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Liverpool are suddenly looking for a new sporting director – who could they go for?

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The World Cup was supposed to bring a period of quiet in club football, but for Liverpool it has been the opposite.

The latest surprise came with the announcement that Julian Ward will leave the club and his role as sporting director in May, six months after taking over from Michael Edwards.



A seamless transition — suddenly thrown into chaos, adding to owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) looking to sell the club, director Mike Gordon stepping back from his day-to-day role, director of research Ian Graham departing and a season that, on the pitch, has not gone to plan so far.



The expectation was Ward would take the reins and lead Liverpool into a new era, with it clear that change was needed to a squad Edwards had built, with plenty of players nearing and surpassing 30 years of age.



It had been going well, too. Ward was instrumental in sealing the big-money deals for Luis Diaz in January and then Darwin Nunez in the summer, as well as playing a leading role in Mohamed Salah’s long-awaited new contract.

Ward stepped up from assistant sporting director after spending 12 months shadowing Edwards.

But the succession planning that had been put in place has not worked out and Liverpool will need a replacement by the time Ward departs, which will happen before what is set to be a significant transfer window. It is likely to be critical to shaping the rest of Jurgen Klopp’s reign.

This season’s form and performances have highlighted a variety of problems that need addressing within Liverpool’s squad, primarily in midfield. Jude Bellingham is the No 1 target — as he is for others — but further work is needed.

It is understood Liverpool are assessing their options and will begin a process to identify what model will be most effective in supporting the football operation moving forward.

With candidates yet to become clear, The Athletic takes a look at who could be on FSG’s list.

The external candidates

Paul Mitchell — Monaco

Among other things, Mitchell oversaw the multi-million-pound development of Monaco’s impressive training complex (Photo: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

Operating as the sporting director for Monaco since 2020, Mitchell is seen as one of the leading recruitment chiefs in Europe.

Since taking up the role, the 41-year-old — who held senior positions at Southampton, Tottenham and RB Leipzig before moving to France — has attracted interest from Manchester United, Newcastle United and Chelsea.

Mitchell’s preferred playing style is highly physical and energetic and he revolutionised Monaco’s recruitment to fit that. He did so too at his previous clubs and played a significant role in, most notably, bringing Sadio Mane to Southampton, Son Heung-min to Tottenham Hotspur and Christopher Nkunku to RB Leipzig.

He has been credited with transforming the age, profile and performance metrics of the Monaco squad, on top of integrating more academy graduates and improving the club’s injury record and culture.

In an exclusive interview with The Athletic earlier this year, Mitchell said he envisaged working in England “one day”, although he still has more than 18 months remaining on his contract.

GO DEEPER

Inside Monaco: Paul Mitchell, their revamped talent factory and a team that runs and runs

Christoph Freund — Red Bull Salzburg

Earlier this year, it appeared Freund was set to join Todd Boehly’s revolution to take up the sporting director role at Chelsea.

Having only extended his contract until 2026 a few months before Chelsea’s interest, he opted to remain with Salzburg, with optimism inside Stamford Bridge that a deal was close to completion premature.

Liverpool have positive relationships with the Red Bull clubs, who favour a data-driven recruitment approach. Freund has an impressive record of spotting talent. He was instrumental in identifying and signing players including Mane, Dayot Upamecano, Erling Haaland and Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita.

Freund he said a move to Chelsea was “out of the question” this year (Photo: David Geieregger/SEPA.Media/Getty Images)

The 45-year-old, like Edwards, does not seek the limelight and is happy to work behind the scenes. He was appointed sporting director in 2015 after previously working in other roles at the club and he is known for managing key relationships within the club and with agents.

Liverpool would need to convince Freund that theirs is the perfect project for him. He has strong ties to Red Bull Salzburg and prising him away would be tough, as Chelsea found out.

The internal candidates

Given the surprise that met Ward’s decision, Liverpool do not have the next person lined up within the club. Ward was groomed for the job while Edwards was still in the role, expecting his tenure in the position to last much longer than 12 months.

With the exit of director of research Graham also confirmed, two influential senior figures at Liverpool are head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter. They would be the best placed to be considered given their roles behind the scenes.

Fallows and Hunter arrived together in 2012 as part of a revamped recruitment department under Brendan Rodgers. The former left his role as first-team scouting and recruitment co-ordinator at Manchester City, having previously been a performance analyst at Bolton Wanderers.

The latter was Manchester City’s chief scout in Italy, Switzerland and Russia and had previously been a scout for Blackburn Rovers and Norwich City.

The pair work closely together as key cogs in the recruitment process, attending matches, gathering information and compiling detailed player reports to feed into the club’s scouting database. They were credited by Klopp as influential in the purchase of Salah.

However, it is unlikely either will be elevated to what is a much broader role than their current remits, partly because they have not had the on-the-job learning period enjoyed by Ward.

The unlikely targets

Michael Edwards

Surely not, right?

Edwards penned a 1,947-word open letter saying goodbye to supporters in the summer following his official departure from the club.

After stepping up from technical director to sporting director in 2016, he ensured Klopp had all the tools to build one of the best sides in world football in recent years, helping Liverpool to domestic and continental glory.

Edwards, right, has spoken of his intention to take an extended break from football (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

He was at the forefront of shaping the squad we see today. He was a hard-nosed negotiator on both incomings and outgoings. He also pointed Klopp in the direction of players including Salah when the German was not as convinced.

Liverpool should ask the question. He has yet to return to work after taking some time away from football following his departure and he might be looking for a project. Fancy doing it all again, Mike?

Michael Zorc

Reuniting the partnership that worked so well at Klopp’s former club would make plenty of sense at a time of great upheaval. It would require Zorc to be coaxed out of retirement though after stepping down from his position as Borussia Dortmund’s sporting director in June.

The one-club man spent 17 years at Dortmund as a player, becoming their record appearance holder, before moving upstairs to the sporting director role.

The pair formed a close relationship at Dortmund and Zorc described Klopp as his best signing when he appointed the German in 2008. The club went on to win two Bundesliga titles and one DFB-Pokal, and were beaten Champions League finalists.

What was so impressive about Dortmund was their success in the transfer window on a low budget. Gems including Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan were unearthed and, in more recent times, Dortmund have beaten others to the signatures of Haaland and Bellingham.

(Top photo: Liverpool Football Club)


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