They are former players putting their inside knowledge of the game to good use, renowned wheeler-dealers whose silver tongue secures the right player for their club, and are — to a man — arch-strategists in whom the hopes of the Bundesliga's finest lies: they are the sporting directors.
Men such as Hasan Salihamidzic at Bayern Munich, Rudi Völler at Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund's Michael Zorc, RB Leipzig's Ralf Rangnick and Christian Heidel at Schalke have combined contacts forged during their careers on and off the pitch with finely tuned business acumen and Meisterschale-level negotiating skills to shape the destiny of their respective clubs.
bundesliga.com lifts the veil on the 18 sporting directors masterminding the future of the Bundesliga's clubs.
A sporting what?
Clubs in continental Europe tend to differ from those in England in terms of their structure. German clubs almost exclusively employ a sporting director and a head coach. English clubs usually have a manager that encompasses both roles.
In Germany, it means duties are split: the coach is responsible for leading, training and picking the team, while the sporting director oversees the whole footballing side. In terms of hierarchy within a club, the sporting director sits between the head coach and the chairman. The person in the higher position has the ability to hire and dismiss any of those below him.
Take Bayern in the 2018/19 season: first-team coach Niko Kovac will report to Salihamidzic, who reports to CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. He oversees the club as a whole, working in collaboration with President Uli Hoeness and reporting to the club’s owners – the members.
Who are they?
All have a background in football, but the routes they took to get to their current positions have varied.
Many are familiar faces, former players putting their contacts accumulated through years in the game to good use, collaborating with men they previously shared dressing rooms with such as Salihamidzic, who turned out for Hamburg, Bayern, Juventus and Wolfsburg. Leverkusen's Rudi Völler won the 1990 World Cup with Germany as a player and then even coached the national side, while Stefan Reuter at Augsburg, Max Eberl at Borussia Mönchengladbach and Michael Preetz at Hertha Berlin all played in the Bundesliga.
Others, such as Rangnick — formerly coach of Schalke and VfB Stuttgart, among others — have swapped the match-to-match planning of coaching to shape the bigger picture, while someone like Heidel at Schalke has built a reputation for savoir faire over years within the framework of various clubs, climbing the ladder to the summit of his art.
What do they do?
Who better to describe the role than Zorc, a Dortmund legend as a player, and a man who has arguably been still more influential for the club off the pitch, orchestrating the arrival of the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa and Ousmane Dembele at the Signal Iduna Park.
But as he explains, the sporting director's responsibility runs far deeper than simply convincing players to sign on the dotted line as he plays strategist, sounding board, and even lunch date to BVB's local heroes.
“I’m also responsible for the philosophy at the club from the youth to the first team,” said the man who brought Jürgen Klopp to the club for what many consider the most successful chapter in Dortmund's history.
“I discuss the style of play with the coach, and the youth teams will follow that. But for our fans it has to be daring and attacking. The CEO handles the budget you have, but as well as buying, selling and extending players’ contracts, I'm also someone they can talk to besides the coach. I’m always with the team during matches. I attend all training sessions and will often even eat with the players so they know someone from the club is looking out for them.”
Are all Bundesliga clubs the same?
Clubs may give different names to the position, for example Sportdirektor, Direktion Sport, Sportvorstand or Director Profifußball, but they all generally translate into the role of 'sporting director', all reporting to a more senior board member and overseeing the running of the football side of the club.
The Bundesliga's sporting directors
Augsburg: Stefan Reuter
Bayer Leverkusen: Rudi Völler
Bayern Munich: Hasan Salihamidzic
Borussia Dortmund: Michael Zorc
Borussia Mönchengladbach: Max Eberl
Eintracht Frankfurt: Bruno Hübner
Fortuna Düsseldorf: Erich Rutemöller
Freiburg: Jochen Saier
Hannover: Horst Heldt
Hertha Berlin: Michael Preetz
Hoffenheim: Alexander Rosen
Mainz: Rouven Schröder
Nuremberg: Andreas Bornemann
RB Leipzig: Ralf Rangnick
Schalke: Christian Heidel
Stuttgart: Michael Reschke
Werder Bremen: Franck Baumann
Wolfsburg: Marcel Schäfer