Sporting director: An alternative way into the football world

The training grounds may be quiet while the players and coaches laze on the beaches for a few more weeks at least.

However, there is one group of club employees still hard at work through the summer months: the sporting directors.

It is a role that has taken on a more wide-ranging significance in the modern Italian game, so much so that there is even a university Masters degree tailored to becoming a Directtore Sportivo.

Some of the brightest young names who would normally have moved into finance and marketing are now turning to a role that also brings with it the high-profile kudos of representing a professional football club.

"Hands up who wants to be a sporting director"

Once in position, their responsibilities range from dealing with transfers, setting budgets and ensuring that the club’s image is satisfactorily represented.

While the coach gets on with the everyday job of looking after on-field matters, the DS is the link between the playing side and the board – and can step in to settle any disputes that may arise concerning a member of the playing staff.

It is this latter point that attracts clubs to employ former professionals such as Marco Branca at Inter, who Jose Mourinho must go to cap in hand if he wants to sign a player, AC Milan’s Ariedo Braida and Igli Tare at Lazio.

Having said that, where in the past it was something of an old-boy network, any aspiring DS today must pass a 90-hour course regardless of who they are, held at the Italian Federation technical centre at Coverciano, where it costs 2,500 Euro to enrol.

Anyone holding a degree specialising in sports management has a slight advantage as they immediately receive 10 points on the overall marking score, while those with a degree in general are handed five points.

In an uniquely Italian twist, staying through to the end of secondary school ensures three points at least - so there is hope for everyone.

There are 577 DSs currently in circulation, with the latest 44 graduating in February, including Tare and former Juventus goalkeeper Michelangelo Rampulla.

Stopper turned sporting director: Michelangelo Rampulla

The high-flyers whom you see suited and booted, talking into their mobiles or deep in conversation in hotel lobbies generally have a sound business footing behind them.

However, in the modern game there is a steep learning curve as Juventus DS Alessio Secco found out early on when dealing with Claudio Ranieri.

Secco had previously been the press officer at the club, and even though he had cut his teeth under Luciano Moggi, the 38-year-old was unknown quantity within the football world.

Faced with whether to pursue signing Xabi Alonso from Liverpool who seemed ready to welcome a move to Turin, Secco demurred to the more experienced Ranieri who demanded Christian Poulsen instead.

The rest is history.

A lesson learned and while Ranieri failed to last the course, Secco remains and is growing in influence as his astute move for Diego pays strong testament to.

It is continuity that clubs are looking for – and someone who gets things done. A DS is never going to have aspirations to replace the coach but he will have influence in many areas.

That’s what Gianni Agnelli wanted when he poached the daddy of them all, Italo Allodi, Inter’s 'Mr Fix it' back in the sixties.

Allodi: He'll fix it for you, and you, and you...

“If there is a player out we want then we want him,” the lawyer was reported to have commanded Allodi, who set Lucky Moggi on his path to infamy.

With an ever-changing economic environment, that remit has changed to guarantee that things get done in more a transparent manner, with the bottom line now more and more on the balance sheet.

So, with the stars dodging the limelight for a while, it’s those in the sharp suits and mobiles glued to their ear who are taking centre stage at the moment.

Maybe future generations who love the game but have two left feet will be paying more attention to their studies as a way into the world of football.

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