled ‘the Monchi era’, such is the impact that the 48-year-old has made since taking on the role of director of football in 2000. Appointed at a time of great financial uncertainty following the club’s relegation, his judgement helped guide the Rojiblancos to five Europa Leagues, one European Super Cup and a Spanish Cup.

Having graduated from Sevilla’s youth system as a player, the academy has been core to Monchi’s plan. Under his auspices, a vast array of talent has been developed and broken into the first team before leaving for substantial fees, including Sergio Ramos, Alberto Moreno, Jesus Navas and Jose Antonio Reyes. 

Monchi

Monchi (right) has dismissed reports linking him with a switch to Roma

He's also expanded the club’s scouting network, with Sevilla's transfer policy not only adding value through the resuscitation of careers – as was the case with Ever Banega, Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanoute – but also bringing huge profits through the buying and selling of stars like Dani Alves, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Ivan Rakitic, Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro. Simply put, there's no production line quite like the one Monchi's built with Sevilla over the last 16 years.