Would I sign for a club that uses somebody other than the first team manager to recruit new players?
I already have, and it was an unmitigated disaster.
Let’s drift back to 1996/97. Just six months on from playing Premier League football for Arsenal, I was back in the reserves when Rotherham United’s chief scout/technical director made an approach to sign me on loan. Staring at the prospect of a soulless few months playing inside empty stadiums, I jumped at the chance of regular League One football.
On arrival in south Yorkshire I took a phone call from Danny Bergara, the now late manager of the Millers.
“Adrian, what position do you play?” was his opening gambit. I kid you not.
“Erm, I’m a winger Mr Bergara, left or right,” I replied in confused fashion.
“Really? I didn’t know that (disappointed pause) Ah. Right. Can you play centre midfield for me tomorrow night against Stockport, son?”
“Erm, never done it before but I guess so.”
“Thanks. See you at the game.”
I played. We lost 1-0. The next weekend I came on as a second half sub in a 0-0 draw at Notts County - and then, after sitting through a home defeat to Plymouth Argyle as an unused sub a few days later, I decided it was best for all concerned if I caught the next available train to London.
Playing for a manager that didn’t recruit me was a strange, mystifying (and ultimately very short) experience that I wouldn’t recommend.
He didn’t want me. He didn’t need me. He didn’t know me. So, the Rotherham manager opted to make that crystal clear by playing me out of position, and then dropping me before I’d had the chance to do anything right, or wrong.
When a relationship between a manager and his recruiter breaks down, it will always be the player that suffers.
I bring up the subject because Sunderland boss Gus Poyet has had some strong words to say on this particular formula.
At pains to point out that he is only ‘head coach,’ the unhappy Uruguyan has launched a stinging attack on the ‘quality’ of player he’s been left to work with at the Stadium of Light.
Distancing himself from the job of signing new boys, Poyet has laid down the gauntlet to Head of Recruitment Lee Congleton in no uncertain terms ahead of the January window.
“You know what is missing (from the team) — it is clear what we need to do,” he said. “That is down to recruitment. I am a head coach. I am not going to be a head coach when it suits people and a manager when it doesn’t. That side of it is down to recruitment.So, if you ever get the chance to speak to anyone on the recruitment side and ask them about it (signing players), you are lucky. If you don’t, don’t ask me.
“If we don’t get more quality there is going to be more games like that (Saturday’s 1-1 draw with West Ham). It will be 38 games and 38 points. If we lose two or three everyone will start panicking and having heart attacks.
“I want more quality. Do I think I’ll get it? I don’t know.”
Call me old fashioned but shouldn’t a manager always have the right to choose his own players?
While it’s not unwise to employ an expert to oversee recruitment, the final decisions should always come from the ‘head coach’. When they don’t enjoy that power, it’s a recipe for total disaster.
With his head on the chopping block, a gaffer will only ever select the players he wants and trusts on a Saturday afternoon - so when somebody is thrust upon them (like I was at Rotherham) it’s a lose-lose situation all round. The likes of Sebastian Coates, Ricky Alvarez, Christian Gamboa and Brown Ideye have all experienced this themselves at Sunderland and West Brom this term.
It’s plainly unfair on a manager to be handed players he doesn’t want, and it’s also unreasonable on players to be asked to fit in where they’re not wanted.
Put it this way - any footballer that’s approached by Sunderland next month would be wise to consider alternative options.
Read more from ex-Arsenal winger (not central midfielder!) Adrian Clarke