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What would Damien Comolli bring to Aston Villa?

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MattVillan looks at the idea of Damien Comolli coming to AVFC by considering his player recruitment history

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"I wouldn't go there pal"
"I wouldn't go there pal"
Michael Regan/Getty Images

On Tuesday, The Telegraph reported that should the Chinese consortium be chosen as the preferred bidder for AVFC then they have lined up former Spurs, Saint Etienne and Liverpool footballing director Damien Comolli to take a similar role at Aston Villa. Naturally, this proved rather controversial amongst Villa fans, as he is largely known for his unimpressive spell at Liverpool where he spent thirty five million English pounds on Andrew Carroll. Is there more than meets the eye with this man, is he as malignant an influence as it would appear?

Born in Beziers, France in 1972, Comolli attempted to take the traditional route into football and was listed on Monaco’s books as a youth player. For whatever reason, this didn’t work out for him, but the club was so impressed with him he was offered a coaching contract there in 1992, when he was 20. Beginning a long association with younger players he was put in charge of the club’s U16s squad, with which he won the national league title. Through to 1995 he studied and completed both a law degree and French coaching badges.

Joining Arsenal in 1996, he spent seven years at the club acting as a European scout, before leaving to take the role of technical director at Saint Etienne in 2004.His work there was enough to convince Tottenham Hotspur to replace Frank Arnesen with him in 2005 and Comolli took the role of director of football at his second north London club until his sacking in October of 2008, with the team floundering in the league.

Subsequently he returned to Saint-Etienne for a year before in 2010 he was appointed director of football strategy at Liverpool. In April of 2012 he left the club by "mutual consent", although it was strongly implied in the press he was in fact sacked for his failings in the transfer market. Comolli has remained out of work since, but it is has been claimed he said that a number of English teams have approached him with full-time work in mind, but that he is being picky at the moment and "waiting for that right opportunity".

Given a large part of his role at all four clubs he’s worked at was player recruitment, that would appear to be the best way to judge Mr Comolli. Below is a non-exhaustive list of his more significant transfer activity. Obviously the rating of the transfers is subjective, and each person will have their own, varying opinions on the subject. As such, this merely to be taken as a guide.

Bought


fee (£m)


Sold


fee (£m)


ASSE 2004-2005


Zokora, D

?

Spurs 2005-2006


Davis, S; Pamarot, N; Mendes, P

7.5

2006-2007


Zokora, D

8.6

Berbatov, D

10.9

Carrick, M

18.6

Assou-Ekotto, B

3.5

Mido, A

?

Chimbonda, P

4.5

Malbranque, S

2

2007-2008


Bale, G

5

Mido, A

6

Bent, D

16.5

Routledge, W

1.5

Kaboul, Y

8

Defoe, J*

7

Rose, D

Youth

Boateng, K-P

5.4

Woodgate, J

8

Hutton, A

9

2008-2009


Modric, L

16

Tainio, T

5

Dos Santos, G

5

Chimbonda, P

5

Gomes, H

7.8

Keane, R**

19

Bentley, D

15

Malbranque, S

7

Pavlychenko, R

14

Kaboul, Y

6

Corluka, V

8.5

Berbatov, D

30.75

ASSE 2008-2009


Mirallas, K

?

Guarin, F

2

Feinduno, P; Nivaldo

5.3

2009-2010


Sako, B

1.3

Gomis, B

10

Sanogo, B

3.3

Begessio, g

4

2010-2011


Mirallas, K

Loan to buy

Liverpool 2010-11


Suarez, L

22.7

Babel, R

5.8

Carroll, A

35

Torres, F

50

2011-2012


Henderson, J

16

Konchesky, P

1.5

Adam, C

6.7

Jovanovic, M

0.7

Downing, S

20

Poulsen, C

0

Enrique, J

5

N’Gog, D

4

Coates, S

7

Meireles, R

12

Ojo, S

Youth

Ince, T

Youth

Ibe, J

Youth

Ward, D

Youth

Teixeira, J

Youth

Sinclair, J

Youth


*Bought back for more than was paid for
**bought back the subsequent window for less than was paid for

What’s clear to see from the table, first and foremost is that Comolli seems to be adept at selling players, particularly at Liverpool, where it’s difficult to fault any of the transfers out under his watch. Also noticeable is that amongst those sales there are some significant transfer fees- Torres, Berbatov and Carrick all stand out.

