Finding Town’s next transfers targets

Alex Cooke looks at how Swindon’s scouting system might work, and who does what behind the scenes to find the next John Goddard…

At the heart of Lee Power’s model for Swindon Town is good scouting and great recruitment. In recent times the club’s biggest successes have been finding, signing (and eventually selling) the likes of Ben Gladwin, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Byrne. And, for the model to work, this success has to be repeated season after season.

In this article, I will try to look at how scouting might work at Swindon under Power, based on a little info, and how other clubs go about things. I don’t pretend to have the answers, or know any more than anyone else but I feel it is a fascinating subject.

Swindon’s Scouting Structure

We know relatively little about how it works, bar a few names and job titles – but that isn’t uncommon for an industry which works largely unseen. We know that Lee Power has spoken publicly many times about his involvement in both finding and signing players. We know the various Town managers have been involved too. We also know that in his recent comments, Power mentioned that Ross Embleton has also been involved in recruitment and retention decisions, along with Seamus Brady and the now departed Sam Jewell. But more on those two in a moment.

We can also speculate that other members of the coaching staff would probably be involved in their specialist areas, particularly Dean Thornton for goalkeepers and Alan Mac and Jeremy Newton in regards to the tricky area of youth recruitment.

Who is Seamus Brady?

Brady currently holds the position of Sporting Director, and has been described, slightly strangely, by Lee Power as “his cushion”. Brady completed a sports science and professional football coaching course in the University of Greenwich before working as an analyst for the likes of Tim Sherwood, Les Ferdinand and Harry Redknapp at Tottenham. When Sherwood took over at Villa, Brady followed him, until Sherwood’s sacking. Then, when Power sought extra help in running the football side of Swindon, Sherwood recommended the County Meath man. The job of Sport Director at Town seems a broad one, including overseeing the new training ground and being what Brady called “the chairman’s representative when he can’t be here”.

Who is Sam Jewell? – Updated

Jewell was Town’s Chief Scout and the son of a friend of Power, former Wigan and Derby manager Paul. According to Jewell’s own Linkedin profile he has worked in football since 2010. He began as a youth scout for a company called SEM before moving to a sports agency HN Sports, where he “Helped broker Transfer [sic] dealings and new player contracts as well as recruiting young players to the company”. He also spent three years as what his profile calls “Head opposition Scot [sic]” for Newport County. At Rodney Parade, Jewell would have worked mainly under current Gillingham boss Justin Edinburgh, and a few months after Edinburgh did. As of June, Jewell has moved onto Brighton.

At Swindon, Jewell described his role as “Head of recruiting players for Swindon Town FC and responsible for opposition scouting and pre game preparation”.

Brady and Jewell’s Involvement In Scouting

It seems highly likely that Brady will be involved in recruitment alongside Power, Luke Williams and Jewell. With his background in coaching, experience as an analyst and familiarity with technology and processes, he could be involved for any technical, video or database scouting – if not performing the role day-to-day. 

He also has a number of contacts of his own, not only at Villa and Spurs but also through his peers who have gone on to work at the likes of West Ham. It also seems probable that the recent scouting in Brady’s homeland of the Republic of Ireland, including Sean Hoare and Jordan Stewart and the friendly with Shelbourne, could also be connected with his arrival.

Jewell’s main function for much of the season is probably in scouting the opposition. It is tempting to think this as opposition scouts tend to be relatively junior, which he is. He is also based in Leeds, ideal in this very northern league and standard practice at League One clubs where travelling is one of the biggest costs. Also, I remember Jewell saying so in an BBC Wiltshire interview, although I can’t find a link. However, he would have a vital function in recruitment, partly as an organiser, as well as a scout in his own right.

Undoubtedly the club also employ a number of other scouts on a freelance basis for both recruitment and opposition scouting. These are the Nowhere Men of Michael Calvin’s book: able, experienced, cheap. This is normal practice for almost every club, however, it is important to any scouting network that such reporting is coordinated, structured and standardised.

Town’s use of Technology in Scouting

We know that Swindon have used the Scout7 recruitment software in the past, and that according to Scout7 themselves, a version of their system is now available to every Football League club. Scout7 (much like its rivals) allows every club to watch any game played in the Premier and Football League, as well as other video from 85 countries and statistics from 150 nations.

These kind of paid-for services, which include the more popular WyScout and Instat, also offer statistics and video including information on goals, appearances, contracts, agents and such like. Performance data, such as running statistics and pass completion are included in some but below the Championship these are harder to come by, and certainly not publicly.

Do Swindon use Analytics in Scouting?

I don’t know, and certainly Power hasn’t spoken about it if they do. However, other clubs in the football leagues do. Famously Brentford opted for analytics-led system, but Brighton and also Barnsley have made a success of a lower profile hybrid. Barnsley’s is particularly interesting as they have been recruiting heavily in the non-league of late relying heavily on data to find their targets.

Using analytics gives a club the ability to review hundreds of players in a short space of time rather than just a few. Former Brentford quant Ted Knutson said his team of two stats guys and six part-time scouts evaluated over 1,000 players in a year for Brentford and Midtjylland. Just think how many Air Miles you’d get for that using traditional methods…

The Purpose of Scouting

Scouting is usually thought as finding good players and signing them, but there is more to it than that – and slightly less. First of all scouting is just a part of the process, the information-gathering side, recruitment is the side of the business which makes the decisions, does the deals, actually spends the money. Sometimes this falls to a scout, often it is their job to convince others of their opinion.

Scouting can be further split between ‘traditional scouting’ and ‘technical scouting’. The former is usually characterised as men watching matches or talking to contacts – ‘boots on the ground’. The later is a mixture of using video information, data and online research. It can involve complex performance algorithms, just as it can also involve reading the Non-League Paper a striker who scored 20 goals in the basement division but whose contract is about to run out. Some still see ‘technical scouting’ as controversial but almost every club uses a mixture of both. 

Whatever the mix or the process, it is vital that scouting reports, technical information, goalscoring records and background checks are all treated as data. They all must be collected, recorded, assessed and used properly. Many clubs also have standardised scouting forms to avoid biases creeping into reports or differences in language or interpretation. But more of that later.

Something has to be done with all of this data though. Matt Jackson, Wigan’s Head of Football Operations puts it “Generating information is easy. Processing information and making sure it is quality information is the hard part”. As an example, it is no good knowing that Maidstone have a great defender if no one reliable goes to watch him or remembers that when they looked at his Instagram they found that he spent most Saturday nights lying in his own vomit. Things must be joined up and documented, something that would probably be Jewell’s job.

As mentioned earlier, scouting the opposition is another element of the role. Not only will a scout look for strengths and weakness they will also pick up on patterns of play as well as set-piece routines. This info can then be added to video clips for analysts to pass onto the manager or directly to players to judge their own performances or plan for the upcoming games. These reports can be extremely detailed and so even the best scout can’t watch one player to sign and at the same time report on the opposition.

Next Time…

That is just the beginning. In the next part, I’ll look at the benefits of scouting, some of the pitfalls, find where Swindon have gone wrong in the past and suggest a few articles for further reading.

 

 

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