Damien Comolli was appointed Director of Football Strategy at Liverpool by new owners, FSG, the morning after a Tottenham side he helped to build defeated the European Champions, Inter Milan. Strong performances from Gareth Bale and Luka Modric helped Spurs comfortably beat the Italians, and it was Comolli who enticed Harry Redknapp’s two greatest assets to White Hart Lane.
The perception of the Frenchman’s influence at Spurs has been re-evaluated since he was released at the time of Juande Ramos’s acrimonious departure. It was generally considered that Comolli wasted large sums of money on players who were clearly not of the required standard – Gilberto, Ricardo Rocha, Hossam Ghaly etc. – but many of his signings whose qualities were not initially obvious have flourished since his departure, such as Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Kevin Prince-Boateng, now at AC Milan. What’s more, five of the starting XI who were selected for the Inter tie were signed under Comolli, and a sixth, Heurelho Gomes, would have started but for suspension.
So the original assessment of Comolli may have been inaccurate, but what can the former Saint-Etienne Sporting Director offer Liverpool? Given that the Anfield outfit have recently spent close to £60million on first-team recruits and Academy Director, Frank McParland, has revealed Liverpool’s youth system is currently bristling with promising talent, as many as seven recently called up for England Under-17s duty, what role will Comolli have in Liverpool’s development and is his presence necessary?
Contracts would be a good place to start. Liverpool have an apparent annual wage bill in the region of £120million, and a number of their older players enjoy generously extensive deals, but Comolli’s approach at Spurs dictated a policy of development and value as well as exploring untouched foreign markets. This method saw Tottenham reap a healthy profit from the sale of Dimitar Berbatov and Liverpool’s recent transfer oversight, highlighted by Xabi Alonso’s exit and Alberto Aquilani’s £17million arrival, certainly requires reassessment.
Liverpool’s Academy is evidently moving in the right direction, and Peter Beardsley, Newcastle’s Reserves head coach, recently lavished praise on his former club’s youth set-up. McParland announced that, “Beardsley came over to me and said that both our U18s and U16s had some fantastic players. That was really nice to hear, particularly from a man who reached the top of his profession with Liverpool and England.” Whilst this is assuring news for Reds fans, Comolli will be able to implement a strategic approach focused on elevating Academy players in to the senior side and a long-term vision committed to scouting across every continent. It should be mentioned that under Comolli’s stewardship, Spurs were able to attract Danny Rose to White Hart Lane, whilst he was being courted by Chelsea, and lured John Bostock from Crystal Palace after Barcelona had declared an interest.
His ability to identify and lure exciting talent is undoubted, and the current Liverpool side is in desperate need of freshening up, but Comolli’s impact at Spurs wasn’t solely limited to the development of the playing staff. The former Arsenal scout actually assisted in the design of Tottenham’s new 67-acre, eleven pitch training ground in Bulls Cross which, when completed next year, will be amongst the greatest training facilities of any club in Europe. Liverpool’s Melwood Centre underwent redevelopment in 2001 under the auspices of Gerard Houllier, but remains behind Manchester United’s, Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s set-ups. The training centre will require updating and this is perhaps already a consideration Comolli is contemplating.
On his appointment, Liverpool’s new owner, John Henry, stated: “Today’s announcement is just the first step in creating a leadership group and structure designed to develop, enhance and implement our long-term philosophy of scouting, recruitment, player development and all of the other aspects necessary to build and sustain a club able to consistently compete at the highest level in European football.” Although Comolli’s employment initially appeared questionable, it is clear that Liverpool’s new owners are dedicated to the lasting improvement of the playing staff and academy structure, and have discovered in Comolli a strategist who has proved proficient at advancing all areas of a football club.