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SBJ Live: Redefining Talent Development for the Global Football Market

  • Guests: Ian Buckman, Academy Manager at Brighton & Hove Albion F.C., Jonathan Hunter-Barrett, Academy Manager at Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C., Matt Wade, Head of Sporting Strategy at Feyenoord Rotterdam, and Stephen Smith, CEO of Kitman Labs.
  • Moderators: Dan Kaufman, Managing Director of Sports Technology at Sports Business Journal, and Cameron Macdonald, Content Producer at Leaders in Sport

During the webinar, several topics were discussed, including systematically identifying new players, developing talent from the academy to the first team, educating and developing coaches, and supporting the holistic development of athletes in their care.


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Hey, everyone. Welcome to this episode of SBJ Live. I am Dan Kaufman with Sports Business Journal. I am here just for the introduction.

So you only see, a little bit of me before I flip it over to our moderator, Cameron McDonald. But as always, we have a great lineup you here at SBJ Live. And as always, I go through a few of the logistical things that I find make for the best experience for you all, the audience. So just bear with me if you heard them before.

If you’ve not heard them, pay attention for just a second so that I can make sure that you get the best out of this experience. So two most important things. One, there’s a chat bubble on the right-hand side.

As you’re coming in, you can see that some people are saying hello. Thank you Georgios for saying hello from Norway. Appreciate you attending. Say hello there.

Let us know who you are, where you’re coming from and what you do. And if you see people who you know, go ahead and them back. We really encourage that here. Right next to the chat bubble is a questions bubble also on your bottom right hand side.

That’s where you should submit your questions that wanna make sure the Cameron gets to our panelists. And don’t wait till the end. There is no specific Q&A portion of this. Make sure you’re submitting your questions in real-time as they come into your mind and you can also upvote questions.

So monitor the questions bubble and upvote questions that you wanna make sure that we do our best to get to. We’ll go for about forty, maybe forty five minutes. If there’s just a ton of questions, we’ll go a little bit longer, but just know that we should get you out of here in about forty minutes.

Okay. This is Redefining Talent Development for the Global Football Market. It is presented by Kitman Labs. Thank you so much to Kitman for the support. It’s my pleasure to introduce, Cameron McDonald. Cameron is coming from our office in London, our sister company Leaders and Cameron is a perfect person to moderate this session, Cameron. Thank you so much.

Thank you very much for that that lovely introduction, Dan, and you to all of our panelists as well for joining us today.

As you mentioned, a really exciting topic and a really timely topic as well to be discussing in terms of making the most of talent development, which is to become increasingly important in global football. Just to set the scene, I would like to come round to all of our panelists just to briefly give an overview of your roles and responsibilities of your respective organizations. I’m gonna start with you, Stephen, as the, the partner of this this chat.

Yeah. Well, I think my role is pretty simple. The CEO and founder of Kitman Labs, and I think I I get the luxury of of you know, walking into the clubs with some of these, these great teams that we’re talking with today and others around the world and really taking a big picture view of what we’re doing, looking at the strategy for what does talent development mean for them? What are they trying to get out of that?

You know, what, you know, how do they what are the most important questions that they want to answer in relation to talent development you know, what those are current strengths and weaknesses across their, you know, academy and youth systems look like today? How are they creating alignment from their first team to their academy teams? What types of data are going to be needed to answer some of those questions, and then, you know, really breaking that, that down into, okay, well, how are we going to do that? How are we going to collect that?

How are we going to utilize that? How are we going to operationalize that every day? And then how are we how are we looking to innovate and progress? So, I have an incredibly fun job.
I get to get in and talk about the big picture of this and, and then bring a lot of other people with me that can then go and and turn that into actions every day.

Fantastic. Well, great great start. Ian, I’m gonna come to you next.

Hi. Yeah. Good afternoon, everybody. Great to see you. On the abutment. I’m the Academy Manager at Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club.

I’ve been in the coaching for thirty odd years, couple years working in the States and period of time here, my role at Brighton and is, sort of transitioned from a head coach enroll into a category manager role, sort of overseeing the program we have pre academy starting from sort of under seven under eight through to under twenty one. So everything essentially below the the first team level.

We’ve sort of transitioned through academy statuses over the years and moved to a new training facility and and the progression of the first team to the Premier League. So we try and provide support to help facilitate that and produce as many players as we can through our system.

I’m gonna come to you, next, John.

Hi, everyone. My name is John Hunter Barrett, and the Academy Manager for the football, Wolverhampton Wanderers. I’ve been at the club now for fourteen years in July, so quite a long time and seen many, many, many transitions, of the football club and seeing it evolving from Premier League right after to League One and then back up there at the premier to the Premier League, and competing now at that level. Like Ian, we’re a category-one academy. And I, obviously, all technical aspects of, the player, the coach, and, and, and, and that sort, that side of development


That’s me.

