What does Damien Comolli’s departure mean for Liverpool?

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April 18, 2012 by David Bolt

In their first few months of owning Liverpool, FSG made a number of major changes. Firstly, there was the appointment of Damien Comolli to the newly-created post of Director of Football. Then there was the decision to replace Roy Hodgson as manager with Kenny Dalglish. Since then, FSG have been pretty low-profile for the past year or so. That changed this past week, when they came over and made some changes as a consequence of what has been,. Despite one cup win and the possibility of another, a dismal season for Liverpool. The biggest change that was made was the dismissal of Damien Comolli. John Henry and Tom Werner then went back to Boston to attend the Red Sox’s home opener, but are due to return to Liverpool this week, leaving fans wondering if there are more changes to come., and if so, what those changes could be.

It seems as though Comolli has been made to carry the can for what has been a disastrous league campaign, with Liverpool nowhere near the owners stated aim of a top four finish. It was always going to be much easier for the owners to get rid of Comolli than Kenny Dalglish. There is no real emotional connection between Comolli and the fanbase, certainly nowhere near the connection Kenny Dalglish enjoys. There was also the fact that the majority of fans don’t really know what exactly Comolli’s job was.

Director of football has always been one of those jobs that nobody quite knows just what it entails. It’s like that person you meet at a party who tells you they work in ‘solutions’ or one of those other indefinable corporate jobs. To the best of my knowledge (and I may well be wrong here), the duties of a Director of Football are to look after all aspects of the playing staff other than coaching and tactics. When it comes to transfers, I always believed that Kenny Dalglish would have identified which players he wanted, and then it was Comolli’s job to try and agree a fee and get the transfer done.

Last summer, Liverpool spent big in a bid to regain a position in the Premier League’s top four and the Champions League qualification that comes with it. Huge fees were paid for players such as Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson as well as the British-record transfer fee paid for Andy Carroll. It’s fair to say that, despite the signings showing some recent signs of improvement, they have by no means provided value for money. Therein lies the problem for the owners.

It was always a slightly ludicrous notion to suggest that Kenny Dalglish had little to no input on transfers, as some fans seem to think. For starters, Dalglish said that all of the players signed, where done so at his behest. Also, for all of his faults, Dalglish has shown remarkable loyalty and faith in those much-maligned players, by playing them regularly even when their performances have not merited a starting place in the team. It is unlikely Dalglish, or any manager, would have shown such loyalty to those players had they been foisted upon him rather than being his choice, especially as such loyalty may yet cost him his job.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from FSG removing Comolli from his post? There are a few possibilities.

Firstly, it is possible that the owners believe that the problems Liverpool have had this season begin and end with Comolli, so will take no further action with regards to firing anyone else. I believe that this is unlikely, as it would be in my opinion, an incredibly short-sighted and naive view to take. Yes, it is clear that the transfers made have not remotely provided value for money, but it is also true that on many occasions this season the team has looked underprepared and unmotivated for games, team selection has been wrong, as has the use of substitutions. Too often this season the tactics have been completely wrong. None of these problems have anything to do with Damien Comolli.

Secondly, it is possible that Comolli’s departure may mean that Kenny Dalglish steps aside as manager in the summer and takes that role. I believe this is also unlikely because I truly believe that if Kenny Dalglish ever thought he was not the right man to manage Liverpool, he’d graciously bow out and let the right man take over. Dalglish’s still being manager suggests to me that he still believes he’s the right man for the job, which in turn means he won’t step aside anytime soon. Also, there is the problem that Dalglish’s presence as a Director of Football may be off-putting to potential managers as they wouldn’t want the spectre of such an iconic and popular figure looming large in the background. Just ask Roy Hodgson how that goes.

Thirdly, there is the possibility that Comolli’s dismissal is a warning shot to Dalglish, that he should shape up or ship out. There may be a bit of truth to this, but I do believe that Kenny Dalglish does still have the full support of the owners, but they It may just be that FSG are acknowledging that many fans are not happy with the way the season has gone and with the direction the club is going in, and have taken action.

There definitely seemed to be a response from the players at the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday. For the first time in months, whatever was said at half-time seemed to have any kind of effect, and it was a positive effect at that. After a pretty poor first-half showing, Liverpool came out and played with far more purpose and belief than they have displayed in months and played some excellent football in the second half, eventually coming away with a deserved 2-1 win.

There is also the possibility that Kenny Dalglish has said that he cannot work under a Director of Football, so that’s why Comolli was removed from his position. This seems really unlikely to me, as Dalglish has been a Director of Football a couple of times in his career, so will know better than most how to develop a good working relationship with one. That may actually have been part of the problem with Comolli. I always got the impression that their working relationship was so good and their faith in each others’ ability to do the job was so high, that they were incapable of being critical enough with each other and themselves, and the team suffered as a result. Both Dalglish and Comolli have been on record saying that the players have done a “fantastic job” and that the squad “is complete”, despite all evidence to the contrary, and FSG has recognised this and made a change.

It’s also within the realm of possibility that Comolli threw in the towel himself. I think we all know the truly horrible feeling of having giving something your absolute best efforts, done all you can think to do, but still fall short of expectations. It’s no secret that Comolli has used statistical analysis in order to try and find success, which goes some way to explaining why Downing, Henderson and Adam, all amongst the Premier League’s most creative players last season, were signed. It is possible that Comolli is at a loss to explain why those players have no delivered so far, and got sick of all of the flak that he and the club were taking for the transfer fees paid for those players and decided to call it a day. It’s definitely possible, but I don’t believe Comolli’s the kind of guy to pick up his ball and go home because of a bit of criticism and some frustrating results.

Comolli wasn’t the only departure that day. Liverpool announced that their Head of Sports Medicine and Sports Science, Peter Brukner, is to leave at the end of the season. With Peter Brukner, I got the impression that the reason for his departure was that he was brought in to set up a department, not to run it long-term, so now that what he was brought in to implement is up and running, his role has come to an end, rather than he was fired for any reason.

It is unclear just what the purpose of FSG’s visit to Liverpool this week will be. I don’t think that FSG will fire Dalglish, and I’m not totally convinced they should. They may well say to him that he should step down at the end of the season, and hope that an FA Cup win will provide the perfect swan song to his managerial career, but I don’t believe he’ll be summarily dismissed.

There is also the matter of appointing Comolli’s successor as Director of Football. FSG seem to really like that particular model of running a club and seem to want to persist with it. There have been a few names linked with the job already, and it would seem strange to me if FSG had acted without having a replacement in mind, so it will be interesting to see what happens this week.


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