Mark Bowen: Reading's sporting director is aiming to raise the bar

Mark Bowen (L) and Jose Gomes (R)
Reading sporting director Mark Bowen says his job is to ensure manager Jose Gomes has "everything he needs"

Mark Bowen's football boots are gathering dust for the first time since he joined Tottenham Hotspur as an apprentice almost 40 years ago.

These days he sports a shirt and tie at Reading's training ground, having joined the growing band of sporting directors in British football.

"You are the face of the club," the 55-year-old tells BBC Sport Wales. "You have got to try to reflect that the best way you can."

It was not that long ago that the appointment of a sporting director - sometimes known as a director of football or a technical director - would have caused a stir on these shores.

In the past the existence of such roles was often regarded as a problem for all-powerful managers.

Yet in recent years British clubs have followed the lead of their counterparts on the Continent, where sporting directors have long been commonplace.

"The old model of a club chairman, the manager - that's gone now," Bowen says.

"They have sporting directors all over Europe - all over the world - but now English clubs are starting to buy into the situation.

"I guess the easy description of my job is that every single thing to do with the football side of the club falls on my shoulders."

It is the task of a sporting director to oversee footballing strategy, to ensure that all the various arms of a club are pointing the same way.

The idea is that even as managers and coaches come and go, clubs will continue to move in one direction.

Marko Arnautovic (L) and Mark Bowen (R)
Mark Bowen, pictured here with Marko Arnautovic, spent five years as Stoke City's assistant manager

For Bowen, that can mean 14-hour days - a "jolt to the system" after a career spent on the grass.

Born in Neath, Bowen learned his trade at Spurs before spending nine years at Norwich City.

A left-back who was capped 41 times by Wales, he also played for the likes of West Ham and Charlton before his coaching career began with the national side.

Bowen joined Mark Hughes' Wales coaching staff, starting a working relationship which has lasted two decades.

Bowen has served as Hughes' assistant at Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke and Southampton, the club they left last December.

"I haven't seen so much of Mark lately because he is up in north Wales enjoying his down-time - I think he is playing a lot of golf," Bowen says.

"I don't know where, but I have no doubt when the time is right, Mark will get back in (to management)."

Yet the chances are that for once, Bowen will not be alongside him.

"If you had asked me in the summer, I thought I would miss the coaching and maybe if Mark had got a job and asked me to go with him, then it would have been a case of what do I do," Bowen says.

"But at the moment I am very comfortable with what I am doing at Reading. I'm enjoying it.

"It's just a general thing where we are thinking can we raise the bar everywhere - in terms of the way people behave, the infrastructure and the way things are set up."

Bowen initially joined Reading as a technical consultant in March, when his remit was to help manager Jose Gomes steer the Royals away from Championship relegation danger.

Things went well, prompting Reading to hand Bowen the sporting director role in the close season.

He now operates in the world of transfers, while contract situations of players already on the books are also on his agenda.

As a result, Bowen argues, working with players' representatives is crucial.

"It used to be that everyone looked at agents and said they are ruining the game," he says.

"But they are not going to go away. They are here. Players rely on them heavily and if you are going to be a successful club, you have to have a relationship with all your players' agents as well as agents who haven't got players in your club.

"These are the people who in a lot of ways control the game.

"The game is all about players. The flow of players is 99.9 per cent determined by agents, so if you have no relationship with agents, you are in trouble."

Another aspect of Bowen's role is overseeing what goes on at the club's academy, while a key task is to ensure Gomes has "everything he wants" at first-team level.

Then come what may look like minor things, such as the décor at Reading's Hogwood training base.

"You came into the building last season and it was just plain whitewashed walls," Bowen says.

"There's nothing wrong with that, but we changed that to try to change the environment.

Mark Bowen
Mark Bowen played more than 300 league games for Norwich City

"Everywhere you go now it's branded, there are photos and pictures. It's Reading Football Club. Hopefully little things like that raise the bar across the board."

The target is to create "a no-excuse environment", so that players are given every chance to deliver on matchdays.

"I've been a player," Bowen says. "Professional players are in a team but they very much look at themselves. Most of them are not so quick to point the finger at themselves.

"They will say the reason I haven't played well is because we didn't get this or this was wrong or that was wrong.

"But once you get a general feeling where the players are seeing everything was done for them, they have to look at themselves.

"And if everyone in a club looks at themselves first, it can only make for a stronger club."

As Bowen speaks, Reading's players are being put through their paces on the grass outside.

Despite his vast experience, Bowen makes a "conscious effort" to stay away from training.

"Believe me it's hard because you look out the window and you want to get out and have a look, but it's not my job," he says.

"I have conversations every day with Jose - our relationship is really strong. He talks to me about his tactics and team selections and asks my opinion.

"But I don't think it's right to go and watch training. I am very much aware that players don't want to look to the side and see a sporting director."

And besides, he has other things to do.