He’s also adept at getting high-earners off the books without having to pay them off- look at Jovanovic, Konchesky and Meireles at Liverpool- this would be particularly relevant for us, wanting to offload the deadwood that has dragged us down to the Championship. Also becoming more apparent later in his career is he generally has a good eye for the younger players. Obviously Bale and Modric stand out, but there’s some real talent in the Liverpool youngsters too, with Ibe, Ojo and Ward all having played first team roles this season.

Whilst Comolli does obviously have a good eye for the younger players, he is certainly not flawless on that front- it was claimed by the Saint-Etienne co-chairman Bernard Caiazzo in 2010 that the then technical director "refused" to sign Laurent Koscielny for "£1.3m" when in charge.


Comolli’s ability to get deals through however; is nicely summed up The Anfield Wrap here, talking about Suarez:

"Comolli was part of the team that identified the player as someone who improved us and, crucially, he then got the job done."

Comolli’s flaws are also rather emphatically laid bare in this table too. When he spends big money, it really tends not to come off well. With the exceptions of Modric, Suarez and Henderson, all of his transfers north of £10m have been adjudged as failures, and when failures cost £30,000,000+, that’s a seriously heavy price to pay.

Also, he seems to have a bad habit of selling players that managers seem to like, take the two starred players for example, who were both bought back more or less straight away, which tends not to be a good indicator of a recruitment officer’s judgement. And an honourable mention must also be given to his time at Arsenal, where it is suggested that he played a key role in signing Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Eboue, none of whom were to be sniffed at in their prime.

Another important point with regards to Mr Comolli is one of his methods of identifying targets. He is known to be a big fan of statistical analytics-based research and as such would certainly find himself at odds straight away with some areas of the fanbase and the press. It seems however that the Frenchman’s use of these tools runs much deeper than Paddy Riley logging on to whoscored.com and looking up "best young left back in France". He is said to have a friendship with Billy Beane, of "Moneyball" fame, and it was him that recommended Comolli to John W. Henry in the first place. Comolli also has vastly more footballing experience than the previous regime at Aston Villa, having worked as a conventional scout for 7 years at Arsenal before taking up any more senior roles.

Also of note is that Comolli is notoriously difficult to work with, apparently veering dangerously on the arrogant side of self-confident. Bernard Caiazzo is quoted as saying:

"You need some humility in football and Damien was convinced he was right 100 per cent of the time. There was never any question of dialogue"

To a potential manager such as David Moyes, who likes to be in full control of his club, this would be a huge no-no.For Nigel Pearson on the other hand, who has worked with a recruitment director-type character before in the form of Steve Walsh, this would be less of an issue. It also puts into doubt the suggestion that Paddy Riley, who is said to have a good relationship with our current owner, would remain at the club. That would likely be greeted with some cheer in the fanbase though!

To conclude, as with basically anyone linked with Aston Villa (or even in football at all), Comolli is somewhat of a mixed bag. Without a doubt he has his successes- his signings were named PFA Player of the Year in two consecutive seasons and even with his summer splurge at Liverpool the fees received for his signings massively outweighs those which he has spent. It is also apparently that clubs tend to improve shortly after he leaves, with both Tottenham and Liverpool going on to compete in the Champions League off the back of his signings. Furthermore, when devoted to looking for younger players, Mr Comolli has been little but a complete success. As such, a role with that in mind would be excellent at Aston Villa, given the dearth of top quality players coming out of our academy of late.

Given his attitude issues however, there are only certain managers he would be capable of working with, and he has never experienced life at a club with the financial restrictions we would be likely to have, even with new ownership. That may not be a bad thing however, especially when looking at his record when he does have big money to spend.
After all that, he may not even want to come to us at all. He has said he’s turned down offers from other English clubs in the past- what would make us appeal more than them?

And of course, his arrival would totally depend on not just this Chinese consortium buying us but whether their interest is real or not in the first place.

What do you think? Answers in the comments please!

Up the Villa.