As the transfer season has progressed, we Borussia Dortmund fans have begun to witness a worrying pattern emerge. With every rumor linking Borussia Dortmund to a new player, the same name has appeared over and over again: Edin Terzic. Terzic believes that Felix Nmecha will be a vital part of Dortmund’s midfield. Terzic, along with Hans-Joachim Watzke, vetoed the Edson Alvarez transfer. A year ago, Terzic championed the disastrous Anthony Modeste transfer.
This trend concerns me. Not only do I disagree with all three specific transfer decisions, but the general practice of a club’s manager being able to single-handedly push through or veto a transfer can be quite detrimental to a club’s long-term health, both financially and in a sporting sense.
On the face of it, it seems rational that a manager should have discretion about the players they sign. They know their tactics and their system best, they have the best idea of how they will use a given player when they build out their starting XIs, and they are likely to understand the gaps in their current squad and therefore what needs to be filled. These are benefits to be sure, and as such managers should always provide insight to the sporting director when transfers are being made, but when they get too much control to the point that they have unilateral power over transfers, things get much more difficult.
Here are a few reasons why managers should not have primary input on their club’s transfer decisions. Obviously, not every single one of these will apply in every case, and I’m sure there are exceptional cases where these don’t apply, but by and large they tend to be true.
#1: Managers Don’t Care About Finances
The manager has one job, and that is to organize the players at his disposal into a cohesive unit that maximizes the return on each player’s individual abilities. It is not the manager’s job to care about the club’s long-term financial health, transfer budget, wage structure, or any other such considerations. While he may not care about these factors, in reality they are vital when making transfer decisions.
Borussia Dortmund already operate at a financially competitive disadvantage relative to Bayern Munich, let alone many of the other massive European clubs, so every single euro must be spent wisely. Spending €30 million on a player with a transfer value of half that sum means the club has effectively lost €15 million that it could have spent on other transfers, higher wages, investments in club infrastructure, or any of the other resources a club needs to be successful. While Edin Terzic has the player he wants, the club now has to bear the consequences of shelling out such vast sums on a player that may not be worth it.
#2: Managers Are Not Scouts
There’s a reason that clubs pay hundreds of thousands, even millions, to fill out their scouting and analytics departments. It’s because there are a lot of players out there, and finding the right one for your squad can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. With the vast quantities of data and video footage available for each player, it takes a colossal effort involving multiple full time employees to identify the right targets for a club, especially one as large as Borussia Dortmund.
Managers, on the other hand, don’t have the time to sift through all the information available to make the best transfer decision possible. They would be most familiar with players that they have either coached or have faced previously. This makes it quite unlikely that they will identify assets that the market undervalues. If anything, they will become unreasonably dead set on specific players, and be willing to spend an unnecessary sum to acquire them.
#3: Managers Get Fired
Let’s say, hypothetically that the manager has identified the absolutely perfect player to fit his system. He’s affordable. He’s in his prime. He joins the squad, instantly clicks with the manager and his teammates, and fits the system like a glove. But then, the team gets off to a poor start to the season, are in the relegation zone by early November, and the manager gets the sack. A completely different coach is brought in, with a completely different system.
We all love Edin Terzic as a person, but his job is just as precarious as that of any manager. The front office expects results from him, and if November and December roll around and BVB have fallen out of the title race and look at risk of falling out of the Champions League too, questions will be asked. If Terzic is cut loose, all the players he wanted will still be around, and there’s no guarantee that the next coach will be so fond of them.
While it’s unpleasant to think about, a sporting director absolutely has to see this as a possibility and have a contingency for it. This means buying well-rounded players that will fit under any manager.
#4: Managers Don’t Plan Long-Term
Managers, more than anyone else at a club, including the players, are the ones most concerned with a club’s immediate week-to-week results. This is the benchmark upon which they are hired, and fired. Because of this, managers tend to focus on the here and now when it comes to the transfer market. They identify the most pressing holes in the squad and try to identify targets that will address them immediately.
A sporting director, on the other hand, can afford to look at the “bigger picture” and plan transfers accordingly. They may have an up-and-coming striker kicking butt in the U-23s that isn’t quite ready yet, and therefore may be unwilling to spend €40 million on a transfer fee and a five-year contract for a 28-year-old striker that is over his age hump and will only keep the young prospect on the bench. These are the types of considerations that a manager usually doesn’t consider but are absolutely vital to the health of a club.
Who Makes the Decision, then?
The final say regarding a football transfer should always rest with the sporting director, and while the CEO will usually need to approve any major expenditures, in a proper organization, they should have trust in their director to make the right decisions.
This is because the sporting director is the only official with access to the totality of information from their scouting, analytics, player development, and finance departments necessary to make the decisions that will benefit the overall health of the club. They are able to make the right decisions based on how they fit into the short term (<1 season) medium term (2-3 seasons) and even long term (5+ seasons).
The sporting director should definitely communicate with the manager while making decisions, especially if he is weighing a difficult decision and needs another perspective, but in a well-functioning organization, the buck stops with him.