And last but of course by no means least, Matt.

Thanks, Cameron. Good to meet everyone. Thanks for having us. So I’m the Head of Sporting Strategy at Feyenoord Rotterdam, which is, a team in the Netherlands, competing in the 2nd in Eredivisie.

I’m responsible for setting and managing the sporting plans, projects, initiatives, working with department heads So whether that’s first team head coach or heads of Academy, like, at these two here, and leadership that really try and take us closer to the goal set by the board. Before this role, I was working in a sports leadership advisory space with Bloom Sports Partners and Sportsology before that. Being lucky enough to work on projects across the NBA, the NFL, MLS and NWSL, most recently as well. So Yeah. Good to be here.

Brilliant. And and probably a great place to start with you, Matt, given that history. I’m quite interested to hear you described some how your club is using data and how you’re, you’re also taking a budget to identify promising players.

Yeah. So we clubs like ours, we’re not really in the one percent who can, you know, comfortably buy Champions League ready players, which is a competition that that we competed in this year and our ambitions to be here every year.

Which means we need to attract and develop players with champions league potential, rather than the ability to perform now. And how we do that is really a combination of, eyes, so the live scouting element of that.

Is so, gather intel, understanding the player’s background and, and whether they could, assimilate into a country where actually English isn’t the first language.

And thirdly, the the numbers aspects of the data behind that, and understanding particularly there’s so much data that’s available, but, you know, at this level, it’s not really a question of good and bad players. It’s more right wrong players for the environment that that we’re in, and how we kind of manage the data that we have and then use it is really important. Now when it comes to talent development, for us, that’s things like biological age, learning ability, physical potential.

We have something that we call kinda the grit factor, which is our perseverance in combination with a passion for a long term goal.

And I think if you can get smart around being able to identify what level of data and things that go into those things.

It allows you to just make more informed decisions, which again is something that, you know, no one has ever said, give me less information to make a decision. So And that’s where we stand on it, really.

And, Ian, coming to you, would you say that that reflects your experience in terms of how Brighton are using data to identify players outside of the academy to bring them there, but also within the academy to understand who the real gems are.

Yeah. Certainly. I think, I think from outside the academy, I very reflective of what what we do. I think we all sort of share sort of similar models and frameworks in terms of how we try and go about that. I think within the academy, we sort of have a very, good opportunity to progress at the football club because we have a very strong alignment from top to bottom.

From the first team, you know, the expectation we’re very fortunate that, everyone works in very close proximity here. So for us, it’s quite easy for us to sort of shape the progress through the football club. We would code up playing philosophy. We would have profiles that run from nine to twenty one, that link closely with our first team profile.

We would share the profiles between coaching and recruitment across both spaces in terms of academy and the first team.

That allows to do a lot of work around sort of comparative data also, sort of around players and and squads in different phases and how we’re progressing and allow us to track development of players through the system.

I think we’re very fortunate with the Football Intelligence Platform. So what that provides for us, we’re able to sort of track our coaching delivery and feedback to the players on what they’ve had year in year out. One of our our sort of main priorities is to do what we say we do.

And for us, the best way to demonstrate that is to evidence that’s where the data becomes key for us.

And and a good time to to fold in Stephen shortly with the mention of the Football Intelligence Platform. But just before we do, John, would you sort of agree with with what’s been said so far if that’s similar to your experience?

Yeah. I think the the only thing maybe I would I would add to that from a developmental perspective.

Data and insights, are quite encouraging for for our cultures and our recruiters, to know that we’re actually delivering the right thing.

To to meet the needs of what the modern game is actually looking like and what it’s gonna look like, to meet the needs of of players that are actually in the environment, and I suppose sometimes to take away biases, that’s that you that you may have on the eye from a coaching and development perspective.


Stephen, coming to you, we’re we’re really lucky to have your sort of cross club, cross lead perspective, sort of sitting hearing these conversations and, and, and lots of different input. From your perspective, from a Kitman Labs perspective, what factors would you they have brought about this change in in how leagues and clubs are looking at talent ID and talent development.

I mean, the the growth that we’re seeing in global sport in terms of, you know, across lots of different paradigms is really driving this. We look at the, like, the cost of talent, right, the, that we’re seeing record transfer fees every year. And that is, like, that’s becoming unattainable for everybody. Like, Matt mentioned it.

Right? Not every club is a one per center. Right? And when we look at even the split of that talent and where that money is being spent, I think over fifty percent of the money spent on transfer fees globally last year we spent in the UK alone.

