SUNDERLAND are on the verge of naming Welshman Lee Congerton as the club’s new director of football and work is already underway on transfer plans for the summer.
Congerton, currently with Hamburg as technical director, is well regarded within the game and is experienced in trying to deliver a sustainable financial model which owner Ellis Short is trying to achieve at the Stadium of Light.
Since leaving Chelsea in 2011 along with Frank Arnesen, Congerton has developed a greater understanding of attracting and promoting fresh talent on to the first team stage in German football.
The 38-year-old has had to work within some fairly strict financial guidelines at Hamburg, where internationals such as Ze Roberto, Piotr Trochowski and Ruud van Nistelorry have tended to be replaced by younger, less expensive players with potential in the last few years.
Congerton and Arnesen used their links with Stamford Bridge to bring in players such as Michael Mancienne and Slobodan Rajkovic and only two of this season’s Hamburg squad are aged over 30.
There will be a similar policy adopted at Sunderland but, carrying on from the disastrous reign of his predecessor Roberto De Fanti, Congerton knows he will need to find greater value for money in his attempts to unearth players with more potential.
When Congerton, who played semi-professionally in Wales before an injury-blighted stint with Crewe, left Chelsea to join Hamburg, he spoke of a long-term wish to see the director of football model gain more credibility in the English game.
“I would love to see this role grow in England because I think it can offer so much to clubs,” said Congerton. “Manchester City and Chelsea are the big clubs that have it, West Brom and Liverpool have had it, so the role does exist.
“But here in Germany every club has it and it’s very much about the medium to long term development. That’s maybe a problem with the English game – the coach goes, big pay out and off we go again.”
That is exactly what Short was thinking earlier in the year when he approached De Fanti to take on the director of football role and handed Paolo Di Canio the responsibility to work with the signings he was given.
One lesson learned during such a frustrating period at the club, however, was that there needs to be greater communication between the manager and director of football and Gustavo Poyet is understood to have had an input in to Congerton’s imminent appointment.
And, crucially, Congerton prefers to work to a model where the manager agrees to the players he signs. He is not one for thrusting unwanted personnel on to the manager, which will please Poyet.
“I think it’s frowned upon a lot in England because the managers don’t really understand what the role is,” said Congerton, when he was speaking to The Guardian. “In England it is perceived that the sporting or technical director is signing players that he wants to play in the team.
“But we don’t bring a player here that the coach doesn’t want – ultimately he has to play them in the team. What we do is try to minimise the risk, so that we know the player and gather detailed information on them because the coach also has to understand that the sporting director has a responsibility to the organisation.”
When targeting a foreign player, Congerton tends to work to a system whereby he will go to personally watch a player in action if he has come highly recommended from a club scout having impressed enough during initial video clips.
His progress since taking on a coaching role at Wrexham under former Sunderland manager Denis Smith, and then on to Liverpool, has been pretty rapid. When he went to Chelsea in 2005 from Anfield, he was initially youth team coach but was then handed chief scout responsibility under Jose Mourinho.
Arnesen, who was Stamford Bridge’s sporting director, then took him over to Hamburg in 2011 as technical director and he has helped ease the Bundesliga’s debts significantly, although they are battling against relegation this season.
One of Congerton’s first tasks at Sunderland will be to sort out the futures of those out of contract. Seb Larsson, Jack Colback, Phil Bardsley and Craig Gardner’s deals all expire this summer. Decisions will need to be made on all four, while Poyet is also due to lose his important loan players such as Fabio Borini, Ki Sung-Yueng and Marcos Alonso at the end of the season.
Sunderland, who are still in danger of dropping out of the Premier League, are keen to preserve top-flight status before they make moves on the transfer front, but Congerton will look to make progress on fronts such as Colback soon.