Ben Knapper: Why Loans Manager is a 'mini Sporting Director'
Written by Simon Austin — October 16, 2023
BEN KNAPPER outlined why his Loan Manager role at Arsenal was the perfect preparation for becoming a Sporting Director when he spoke at TGG’s Scouting and Recruitment Webinar last year.
Earlier this month, Norwich announced that Knapper was replacing Stuart Webber as head of their football department. For the previous 13 years, he has worked for Arsenal, latterly as their Loans Manager.
Appearing alongside Nick Hammond and Ben Stevens on a panel about squad building at the Scouting and Recruitment Webinar, Knapper described Loans Manager as being “like a mini Sporting Directorship”.
He said it was "pretty all encompassing" and sat "at the intersection between quite a lot of things."
“It sits between the Academy and first team, so it gives me that good perspective of all the talent we have in the organisation," Knapper added. "It sits at the intersection of the technical side of the game and economics, because as well as making decisions around technical elements about why a player should go on loan to a certain club and for what reason, I am then responsible for executing that deal and all the financial and economic aspects that go with it.
“And it sits at the intersection of being a very internally-facing role - so I have to engage with pretty much all our stakeholders at the club - and representing the club externally in the market.
“That variety is what I really like. I see it very much as like a mini Sporting Directorship, really - managing a small stable of players and leading on all aspects of them, whether it be a football aspect, an economic or financial aspect.”
Knapper, who officially starts his job at Norwich City on November 27th, said there were five main strands to the Loan Manager job.
“The first one is those pathway plans and the strategic side of projecting loans and plotting movements ahead of time and the succession planning and feeding that into the first team,” he said.
Ben Knapper spoke at TGG's 2022 Scouting and Recruitment Webinar. To find out more and to buy the recording, click the button below.
“The second bit is monitoring players that are in our building in relation to the plans we have made for them. So, what’s their trajectory, are they in line for the plan we think? Do we have to make it more aggressive and quicker, or slow it down?
“The third bit is placement ID. So we have made a plan for the player and he’s ready to go on loan. Now it’s about finding the right environment and there are lots of things we look at there, like profiling clubs, managers and head coaches, all centred around what is the objective of the loan.
“The fourth bit is monitoring how they are doing when they are out on loan. The fifth one would be what is the next step off the back of the loan? What is our next action? Is it right for them to come back and re-integrate? Should we continue that loan staircase? Have we generated some value that might have helped us arrive at a good exit point for player and club?”
Knapper, who has a Masters in Sporting Directorship from Manchester Metropolitan University, acknowledged that the Loans Manager role was different at different clubs.
“It works differently at all clubs to be honest,” he said. “There is a forum that meets probably quarterly that the Premier League set up and it’s all of the Loan Managers or people in an equivalent role.
“Even through conversations I have there, it’s evident that the role is delivered in a different way across all clubs. It’s definitely something that’s done very differently from club to club, dependent on the organisational structure, the strategy, how big their loan portfolio is, so it’s definitely something that’s very club specific I would say.”