Right? That means that, like, there’s lots of teams, there’s lots of leagues that are, you know, being priced out of the market and how do you, like, that that doesn’t stop them from wanting to be competitive.

That makes things really difficult. And even within that, when you look at the split of the amount of money spent from transfer fee perspective across across the top twenty clubs, let’s say, in the UK.

It’s a it’s a small pocket that the vast majority of that, that money is going to. And that’s not like that that is not pre precluding certain teams from wanting to be successful wants it to be competitive, and they have to find smarter ways to do that. And it means that finding the right role and ingredients as early as you can and the right fit, not whether they’re good or bad, like Matt mentioned as well, finding them earlier, like, understanding from your club’s perspective, what does that mean for you being able to then turn that into, like, to objectify that nurture them through your process.

That that is key.

I think it’s really interesting here because we’re talking about something that is necessarily quite a long-term project in a business that as we all know can often be very, very short-term. I think what I’d ask next to Ian Matt and John is what kinds of sort of key infrastructure and process have you had to put in place to support that talent development pipeline that might not have been there before in in sort of recent years. I’m a start with with you, Matt.

Yeah. For us, I think that for the level we’re at, our infrastructure, physical infrastructure and facilities were really strong. Our academy building was built in 2018. So it it was relatively, fit for purpose and and still is. I think for us, it was more around the processes element. So fundamentally having a clear understanding of our club vision and mission and then breaking that down into our vision on football. So general intentions, principles, actually up until three, four years ago, we never had that. And you could see that in the in the kind of style that we played from first team level down.

The next part of that is all around the, you know, what’s our vision on players. So Again, that’s what Ian was talking about around the player profiles.

The basic skills that they need as citizens within within society as well, and then how we identify the right kinds of players for our ecosystem.

But then once you’ve got those players in, you need to have a real strong vision on developing players. So we have, our head of methodology did a great job of creating, what we call these, learning lines. So depending where you’re at within the academy system, almost depends on, you know, are you being taught how to train? Is it how to play in our system? Is it how to battle? Is it how to win?

And that’s kind of forms the basis of our annual plans. And, you know, a good example could be, you know, at seventy and eighteen, we try and teach them how to battle that might actually mean that when we have, you know, certain competition games or whatever, we might actually try and encourage the referee to kind of make some tough decisions against our players to try and help develop that element of cognitive, management around, bad referees.

Once we kind of kind of get an understanding of what those learning lines are, we then look at the training accents. So what are the programs and training themes on a annual basis, six monthly basis, but also a weekly basis.

Know, we’ll send, as I’m sure, the guys do as well, a weekly intentions program with clips from best practice from around the world, and they’re playing on TVs throughout the academy all day. So they can start to see what good looks like as we’re you know, really thoughtful around what we’re developing in that, in that area. Then the final piece of it is around the individual player development plans.

So if you view those things as there’s a bit of a triangle, adding clarity at all those stages is really important.

But the context has to come first.

And it’s a good point you make. And I sort of wanna loop back as well to something that that Stephen said before coming to you Ian because, you know, as Stephen rightly mentions, we’ve seen the money across football in terms of transfers massively explode over recent years. How has that impacted your planning year on year? And have you found that you’ve had to be more agile in terms of implementing your talent development pipeline? Or is it about sticking to to what you know and what you know works in spite of sort of changing criteria around you?

Yeah. I think it’s a little bit of both Cameron. I think it’s knowing what we’re good at and and sort of maintaining that and sustaining that. And I think at the same time, a big part of our football club is also, that willingness to continue to grow and develop.

So I think it’s a little bit of both in truth. I think we’ve we’ve faced several challenges in sort of recent years. The, the UK coming out of the European Union, and and Brexit has been challenge for us. You know, we used to be able to bring in players from the continent at the the age of sixteen and you now can’t do that to eighteen.

So there’s a a premium around sort of national players, in the UK right now, which is, what a great deal of challenge.

Financial fair play rules, you know, for the football clubs, are obviously very prevalent at the moment with the situation in the Premier League and, you know, there’s certainly things that are having an impact. And I think you look around the game, certainly in the Premier League at the moment, a lot of clubs are trying to produce young players and give young players the opportunity, which is fantastic for us in the academy system.

I think partly here at Brighton at the moment, we’re experiencing our first year plan in Europe. So for us, we’ve got the increased demands of number of games. It’s a much larger squad for some of those games. We help facilitate training.

We’re very fortunate that, Roberto De Serbia, our first team manager has academy virtually every day over there with them. And again, that all sorts of helps with that production line. You know, we’re trying to produce players for Brighton and if we can’t be trying to produce players for the game. And as Matt said, I think outside of that, we have a a duty of care and a responsibility for all the young people in our care.

