Wins over Newcastle and PSG have, at least for the moment, tempered the criticisms of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Nevertheless, there’s a sense that such frustrations are always brewing beneath the surface at Manchester United. It’s not truly frustration towards Solskjaer, or Harry Maguire, or Paul Pogba. These are the mere targets for a far deeper anger, one that stems from the club’s malaise in the post-Ferguson era.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s presence loomed large in virtually every aspect of the club, yet finding a figure who could hold a similar scope of influence was a virtual impossibility – both because of the uniqueness of the Scotsman’s talent and the demands of the modern game.
Rather than implementing structural changes to cope with a new era, Man United have remained in a state of malaise that a host of managers have failed to rescue them from.
Astounding wages and transfer fees for players who haven’t performed have become a staple at Old Trafford, as has a lack of foresight, planning, and continuity in recruitment decisions. With the churn of managers increasing in modern football, ideological cohesion within a club is crucial so as to not accumulate players who cannot adapt to a new coaches’ philosophy and force the club into further spending.
A director of football, sporting director, or technical director is the role that assumes such responsibility at most well-run clubs in Europe. United have long been rumoured to be in search of one. Whether Ed Woodward will relinquish his influence in transfer activity remains to be seen, but if United do pursue the route of finally adapting their internal structure, Luis Campos may be the ideal candidate to step into the role.
Before becoming a sporting director, Luis Campos was a manager in Portugal, albeit not a very successful one. Among his more notable achievements was defeating Jose Mourinho’s Porto in 2004.
So taken was the Special One by his contemporary coach that, upon being appointed Real Madrid coach, Mourinho brought Campos to work at the club as a tactical assistant and talent scout. From Madrid, Campos moved to France to take up the sporting director role at Monaco. It was there that he garnered a reputation for being one of the best sporting directors in the world.
When he arrived at Monaco, many of Campos’ more notable signings in terms of recruitment were in the form of proven, big-name players such as Joao Moutinho, Radamel Falcao, and James Rodriguez. It was an indication of the Portuguese’s flexibility in his approach, as he was willing to adapt to the demands of the coach and owners when making recruitment decisions. Cheap transfers for experienced veterans such as Dimitar Berbatov and Ricardo Carvalho further show his pragmatism and ability to identify the necessary player profile to develop a balanced squad.
Crucial for any director of football, though, is having a set of principles that guide a club’s recruitment. As his influence at Monaco began to grow, it became clear that Campos wanted to move the club away from signing experienced, world-class players and instead focus on youth development and unearthing undervalued prospects.
For that to work, though, Campos needed to recruit a manager with a predilection for youth development. Exit Claudio Ranieri, and enter Leonardo Jardim. With a progressive young coach installed, Campos began to show his quality. It culminated in the 2016/17 season, where Monaco usurped PSG to win Ligue 1 and reached the Champions League semi-final, playing some of the most exciting attacking football on the continent.
Many of the key players from that team – such as Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, Timeaoue Bakayoko, Thomas Lemar, and of course Kylian Mbappe – were signed by Campos as young prospects, usually for minuscule fees, and all were sold to top European clubs for astronomical amounts. Campos showed not only an impressive eye for talent but an ability to install a manager and club ethos that allowed such talent to thrive.
Having achieved such notable success on the French Riviera, Campos took his talents to Lille. While the club finished just above the relegation zone in his first season, they have since finished second and fourth in consecutive seasons. Once again, he has produced a team that play an exciting brand of attacking football with a coach who excels at youth development.
His ability to spot talent was once again on display, as signings such as Fode Ballo Toure, Gabriel, Rafael Leao, Victor Osimhen, and Nicolas Pepe have left the club for significant profits. Other players, such as Zekli Celik, Boubakary Soumare, Jonathan Bamba, and Jonathan Ikone remain key players for the side.
Arguably Campos’ best signing was Renato Sanches. After a disastrous spell at Bayern Munich and a failed loan move to then-Premier League side Swansea City, the Portuguese midfielder arrived in France with a damaged reputation, and few thought he could ever come good on his promise.
Once again, though, Campos showed that he can create club environments in which young players can thrive and maximize their talents. By having a coach in Christoph Galltier who works well with young players and by signing a number of unproven youngsters in multiple positions who can develop and grow together, Campos is able to ensure that players such as Sanches can make the most of their immense potential.
Despite the fact that Lille are currently first in Ligue 1, reports suggest that Campos could be on his way out. Manchester United could do a lot worse than hire him as a director of football. Not only is he experienced in the role, but his specific strengths could also ameliorate United’s deficiencies in the transfer market.
Campos is an excellent negotiator, consistently purchasing players below their value rate and selling them on for huge profits. The premium of being as rich as Man United will hinder this somewhat, but if anyone can mitigate wastage in the market, it’s Campos. He is also not dogmatic in his recruitment of young players and will placate to the marketing desires of Ed Woodward and enable the club to sign marquee players should he feel it’s appropriate.
More than this, though, United appear to want to shift their signing focus towards young, undervalued players – as shown by deadline-day moves for Amad Traore and Facundo Pellestri. Yet as their recent signing of Diogo Dalot showed, they don’t necessarily have a clear plan to develop such raw talents. Campos would be the ideal person to streamline the progression of young talents and integrate them into the first team.
It remains unlikely that Manchester United will hire a director of football. Yet with young talents on the precipices of the first team, an underwhelming transfer window, and the dominance of Liverpool and Manchester City seemingly waning, it would be the ideal time to restructure the club.
Campos is the sort of figure who would not simply be a puppet for the Glazers, but instead, could be the figure who United build their recruitment department around. That, beyond anything with Solskjaer or the current crop of players, could finally lift United back to the highest echelons of English football.