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Aug 2013
09:54 Comments (65)
A Football Club's Structure - Rafa Benitez's view

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Rafa Benítez

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.


(The 2 diagrams are only examples as there are many different structures).

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 5 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 3 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 5 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 4 players brought through the club Academy and 4 players of the home country. If you have spent 3 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 3 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.

65 Comments Send us your opinions
15/01/12 at 07:18:48 #31
come back rafa..
we need u !
15/01/12 at 16:21:52 #32
Come home Rafa! LFC needs you,


Hello Frode, thank you for your support but it is time to stay behind the team. Thanks.
15/01/12 at 16:24:59 #33
Most matchgoing Reds want to see you back in charge Rafa. Liverpool is being tactically outwitted by inferior teams which never happened when you were in charge. We need to get rid of Comoli.


Hello, thank you for your support but it is time to stay behind the team. Thanks.
15/01/12 at 17:02:35 #34
I am a Liverpool fan because of you.

Please come back!! :(

We miss you!!


Hello David, thanks for your support but it is time to stay behind the team. Thank you.
16/01/12 at 12:36:46 #35
Thank you once again for another great read.
As a Liverpool fan, I must thank Rafa for the greatest night in my 30 years as a liverpool fan but also the worst night ever.

The worst has got to be night when your Valencia visited Anfield. Never have I seen my beloved team so utterly destroyed by an opponent in all aspects of the game. It was men vs boys in that match. More than any other game, that game hurt the most.

The best was when we destroyed Real Madrid 4-0 also in Anfield and 5-0 in aggregate. It was greater than Istanbul. It was the pinnacle of Rafalution in Liverpool. I thought that Liverpool was more complete and balanced than all teams I have seen, even Barca today, except for Arrigho's Milan.

Thank you Rafa.
16/01/12 at 13:25:52 #36
Yeah, come back Rafa - you gave us the best team the Premier League has seen and the 4-1 at Old Trafford really showed who the best team was that year.It was sheer bad luck that we finished behind United. None of the bad results were your fault - the referee's really didnt favour us. And even though you spent more than anyone during your time here, I can't remember a single poor buy.We all know you were forced to buy Robbie Keane.

Justice for Hillsboro and Heysel.
18/01/12 at 05:29:59 #37
To start with, thanks for taking the time to communicate so closely with us football fans. I don't know of any other top-flight coach/manager in the game who does it.

Secondly, I've been among those who slated you a lot for the lack of success. Having very carefully read through your admirable writings, I stand corrected. I guess the best place to admit that is to you. :)

Now on to the article. I live in the US and see the GM+Coach setting in place for almost every team. In my opinion, that's a better system to have due to these reasons:

1) One person is entirely responsible for scouting at all times (less burden on the coach/manager).
2) Should make business decisions like letting someone go easier. Players won't get benched or promoted based on emotions only.
3) This is the most important one, I think. Managers are so powerful that they can change too much too soon. Looking from the outside, that appeared as one of the reasons you struggled in Inter. The buffer of a GM could help.


Hello and thank you for at least to consider your initial thoughts. The media has to much influence but don't forget: although you hear something repeatedly, it is not necessarily the truth. Thanks.
18/01/12 at 19:48:05 #38
Thanks for the reply, Rafa. Stay well. Looking forward to more on tactics. Loads to discuss there. Keep the write-ups coming.
22/01/12 at 05:13:10 #39
Rafa you're a legend.

I'm fully behind Kenny but if the job ever comes up I hope you come home and take your seat back. John Henry's not silly. He will recognise the best candidate if you apply.
22/01/12 at 21:22:28 #40
Liverpool lost to Bolton ! I cant believe it.
You brought us the most unique memories along the year; istanbul, champions league against chelsea, barce, madrid and etc.
I cried when I saw your tears in Hillsborough short clip.
Nothing is impossible, I believe Rafa Benitez is the only coach who can guide Liverpool forever to its own pace. (like ferguson did to his united)

We all miss and love you, Rafa Benitez. :')
You Will Never Walk Alone.