And we hope that they leave a better person at the end of the day as well. And a big part of what we do is for the football club from a footballing contact but also for our community and being good role models in that community and creating a sustainable base for the football club for them long term.

And it’s a great point you mentioned there to bring it back to the, ultimately, there is that duty of care, and I think often we can talk about, you know, developing talent as almost sort of a commodity, but it’s a great point to mention. I mean, coming to you, John, is that something you would you would share in in terms of sort of growing talent the for the team but also growing talent for the market and and the wider game?

Yeah. For sure. I think first of all, Ian, and Matt both make very interesting points.

I think in our environment now, we’re even more accountable for what we spend. So we’re we’re more accountable for what we spend in terms of our annual budget, on developing players, that are in our environment for for for the wider game and for our first team. But then, ultimately, we’ve got to understand, where the game’s going. So there’s three things in, in, in, in simple terms, so what, what hasn’t changed within the game, and what has changed, and then what is future game always look like, and you’ve always gotta have an understanding of all three of all three of those things.

And then make sure your processes are aligned to meet the needs of that. I think Well, I’m quite fortunate, and we’re quite fortunate at Wolves because, it is a football club of opportunity. So a lot of people in senior positions have been in very junior positions previously. So understand, you know, what it actually looks like on the ground, for the staff.

So for myself, I started on an hour a week fourteen years ago, our Sporting Director started as a part-time Scout eight years ago.

Our Head of Professional Football Development started as our Loans Manager. So there’s there’s lots of different people that are in senior key positions now in the football club, that started in very different ones. And what does that mean and suppose for us?

It tightens up our processes, because in order for us to to actually improve our productivity, and improve the quality that reflects our first team. That looks very different to the first team, you know, of two seasons ago. You only have to look at Mario Lemina and Rúben Neves, top players, but the difference now is our goal is in Mario Lemina as you as your teaming field players complete the different profile. So the academy has to reflect that.

So through the alignment, we’re we’re quite fortunate with our Football manager, Gary O’Neil, affording the opportunity for sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen-year-old boys to actually train, with the first team, but, to answer your question, Yes. We are producing for our first team, but we’re also looking at loans and and sales too as as our as our three key areas.

And I like that that you’ve sort of essentially explained that it’s a talent development organization at all levels, not just on the pitch, but but off the pitch as well. Which is definitely speaks to to the mindset.

Coming back to you, Stephen, to talk about this sort of multi-club and all the conversations you are having. What are you hearing from the clubs if the biggest challenge in creating and deploying this talent and development pipeline.

I think it’s it’s one of the biggest challenges is bringing it together and actually extracting meaning from it all. Right? When we think of, like, the complexity of what everybody here has already already spoken about, there’s a lot of moving pieces. Right?

And as John just said, it’s not just about focusing on what’s happening today or what we have. It’s actually about keeping an eye on the future and where you’re trying to get to as well. And you think of the size of some of these organizations, we’re talking about, like, you know, in some of the, like, academy systems in the UK, we’re talking about a hundred coaches. Like, that is a as a complex organization, like just that number of people to be able to bring together, how do you create that level of alignment and how do you how do you create that level of objectivity hundred different mindsets, a hundred different personalities coming into the mix.

And how do you align all of that back to your culture? So And then when you when you fold in on top of that, the amount of data that is now being collected across these clubs, whether it’s, you know, I think everybody here has mentioned a difference strand of data, but whether it’s psychology, whether it’s personality, whether it’s biological age, whether it’s physical capabilities, tactical capabilities, cognitive and decision-making capabilities or or even the athlete’s ability to learn. I think one of the biggest issues is really what do you do with that? How do you transform that into something meaningful?

And I think, you know, I think somebody already mentioned, like, nobody has ever said, give me less information. I think Jonathan said, like, they want the right information. Right? Teams want intelligence.

And I think to have intelligence and to get the right information, they they need answers. Right? They need answers. And if you if you want answers, you need questions.
Those questions need to be smart. They need to be specific and measurable and achievable and irrelevant and relevant and time-bound. And I think that it’s that process, I think, that is the kind of final frontier for a lot of organizations. It’s okay.

Well, what are those questions? Right? What are the physical capabilities that we need within our club to play our style? What is the type of personality that we actually want in the playing group that we have?

How are we going to demonstrate that they do have an ability to learn if we want that? Like, it’s it’s breaking all of those pieces down something quite tangible, quite measurable, and then essentially educating. Like, it this becomes a real education educational problem.

