Ross Wilson has left his role as Sporting Director at Rangers to join Premier League outfit Nottingham Forest.

Wilson’s role has been under intense scrutiny over the past 18 months given the Ibrox side’s domestic plight on the pitch and overall squad status off it.

Whether it be the delegation of money spent last summer, tumultuous injury situation or Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos having contracts expiring this summer, news of the 39-year-old moving on has not been lamented by large swathes of the Rangers support.

Wilson's exit provides a good opportunity to not only reflect on the job he has done but discuss the overall responsibility, and perception, of a Sporting Director. And how that may differ from club to club.

A poll on this writer’s Twitter page yesterday confirmed the notion that the function of the Sporting Director is perhaps not widely understood.

So, what do they actually do, are they required and how can the success of their job be measured? Let's have a look.

If anyone outside the immediate profession is best placed to explain a Sporting Director's job it’s Simon Austin.

Having spent 13 years at the BBC as a journalist, Simon founded Training Ground Guru in 2017, a fast-growing podcast and website described as the “go-to destination for the latest on Football Performance. Insights into coaching, conditioning and recruitment, plus tips from the top professionals”.

It means that Austin’s interviewed the majority of leading professionals within the Sporting Director sphere. Whether that be Newcastle’s Dan Ashworth or Norwich’s Stuart Webber.

The long-form podcast series provides insight into the role, responsibility and function of Sporting Directors, offering listeners and Austin with a clear scope of the job, what it entails and why it matters.

“The Sporting Director model has been around on the continent for decades in Italy and Spain. It does definitely differ a lot from club to club and there are loads of different titles for similar jobs. From Sporting Director to Director of Football, Technical Director, Head of Football Operations, or some will just be glorified Heads of Recruitment,” Austin says.

READ MORE: Ross Wilson has lost the Rangers fans and 'alignment' is out of reach - Jonny McFarlane 

“In its purest form, a Sporting Director is someone with a holistic view and control of all departments. Whether that be data, medical, performance, analysis and academy. A manager isn’t going to have the background or expertise to oversee all of those areas. They’re not going to have the time either because they’re preparing for the next match and taking training.

“They’re not normally going to be able to offer that holistic view and I think that’s a massive thing in terms of what identity you want to have at your club.

“At Norwich, for example, they said ‘We want to be clever in our recruitment, look a bit further afield and bring young players through from the academy alongside adopting a good style of play’. Then, you choose the Head Coach who can deliver that and aligns with those values.

“Whereas what you still see a lot now, even at leading clubs, is that they won't have that clear idea and every manager they recruit will be different. Every manager will want different players. And it's just a mess, really, isn't it?

"I mean, we're seeing that at Chelsea at the moment. In its purest form, the Sporting Director is in charge of the whole football operation."

When Training Ground Guru started in 2017 only a minority of top-flight clubs in England employed a Sporting Director. Now every single side in the Premiership does and some have even started to appoint assistants.

Brighton are a model outfit not only for their managerial succession, impressive scouting and general ability to outperform better-resourced clubs but the way they develop staff members behind the scenes.

It’s not only their Sporting Director, Dan Ashworth, and manager, Graham Potter, that departed alongside four assistants earlier this season. Head of Recruitment Paul Winstanley and Recruitment Analyst Kyle MacAulay also joined Chelsea.

Rangers Review:

Their current Technical Director is ex-Rangers defender David Weir who stepped into Ashworth’s shoes when he departed for Newcastle.

In the modern game where manager cycles are so short, the idea of an overall figurehead behind the scenes makes sense. They can provide continuity, drive an overall vision and crucially, possess an understanding of the football department that a general director or CEO cannot.

“More than any other club I have been at one person or a group of people leaving doesn’t have as much of an impact here,” Weir said in a recent exclusive interview with the Rangers Review.

“Graham [Potter] and his staff leaving was something we weren’t expecting at that time, we knew he would go at some point but not then.

“Yet we only interviewed one person to get the replacement in Roberto de Zerbi and we managed to get him. So there was a plan, we know who we are and where we want to go.”

“They have a clear identity,” Austin continues on the continuity of Brighton and similarly-run Brentford.

READ MORE: David Weir at Brighton: Rangers legend details technical director rise

For many clubs losing so many key personnel at once wouldn’t have spurred them onto the bigger and better things that have followed. This long-term vision beyond the dugout has facilitated “where Brighton want to go”.

