Sporting Director Damien Comolli joins Association of Sporting Director members to discuss leadership and its importance for leading high performance environments

Sporting Director Damien Comolli joins Association of Sporting Director members to discuss leadership and its importance for leading high performance environments.

Damien, who was until recently Sporting Director of Fenerbahçe, has previously worked with the clubs Monaco, Saint-Étienne, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

The conversation with ASD CEO Dan Parnell covered the following topics:

  • Manager / head coach recruitment
  • Leadership across cultures
  • Implementing a high performance model
  • Lessons from his experience

Reflecting on his experience Damien highlighted some of the special moments of his career. Naturally, trophy success always stand out, yet Damien drew on his role in the team behind the team at Arsenal during the unbeaten season.

In-particularly he highlighted the importance of intensity during training, and that his entire time at Arsenal was a special part of his career.

“The players said it was more difficult to win a 11v11 in training game, than it was on the weekend”.

On manager recruitment, Damien outlined some of the key questions sporting directors should ask during an interview, covering all aspects of the managers role, that would shape his approach. Yet, before doing any interview, he made clear the importance of the club understanding their own values and philosophy before entering this process:

“In order to understand who the right person is, you need to understand yourself as an organisation. Your values, your history, your business-model, do you buy super-stars, or create super-stars, how do you define success in your team. You need to know your identity.

Damien stressed that so many managers are equal on many levels, including their coaching and fitness expertise. However, the key factor that differentiates managers is leadership. Damien covered a number practical areas that manager leadership may concern and how it can be better understood to gain a competitive edge:

  • Man-management
  • Operate under pressure
  • Lead a team
  • Make good decisions – for example: game-based decisions such as team selection and substitutions
  • Can prevent a crisis – for example: hardly any three defeats in a row

Leadership for Damien is based around integrity and honesty. This is key for a Sporting Director, as they pursue the development of a high performance model. To do this, Damien said good leaders must also do two things:

  1. Grow leaders around them, and
  2. Being transparent about failure and vulnerability.

Damien detailed a range of examples of how this can be done within business and football performance environments and why both critically important for effective leadership.

The importance of understanding a club is part of the Sporting Directors due diligence, not just for recruiting a manager. One of the first roles in becoming a Sporting Director is understanding the clubs culture. Damien states that one way to do this is to analyse the clubs past / current player contracts, transfer agreements and agent’s agreements, which can give a good indication of a club’s culture.

Damien reflected on his experiences, challenges and lessons. One recommendation he made to members was to maintain good networks and mentors. He stated that he engages with his mentors before making decisions. For Damien, this should include close connections from politics, business, press/media, sport and football. Alongside this, Damien made clear the importance of internal and external relationships to support your success as a Sporting Director. This was housed within a broader discussion around crisis management and decision-making.

The ASD aims to support sporting directors in professional football. These conversations allow members to connect, share practice, develop ideas and innovate in their own practice. The full conversation is available to ASD members. We are thankful to Damien Comolli and Dan Parnell for the conversation.

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