How do we educate the entire globe around these are the most important aspects. This is how we’re going to get this information. This is how we’re going to assess it. Is how we’re gonna communicate it with the athletes.

This is how we’re going to empower them and involve them. And that, like, that’s big. Right? That’s a big, like, strategic change project.

But it’s really exciting. Right? And I think you’re seeing, like, the sophistication of these clubs, like, everybody here has talked about a level of intelligence sophistication that’s coming into a youth system that in ten years ago was probably neglected and didn’t have phenomenal coaches and didn’t have the level of, like, you know, creativity and and innovation being brought to it that’s being brought today. And I think that’s what makes this probably one of the most exciting and emerging areas in sport today.

What would you attribute that to? I mean, it has the emergence of platforms like yours democratized data and allowed, you know, clubs of all sizes with varying resources to sort of better take advantage?

I mean, that’s certainly the role that we want to play, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Right? We’ve we’ve invested over a hundred million dollars in our platform today to try and to try and do that. But I think what’s driving that is just the market.

Right? I think we we already already talked about, like, the rising cost of talent, but the financial fair play rules are making a big difference. And, you know, Ian even mentioned like the changes with the the structure between the UK and the EU, there’s all of these different dynamics that are basically pushing probes to in ways that are making it really difficult for them to operate these constraints and regulations that mean that they there’s an ever changing landscape for them to react and respond to And it does mean that the reliance on external talent is it’s becoming harder and harder and harder, which means that you have to tighten up and improve the processes that you have.

You have to be able to take the ingredients that you have within your own environment and do a way better job with them. And in some ways, like, that’s actually a really good thing because it means that we’re looking inwards all the time instead of being able to just say, hey, let’s grab that player over here. Let’s understand how do we build them better. Let’s understand how do how do the drills that we’re using impact the characteristics that we want to see on the field.

Does the way that we communicate with our athletes and how does the way we talk with them on the field? How does that impact the learning outcomes that they’re getting from those sessions?

Like, these are really interesting questions for, like, these clubs to ask, and you’re getting really smart people now finding, like, that competitive advantage through through, like, really smart ways. And, we’re certainly loving being involved in those discussions and working with guys like we have on on the call today.

John, Matt Ian, we’ve got a great question, that’s coming from Francisco in the chat. Please do keep those questions coming in. I’ll endeavor to answer to ask them when I see them. But the reason I like this question is it touches a little bit on this idea of data versus, you know, intuition and gut feeling these things that we always talk about.

In all sports, really. He asks whether you have a set of KPIs that help you identify when a player is ready for first team football. And if I sort of add on my own bit, How does that then feed into the conversations you’re having with the the coaching staff? I’m a start with you Ian.

Yeah, for sure. I I think I’d go back to our profiles. I think that’s that’s where we always start. We we have sort of profiles that work. As I say, through the football club, we look in and out of possession, we look physically, we psychologically at those those various areas.

We have certain targets that we’re looking for the players to meet in those areas. So I think that’s always a good place to start. I think in the transition to first team in particular, it probably becomes a little broader for that. I think, instantly, the the main thing that comes back to us from our first team staff or first team players are more how they are as people, their personality, how they express themselves over in the environment.

So I really think it’s a balance of the two. I think for us in the academy where we have the opportunity now to look back at people that have blazed the trial and got into the first scene before and we have the opportunity to to check back and cross reference that against those role models and see progress and again compare their journeys at the same time, we’re very fortunate here that we have some great senior professionals in the group, Adam Lallana, James Milner, Danny Welbeck, Lewis Dunk, and they’ll feedback to us a great deal about the players as people.

And it’s really trying to harness both aspects for us. So Again, very fortunate that we have those links. Another real strength of ours is similar to what Jonathan was saying. A lot of the staff that have gone over to the first team from analysis perspective or a support science perspective, even a coaching perspective, have been previous members of the academy.

And again, it just allows us to join those dots all the time. So specifically in answer to the question, we’re always looking at our player profiles and we’re always auditing the players against those profiles. And that’s how we would work through the academy system when it gets closer to the first team. Then very much it’s that, still that comparison between the data of how they sort of react in the under twenty one squad and the first team squad. But also that more subjective feedback around how they are as people and how they’re coping in that environment.

So there’s still that healthy mix between the the sort of the day driven and the subjective. Matt, is it more or less the same for you?

Yeah. Definitely starting with those profiles, you know, the ability to measure and monitor football vision through player profiles is is essential.

I think, you know, we’ve one of the things that we’re looking more closely at now is with they’re not really KPIs, but they’re more importance factors at different age phases. So I know Stephen, this is something Kitman Labs do with with a lot of clubs is working to understand through your own, data and information on and also historical success or failures.

