Rafael Benitez

How a football club is structured

Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez

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I have always maintained that those of us who work in football are privileged. And that's because we get paid for a job we love and are passionate about. And in my case, I have been lucky enough to have worked in different countries, to have observed different cultures and ways of working, to have benefited from those experiences and this gives me, I believe, some idea of being able to analyse things from a different perspective, from the outside.

When certain people talk about signings, and how to go about them, the market value of players, the reasons why you buy or sell a player, you can see that some of them don't really know the true situation which can be very confusing for the fans. So in this article I will try to explain my point of view based on my experience.

Obviously I will try to focus on my area of responsibility in the club. That is the football, the playing direction given by the manager or the coach as the case may be.

Club Structure

What you first need to establish when you go to a new club are the aims of the club and the resources available to achieve them. So it is essential to analyse in depth the club organisation, its management structure and their different functions especially if you are in a foreign country.

The rules, the fixture list, the squad, the staff at the club and their roles, the situation regarding players contracts, the environment, the culture, the club tradition… knowledge of all these are essential to being able to take the right decisions. At least for those who are depending on you.

In Spain or Italy there is usually a 'Director of Football' or 'Chief Scout' who in theory is responsible for signing the Coach and putting the squad together. In the majority of cases, though not all, they usually consult the man in charge at the time, but in many other cases the President or owner, who is in charge of everything, has the last say.

In England though, it is the Manager who, also in theory, is responsible for the football, and therefore has the authority to decide how to put the squad together.

In practice, both types of structure depend on one premise: the money available for transfers and salaries. The 'Manager' on the one hand, or the Coach on the other, will have to consider the inescapable fact that they can sign only the three or four players on their list. That's how it is. At least in the case of the 'Manager' he can choose the ones he wants.

Make-up of the Squad

As the man in charge of the technical side, you have to decide on the model of play, how you want the team to express itself on the pitch, or at least how you would like them to play. It is important to get to know your players, to talk to them so they can give you information on the composition of the squad and then you have to try to complement it with players who can enhance it and put in to practice what you want to do on the pitch. If you can't do this, you will have to adapt and trust that they will give you support when you need it.

Then you have the rules governing contracts in each country, and they are also different for teams competing in international competitions. There are leagues where it is compulsory to play at least five players from that country, others where there is a limit on foreign signings, and others where there is an 'A' and 'B' list of players… In the end, each country, each league, has its own peculiarities and you have to know them thoroughly and above all digest them quickly before you put the squad together and / or tweak it.

This is where the plan, the football project, comes in to play, and with owners from the world of business coming in to football, you can only call it a 'Business Plan'. Again I will refer to my own experience. When I went to Italy there was no 'Business Plan'. I was only told about it on the last day of the transfer window, when they suddenly and surprisingly said that we were going to follow the 'Financial Fair Play' initiative. I will leave it there. In Spain, the continuous dialogue with club officials keeps you up to date on the economic constraints so you know where you are. Although once, I found myself with a surprise signing of a striker by the President on the last day in August because, as he was on loan, he was cheap.

In England, specifically at Liverpool during my first three seasons, the Chairman and the Chief Executive kept me informed of the restrictions and options that we had. Later on though, the club structure changed, and over time, 'Business Plans' became more and more important than any football project when it came to making decisions.

Something that should not be forgotten is the analysis of the Academy. Incorporating local players always gives more affinity with the club and sensibly reduces costs. In Italy and Spain the organisation depends on the 'sporting director' and the Coach has little input in to it. Nevertheless, in England it can be the case, as happened at Liverpool in my last year, that the Manager has control over the youth system and can follow a style of play in all age groups and with more continuity. Barcelona's model is popular right now. There is no better or more evident example.

If there are no players at youth level in the club who have the requisite ability, you have to resort to the transfer market.

The 'Sporting Director' or the Manager has to manage a transfer Budget, and on top of that, take players' wages in to account. A good scouting system is necessary and essential, although not infallible, and the money available in both cases will affect the market you can access. The income from selling and net spend are more important for the Manager than the Coach. The former tries to consider the future of the club and win at the same time. The latter, the way football is going, only tries to win and cost has less importance.

Rules and specific types of organisation

What also has to be considered are different International regulations. Usually the required list of available players is restricted to 25 for the first team and in some countries, like Spain, you can use youth players for up to five matches, after which the player has to be included in the first team squad.

In England, you can use the reserves, which we used to try to develop youngsters by gaining experience so they could move up to the first team. Then you have the U18s. Some of these players, especially if they are coming from abroad, must have professional contracts or you run the risk of losing them to other clubs. This was what people often talked about when I was at Liverpool, either through ignorance or 'bad faith', that we signed a lot of players when in actual fact many of them were for the younger age groups and some of them I did not know. In Spain, these signings who join the second team or the youth teams are not considered signings for the first team. And it is the same in Italy.

Champions League Rules and Regulations

Another set of rules that, unfortunately, we always had to take in to account was the local players and home country players for Champions League list. This number has now reached four players brought through the club Academy and four players of the home country. If you have spent three years at the club before you reach 21, you are considered local.

Again there are differences. As Coach, if you can, you plan for your team and the sporting director plans for the squad. But as a Manager you have to plan for the future of the club. At Liverpool one of our priorities was to bring players from abroad and sign them three years before they reached 21, like Ayala, Pacheco or Insua. In that way, under the rules at the time, they would be considered local players, saving money in transfers and contracts, with the possibility of including them on the Champions League list. In Spain and Europe in general, as a Coach, you are only involved in future planning if you keep winning and you are allowed to stay a few years. Few manage to do it.

As always, these are opinions emanating from my experience and they look to provide football fans and people who follow our website with views from a different perspective, another point of view which maybe they have not been aware of. Finally, a thought that keeps occurring to me is that although you hear something repeatedly, it is not necessarily the truth.