“It’s a no-brainer having a Sporting Director because they have a long-term view of all the departments. The best Sporting Directors I’ve seen have a very clear long-term picture,” Austin continues.

“For example, they’ll know who is coming through the academy and won’t buy a player who blocks that pathway. Squad building and recruitment are such a big part of the job, it’s like continually building a jigsaw. In a way that a manager, thinking more short term, normally does not.

“I think Ashworth and Webber are kind of the purest forms of Sporting Directors in that sense. Or Phil Giles, who’s at Brentford, in terms of overseeing everything from a football point of view.”

For those who possess the responsibility of pure Sporting Directors like Webber or Ashworth, while not individually scouting and recruiting players themselves, they are overseeing the department and ultimately the person responsible for incoming and outgoings. 

When Blackburn Rovers failed with a number of deadline day bids it was their Sporting Director Gregg Broughton who fronted up, saying: “I said at the beginning, my job is to bring players into the club. We had a very clear target of what we wanted to do in this window and we came within touching distance of achieving that on transfer deadline day, but ultimately didn’t get over the line and I take responsibility for that.”

That’s one isolated incident, not a general rule of thumb, but does demonstrate a figure aside from the manager coming out to explain footballing decisions.

“Recruitment is the most important element of a Sporting Director’s job for most people,” Austin continues.

“The way Dan Ashworth explained a Sporting Directors role in recruitment wasn’t that it’s his job to sign the players. Obviously, the manager is a key part of the recruitment process. You’re not going to bring in players they don't want. They might say ‘I need a right-back who’s good on the overlap’ and then you can bring a shortlist of people who fit the bill. It’s a collaborative process that involves video data and scouts on the ground. A manager just can’t do that, they don’t really have the time. I think if the manager is leading recruitment that’s a bit of a worry.”

Managing Director Stewart Robertson explained a similar process in place at Ibrox speaking to the Rangers Review last year.

“We wouldn't sign someone if the manager said he didn't want them because you put yourself in a very difficult position if you do that," he said.

"You'd have a player the manager doesn't want. You don't need to create situations that can cause disharmony. You need to make it as smooth as possible and take away as many excuses for things not working as possible.

“There's a lot of work that goes into who we sign. There's a lot of work in the background in terms of scouting resources, analysis resources, the meetings that are held to view the reports and clips of the players. That's the full football department that is involved including Ross and Giovanni.

“There is a list of players by position, they are ranked by choice and then you ask can you get him, is he affordable, does he want to come to Scotland? You go through that process and get number one then you make sure the manager is happy with it and go for it.”

Michael Beale has been more intentional in discussing specific targets since taking the job but also repeated a similar message about recruitment being a collaborative process. 

“Ross’ sole job isn’t recruitment, it’s down to a number of people," he said after a 4-2 win over Motherwell recently. 

What of the role of Sporting Directors as figureheads? Is it dependent on the manager’s personality or situation-dependent?

Wilson fulfilled this function when Steven Gerrard left for Aston Villa during an interview with RangersTV. Managerial unveilings aside, however, his media presence has been limited and undoubtedly, this vacuum has been filled by others looking to interpret his work for him.

There’s little doubt that the lack of understanding surrounding the Sporting Director role can harm its reputation. Wilson was at pains to point out during last year’s AGM that he “does not sign players” but in the absence of any information before that, a narrative had started to form.

“Maybe they don't want to get caught in that cycle of just commenting on the last result. Their job can have such a big scope that we don’t hear about it all, arguably the majority.

“Stuart Webber is a good exception because he does front up, communicates strategy and provides a figurehead. That makes sense if the person is heading up the operation and in charge of the departments. I think they should front up really and be open and communicate, get those messages across.

“Michael Edwards at Liverpool has overseen some brilliant recruitment but he’s someone who stays massively under the radar. I don’t think he’s given an interview and keeps a low profile at games.”

As said by Simon Rolfes, the Director of Sport at Bayer Leverkusen, during an interview with the Athletic, “In football, you can think five years ahead, just as long as you win the next game."

Despite Sporting Directors becoming increasingly essential in football, they remain a relatively fresh concept in Scotland. 

Criticism of Wilson's job shows that performances on the pitch will ultimately be the benchmark they're judged against. And his legacy undoubtedly proves better communication is required to improve understanding of the role moving forwards.