You know, what o what’s really important at another fifteen is to graduate to another sixteen. You know, is it is it more physical? Is it? And then the closer you get to the first team, I actually believe this is more based on opportunity.

So we know for us, our head coach in the first team If you can perform physically to a level where you can train with the first team for a week, you’ve got a much more like, higher chance of staying after that period because, you know, you could have great technical, tactical abilities, but actually for us at this level, because of our style of play, because of the physical demand and the intensity demands that we that we expect from our players, that the technical tactical element comes faster for us when you’re training with the group than the physical elements would. So that’s like a higher waiting for us than the other stuff potentially would be.

So I think understanding what it to move through the age phases is really important from an academy perspective, and player profiles absolutely are the cornerstone to do that. But then understanding, you know, each head coach is slightly different. There’s there’s no real kind of when a player can do this, this, and this, they’re ready to move to the first team. A lot of it is opportunity.

Injury plays a big part of, you know, Marcus Rashford would probably be the the greatest example of that.

And a different coach’s will academy plays into the first team set up at different moments, but you need to understand what makes that happen, and how can you kind of maximize the opportunities for the kids to go into that environment.

And and John, sort of, just to to pick up on that last point that Matt made there because, you know, we taught already about things like Brexit, obviously coaches changing so much can change in such a short amount of time in the game. How are you working to ensure that your your know, your strategies, your indicators, your models are evergreen amongst any number of things that might change at random.

I think again, it’s knowing what knowing what the, the outcome, knowing what the the the senior team actually looks like, and having a real clear understanding of that. So as you’re transitioning players through the phases, it actually reflects what that looks like. Now for us, you’ve got objective things like physicality as Matt mentioned before, the certain the certain physicality, data metrics that are essential to to play in the Premier League. So again, that has to be reflected in within what we’re actually developing, our players to actually do. And we have slight characteristics of drive regulation and openness.

Again, a little bit more subjective. So that comes down to the bits that Ian was talking around, character and personality.

And what we always go back to is past, so what who’s been successful in our program to go and play for our first team will gone on to play for somebody else’s first team at a respectable level, and what are the commonalities of what they had to what the players are actually, what the players have coming through now, and then what does the first team actually look like. So I think taking all those things into consideration, the objective things and the subjective things, I think it helps to form the outcome that you actually want. And then finally, session planning, So having an idea of, like, what’s above, what’s below, and what’s outside, is it better than what you’ve got in the building?

Do you need to recruit in that area because you’ve got one younger that you can actually, you know, accelerate maybe through the program? So I think it’s having an understanding of all of those moving parts.

To help form the opportunity ultimately because that’s what it’s gonna come down to for, for a player to actually pay for your first team. Because when you actually look back at the last probably ten to twenty years of, Premier League championship football, I can probably remember two, maybe three players that I’ve actually, like, played for some play for the play for the first team purely based on ability. Other than that, it tends to be opportunity to go in, how what are they like, what are the like as people, what are the like as players, can they cope, come back out, and then go back in again. And then transition their way into the senior team.

And I like that that’s sort of been a consistent thread between all three aunts there. Of you’re doing your job to to put them in the best possible position for time to the time to be just right.
I kind of want us to move next into sort of how your work within your various leagues. And sort of just understand a little bit about, you know, you’ve all talked about how you’re developing players for for the club but also developing players for the game is a huge consideration.

When you’re instituting your development programs, how key if at all is, you know, support or or any role from the league in which you play? Where where does that all come in? Or start with you, Ian?

Yeah. I think we’re very fortunate in that instance, Cameron. I I think the Premier League are are really proactive in supporting clubs and supporting staff. They run a lot of great programs or development programs for for coaches, for heads of coaching, for managers within the academy system.

So they’re very, very supportive in that. I think, collectively, that sort of helped challenge the thinking in the system. As the triple p, which is the the process that we will work through around our academy environments has developed. I think the the thinking has changed, and certainly those courses and those programs have helped challenge the thinking.

I think through those in environments. And again, with a lot of support from the league, it’s sort of given us access to other sports, other industries, different staff and events.

As a result, you get exposed to new ideas, new technology, you know, and just being network invisible in these type of environments that we share today, you know, you meet some great people. And as I said earlier, we’re really, focused on the consistency alignment of our program. We’re very open to the growth of it. And so I think we would all be in sort of similar situations where that’s really helped to fuel that and the league has has played a central role in that. Of course, we’re very fortunate with the resources that the Premier League has.

That’s helped with the football clubs. And as Matt spoke about in terms of facilities and resources, you know, that’s been a significant increase in the English game as well.
And hopefully the the young people in our care can come and come and take full advantage of that.

