An anecdote from former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Rohan Ricketts has offered a fascinating insight into the problems that can exist between a manger (or head coach) and a director of football.
Back in the early Noughties, Spurs were managed by club legend Glenn Hoddle, while David Pleat was the upstairs as the DOF.
Speaking to the Magic Sponge podcast, Ricketts paints a picture of how politics may have affected his short career at White Hart Lane.
When asked by podcast co-host Rob Beckett whether he got on with former Spurs director Pleat, Ricketts sighed.
“Ahhh. In professional football you need people that are gonna love you, because they are going to help you progress in your career,” Ricketts explained.
“Sometimes coaches don’t like you. It could be because of your style, maybe your attitude, but Pleaty just never liked me.
“He rated me as a footballer, because I heard him speaking to other people about me, but I don’t know.
“Some people said it was because he bought Jonathan Blondel, I think for €1m, then I came for free from Arsenal and we played in similar positions.
“Obviously they had to justify why they paid €1m for Blondel, who was a Belgian international, so he got his debut before me, but Glenn thought I was a better prospect. Glenn kept telling me that.”
As it turned out Blondel only played for Spurs four times, while Ricketts made 36 appearances before leaving in 2005.
And indeed most of Ricketts’ Tottenham outings came after Hoddle was sacked and replaced by Pleat as caretaker.
However, Ricketts’ tale does raise the question why so many clubs don’t give ultimate signing power to the manager.
Ricketts adds, in a Gollum-esque voice when quoting Pleat: “I’d have a meeting at 1pm with David Pleat and he’d say ‘I saw your game yesterday against Watford… hmm.
‘You decorated the pitch very well, but you didn’t make many tackles. Physically, you need to be playing in a team that can keep more possession. I don’t know if we keep enough possession. I’m going to make some calls to Belgium, because technically you’re fantastic, but the English game is very dynamic.
‘You’re not at Arsenal anymore. Hmm. Leave it with me.'”
Talking normally again, Ricketts continues: “Thirty minutes later, Glenn calls me and says ‘How are you doing, Rohan? We would like to talk to you about renewing your contract if you can keep up what you’ve been doing.
‘I’m going to have you in the first team even more now and try to get you on the bench. But bear with me because we need to win some games. Don’t listen to what David Pleat is saying to you. I don’t know why he doesn’t like you.’
“That was in the space of 30 minutes and it happened six or seven times.
“It’s f***ed up, isn’t it? A young boy from the f***ing ghetto, from Brixton, and you’re coming in trying to achieve something in life and you’ve got one guy telling you that.”
Many English teams still operate with a director of football, although it is a vague title, the responsibilities of which can differ from club to club.
It’s not only DOFs that undermine managers, of course – chairmen and owners have been known to interfere too – but surely there should be just one person at a football club who picks the team and makes decisions on first-team players?
In the end, Pleat’s supposed campaign to justify the money spent on Blondel failed as the lightweight Belgian eventually left Spurs on a free transfer.
Ricketts suffered the same fate and was last seen playing for non-League Leatherhead, under the management of Magic Sponge co-presenter Jimmy Bullard, who had to let him go for financial reasons.
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