|Damien Comolli has two mobiles: one French, one English. But, despite having moved back to France, it is his English phone he never switches off. This is because he does not want to miss a call to bring him back to a Premier League club as director of football.|
For a man whose spells in that job at Tottenham and Liverpool ended in the sack, this may suggest he is in denial. However, he is convinced he was a success at both clubs.
But surely Spurs’ start to the 2008-09 season — two points from eight games — was due to his problem signings?
He laughs and says: “The problem signings were who? Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Younes Kaboul, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Kevin-Prince Boateng? They sold Boateng, he goes and plays in the quarter-final of the World Cup and wins the League in Italy, one of the best players in Europe at the moment. I’m delighted with these wrong signings, players who took Spurs to the Champions League in 2009-10.”
Surely that was the doing of Harry Redknapp who had to clear up the mess left by Juande Ramos, the manager Comolli brought to White Hart Lane?
“Harry needs to get a lot of credit for what he achieved; creating team spirit, playing very good, attacking-minded football and getting the team believing that they could do it.”
But Redknapp did not always appreciate the riches the Frenchman had left him, says Comolli. “After I went, they even had a discussion with Juventus to sell Modric, because they didn’t believe in him. And he [Redknapp] even tried to get rid of Bale.”
In his autobiography, Redknapp vigorously denies this but, for Comolli, the way he secured Bale shows his true worth as director of football.
Alerted by Tottenham’s chief scout, Comolli went to see Bale play for Southampton in 2006.
“We were looking for a left-sided, left-footed player. I don’t know how many times I saw him that season — home, away, cold days, windy days, good days — his talent was just unbelievable.
“It was a long chase. I developed a close relationship with his parents. The key was convincing the player.
“We told him he would have a chance to play, even if he was only 18. He told me there weren’t any 18-year-old left-backs in the top four or five in the Premier League. I said, ‘I know, but you can play left midfield.’ He replied, ‘No, I don’t think I can play left midfield.’ I said, ‘Listen, you can play left midfield.’”
Comolli admits his long list of signings, which included Roman Pavlyuchenko, Heurelho Gomes and Alan Hutton, had failures. “David Bentley did not work.” But if there is just a note of regret about Bentley there is none as Comolli talks of advising the Spurs board in 2007 to replace Martin Jol with Ramos.
“Results were not good for two or three months. You got a feeling the players were not responding well to the manager. So we had to make a change. Ramos was my recommendation, a logical choice. He was a hot topic around Europe and extremely successful at Seville, who were playing incredible football. Before he came to Spurs, he won four trophies in 18 months.
“Why didn’t it work out? He found it difficult to adapt to English football and the players found it difficult to adapt to his methods.”
Comolli was sacked along with Ramos. He accepts he made the wrong managerial choice but insists: “When you get the players right and get one wrong appointment, you deserve one more chance. People in my job deserve to make two [managerial] appointments at least, not one.
“I thought I would stay at Spurs for the rest of my life. I probably was too naive because I had such a great relationship with Daniel [Levy, Tottenham chairman]. Probably I needed to tell Daniel at the time, ‘Listen, whatever people are telling you, they are wrong, because we’ve got fantastic players. It’s not working out with this manager, even though, with time, it will probably work out.’ But I didn’t say it.”
He also wishes he had responded to criticism about his signings, claiming: “I discovered right at the end that the criticism was coming from within the club.”
However, Comolli’s departure from White Hart Lane in 2008 did not come as much of a surprise as the one from Anfield in April 2012. “Liverpool was a complete shock,” he says. “To this day, I still don’t know what happened.
“When I got there [in 2010] we were 13th. We finished sixth in the first season, reduced the wage bill dramatically, won the first trophy for six years [2012 League Cup] and were in the semi-final of the FA Cup.”
But two days before that semi-final, owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner visited Comolli at his office in Melwood to tell him he was out. “It was the day after we had won at Blackburn and they said, ‘That’s it. You can take your stuff.’ I wasn’t allowed to come back into the office.”
Comolli says the only moment of light relief came when he told Kenny Dalglish, then manager, the news. “I called Kenny the next day and said I needed to speak to him. He told me he was just around the corner so he would come into my office in two minutes. When I said I wasn’t there, he asked me where I was. When I told him I had been sacked he went silent and then said, ‘I can’t believe it.’”
What gives Comolli satisfaction is that he left Liverpool a player such as Luis Suarez, a £23million signing from Ajax. “The answer to the question ‘what is my contribution to Liverpool?’ is when Steven Gerrard says the best striker is Luis Suarez. And getting Luis for a very good fee.”
Comolli dismisses problems with the Uruguayan’s temperament, saying: “I saw it as a positive. He’s extremely easy to deal with on a daily basis, a fantastic individual, a great team-mate, always laughing. He gives you 100 per cent in every training session.”
However, ask Comolli about Suarez racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra in 2011 and, for the first time, the Frenchman clams up. “This is the worst experience in my career by far. I don’t want to talk about it.”
What he is prepared to reveal is that the ill-judged show of support Liverpool orchestrated on behalf of Suarez, wearing T-shirts bearing the striker the day after he was given an eight-game ban, was not just down to Dalglish.
“I don’t have a problem with people saying the club didn’t handle it properly. I’ve got a big issue when people say Kenny didn’t. Everybody, including the owners, was on the same page on how we should handle the issue.
“We probably should have spoken to people from outside the club. We didn’t because we were so emotionally involved.”
Now, he hopes club owners will not look on his career emotionally and the phone will ring, bringing him back to “the best place in the world for football”.