And John is the experience very similar from your perspective.

Yeah. Very for sure. For sure. Very very similar. I think speaking about it from from personal experience, again, coming coming through the the the academy system, from from a coaching lens, the development programs and schemes that are available, for for staff now is second to none, it’s outstanding.

So I think that provision’s definitely in place. And then I think from an academy perspective, you know, utilizing the brand of the Premier League, for wider experiences like tours and tournaments, and that that the the games program and things like that. That that’s provided has been has been excellent.

And I liked, especially what was said there about sort of learning from some other sports and other exposure was was definitely very interesting. Matt, I’m keen to hear your perspective.

Yeah. I think the world looks to the triple P in the in the, the system in England as the gold standard, and I think rightly so. I think one thing that we can do, well, there’s a couple of things in the Netherlands that that, you know, we’re very fortunate you know, whether it’s facilities or levels of investment, our grassroots kind of system and standards is one of the best in the world. I think that really helps.

You know, we’re lucky to have one of the best amateur systems, especially in Europe, but I think we can do more to develop the next generation of Dutch coaches, whether that is providing more courses or increasing the standards and levels of requirements for access at the top level.

I’d also like to, you know, in an ideal world, the best under fourteen’s coach in the world might not be the best under fifteen’s coach in the world. So I’d like to see more age-specific programs and incentives when we get a really good understanding of, you know, the levels of maturation through the life cycle of an academy player. And actually how they can differ, and then almost effectively map and develop coaches, against specific settings rather than what I see quite a lot in different clubs, which is, okay, you performed really well as an under thirteenth coach. Now, you kind of ready for under fourteens level or under fifteens or sixteens.

I don’t really think it should work like that. Now there’s a lot of individual coach, ambition that plays a part of that, you know, some ultimately wanna be a first team coach and that obviously pays is a part in it, but I think we could be a little bit more granular, as leagues as federations on What does a good coach at each age phase look like? And how do we develop those, rather than a more blanket approach, which is really what I kinda see at the moment?

Would you say that we’re we’re traveling in that direction, or we still have a lot of way to go?

I still think it’s a long way to go. And it’s it’s just as much around the education to coaches that actually being the best from the fourteens coach in the world is is just as important as being a system head coach at first team level. And we have such a long way to go as a sport to understand that, I think. You you look at, American football being a college head coach versus an NFL head coach.

There’s barely any difference anymore. Or its levels of compensation or, levels of ability, you go to Texas. High school football is you know, it’s it’s the same as being a college head coach or even an NFL coach at some some areas. So I think we can learn a lot from other markets and sports and I know that actually, I have a skill set.
That means I can do a certain job better than other jobs, and that’s okay.

What I don’t see at the moment is enough support and opportunities from leagues and federations to almost encourage that, to to make sure that, yeah, we are producing the best coaches for the right areas because I think it’s equally as important as for the coach development as it is to play development.

In mentioning to other sports, other markets, I wanna bring Stephen back in. Stephen, obviously, we’ve talked a lot about how the the data landscape has changed. But I’m really interested to hear from your perspective how you’re seeing it continue to evolve, sort of which emerging trends you’re most excited about that is another market, whether that that is another sport and what you sort of have, the most hopeful moving forward.

Yeah. I think, listen every every sport and every league and every geography is different because of the environments around them, right, and the Matt just mentioned, but the NFL is very unique in that, you know, they’re not focused on talent development because they don’t have academy systems because they have a they have to rely on a collegiate system. And, you know, the the colleges have to have to rely on a high school system, but they’re not necessarily all connected to each other. And that prays places a different level of constraint on them.

A lot of their innovation is around getting in recruitment because they need to find the best talent because they can’t build it. Whereas in, like, in football and and specifically within the UK, I think we’ve seen predominance over the last number of years in investment in the talent development pipeline. And I think that the primarily don’t get enough credit globally for what they’ve done. And for how they’ve been thinking about their business, for the last ten years, they have they have been investing in, like, building, like, a rising tide of, like, of capabilities and regulating the standards around what happens across the entirety of football in the UK.

And it’s not just the premier league. It’s not just the top twenty clubs. They’re investing in almost a hundred clubs and elevating the standards in each one. And they’re not just investing in the athletes.

They’re investing in the coaches as well and creating a pathway for the coaches. And, you know, creating a continued education for them and getting them access to better capabilities, better services, challenging their thinking, And they’re the first league in the world to have done that and to have invested in all of their their teams. They think about their business different.

I think it’s pretty incredible because the vast majority of other leagues, like football playing leagues globally, they believe that, oh, talent development, that’s the team’s responsibility. But I think the Premier League, what they’ve harness and understood is that actually our product is reliant on the players that we can develop. And if we cannot control the quality of those players as they emerge through, well, guess what? We can’t con we can’t control the quality of the product that we’re selling at first team level on TV. Therefore, we can’t we we cannot convert the potential TV rights, media rights, broadcast rights, like, you know, sponsorship rights, etcetera.

And that hurts their business. I think they’ve been really smart because what they’ve realized is that if we invest in the bottom, everything comes up. And other leads globally that, like, have decided, hey, actually, that’s the team’s responsibilities. Well, guess what?

We’ll have the Feyenoord of the world. We’ll have the Axes in, like, in Eredivisie who will invest more in their capabilities, but then we’ll have, like, eighteen other clubs. I can’t afford to do that.

Don’t know how to do that.

Don’t have the strategic capabilities. And therefore, the product of the area Eredivisie is not growing at the same speed that the Premier League is. And it’s and it’s I think it’s it’s really hindering them, and we’re seeing that with other leagues globally that where Superpowers ten years ago are not as exciting products anymore because they haven’t made that investment.

And I think that, you know, where we need to get to in this industry is that the leagues need to start to take control over this, and you will always have the Feyenoord, Axes, the Real Madrid, the Barcelona that are trying to do extra on top of that But by bringing everybody on that journey, we’re going to make a difference in this industry. And, and that’s what that’s what I think we need to see. And I think the Premier League needs to be commended for what they’ve done because they truly are an incredible organization very, very smart in terms of the way they’ve been thinking about their business.

And broadly speaking, I mean, if I could ask you to look into a crystal ball a little bit here, I mean, with the success that’s coming down the line for the Premier League, do you see that eventually becoming the standard across the sport, across the industry, or do you think that the gap will be so wide by that point?

It’ll be, you know, much No.

I think I think listen.

Other leagues are are starting to see the the the impressive nature of what’s happening in UK football. How competitive it is as well? Like, the the the, like, the championship, even, like, EFL one and two, what’s happening there, and then the progression into the championship, the championship progression into the Premier League it is unbelievably competitive now. Whereas it probably wasn’t that competitive ten years ago, and all of that is coming from the development of talent, how much talent is coming through the UK market today.

I think other leagues don’t have a choice. If they wanna be competitive, they’re going to have to adopt the same types of principles and the same types of approaches. They’re going to have to invest in the development because they’re not going to be able to compete from a financial perspective and a monetary perspective and the transfer markets are going to have to build better talent. And there’ll always be leagues that will figure it out and do it smartly, and then we’ll go and compete.

Right? I don’t think anybody anybody has a fiefdom. I don’t think anybody owns insurance. Right?

There are people that’s going to be, there are people that are gonna do this really, really well everywhere.

To add some color to that, if I can.

As a league in terms of rankings by total debuts from twenty eighteen, nineteen to last year, England’s first, the English championship second, league ranking by debuts per club in that same period, England’s first. Ranking by number of successful transitions from academy to first team, England’s first. Ranking by transition per club, you can probably guess where this is going. Right?

There’s a the level of the gap is becoming so wide now where for us talent development and what we do in the academy is still such a competitive advantage because of how much effort resource kind of work that we put into what we do, but kind of as Stefan was saying. Stephen was saying, if as a league, we don’t get a grip on this pretty quickly and start putting minimum standards in place that says, you know what? If you don’t have this much resource or investment or this level of qualification as a coaching staff, etcetera, which costs a certain amount of results. But actually if you don’t do that, then the players aren’t that you want probably aren’t gonna come they have the opportunity to go to somewhere that does have this infrastructure.
Then, I do think the gap is going to continue to widen.

Well, that is probably a great place to end up having a little bit of a look into the future and certainly, Stephen. It is a particularly good year for the championship so at the moment. So, so what are we excited about. I’m gonna pass back over to to Dan shortly, but I just want to finish off by saying a massive thank you, Stephen, to Matt. Ian and to John. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you all. So thank you so much for your time.

Yeah. Brilliant discussion. Thank you all. Also a thank you to the audience. This will be available on demand to everyone who is registered.

So if you miss something and you want to go back and check it out, you’ll get an email confirmation and you’ll be able to watch this on demand. And I hope to see you all at another episode of SBJ live down the line. We do these nearly every week. So don’t go anywhere and we’ll see you back here again.

Cameron, brilliantly done. Thank you so much for moderating. I think it was excellent. And Ian, Stephen, Matt, and John, we couldn’t do these without you.

Thank you to Kitman Labs again for the support. Have a great day, everyone. We’ll see you next time.


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