The Secret Soccer Analyst: Mo Moneyball Mo Problems

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The Secret Soccer Analyst: Mo Moneyball Mo Problems

Steve Jobs once said, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’“

As I sit in the office on Monday morning, this quote resonates strongly with me. Today, for the first time in my life, I log in to Facebook at work. Almost an hour of scrolling through pictures goes by, before I realize that the rest of the staff will be arriving shortly. Facebook closed, email back online, spreadsheets open and games begin to download.

This is by far the lowest I’ve felt in my years working in the game I think I still love.

On Saturday, I missed the wedding of my closest childhood friend. Over the years we have drifted apart as we followed different paths. Or, to be more precise, I veered off the path we were both on while he stayed on course. He almost certainly wouldn’t call me his best friend anymore, but when we do get together, it’s like we never skipped a beat.

I wish I could say this was the only major life event I’ve missed to date because of work, but that wouldn’t be true. Weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and sometimes just casual get-togethers have all passed me by. Recently though, it’s started to chip away at me more than ever before.

Sometimes I look at my old friend with envy. He’s still living in our hometown, married to a girl he went to school with, one of a very close-knit circle of 10 or so pals that included me. He sees them most weekends and sometimes during the week, while I sit on a bus, or on a flight, or in a hotel room in an unfamiliar city.

My current friendship circle consists almost exclusively of colleagues at my club (although we almost never see each other outside of work) and a couple of guys close to my age who I met by chance. I’ve been in this city for almost two years, but I feel like it’s closer to two months. I can count on one hand the free weekends I’ve had in this time.

Ironically, I have the job that everyone wants to hear about, everyone imagines doing and everyone wants to have. I wish I could tell people how difficult and isolating it can be. I’ve been depressed for a few years now and I’ve just started to get professional help. Every day I wonder if my job is a glimmer of hope in my life, or my worst enemy.

Looking back at my inbox, I notice another email, which reads almost identically to one hundred others I’ve received previously. Subject: “Young enthusiastic analyst looking for some help”. It’s all the usual buzzwords and phrases, and I feel myself becoming skeptical, and beginning to lose sight of the fact that I was sending the same emails myself not too long ago. I promised myself early in my career that I would never ignore anyone who politely and humbly asked for help, and I’m proud of the number of people who’ve landed a job thanks in part to my assistance.

I reply to the “innovative, energetic, open minded” analyst with some advice, and apologize that we aren’t currently hiring, nor can I offer him even an unpaid internship. I drag his email into one of my folders (Inbox>Networking>Randoms asking for help), which now holds 158 emails before leaving my desk to make some breakfast.

For a split second I think about replying again with an email not too dissimilar to this article, but I know deep down it wouldn’t change his mind. He wants a job where he can rub shoulders with professional players, show millionaires videos on his laptop, and look for himself on the new Football Manager game, which now includes data analysts. In the game, my salary—which I presume they have done some research on—is almost double what I actually receive, which is right around the median for my job.

Mondays are always the hardest as there’s so much to do following a game at the weekend. The day before I re-watched and coded our game on Saturday, so I spend my first working hour of the morning double-checking the clips I’m about to show the coaching staff prior to the players arriving. I’m a little anxious, as we failed to pick up points again, and I’m till trying to build a relationship with my 3rd coach in 18 months. It’s not all bad though—the new guy is more detail oriented, seems to respect me more, and I believe has a better understanding of how an analyst might be able to help him. It’s a refreshing change from the dismissive and closed-minded coach I worked ‘with’ previously, but nonetheless, turnover at the top is always a difficult time.

I think I understand my place and my role in the club, but unfortunately that role is to be a small cog in a big machine. Many questions often go through my head. Could most people do my job? What does the other staff think of “the video guy”? When players make fun of me is it genuine, or are they messing around? How long would it take to replace me with someone else should I leave? It’s probably not as long as I think.

Inevitably I circle back to the one nagging question: is this all worth it? The weddings, parties, good times, and relationships that I’m sacrificing…what’s it all for? It’s common knowledge in my industry that average salaries are extremely low given the ‘level’ we’re working at, but also that there are literally thousands of people willing to do it for the same wages or lower. Jobs advertised on popular websites usually garner over 250 applicants all willing to work for 18-25k, whilst giving up their weekends for 10 months of the year.

On the other hand, I wonder if I have I become entitled? After all, there are very few workplaces where you can feel the euphoria that comes with winning a trophy, beating your rivals in a big game or having a goalkeeper come and thank you when he goes the right way and saves a penalty. Has the shine of all that worn off? Is there a part of me left who’s still that youngster living his dream working in football?

If you’re eager to work in the game and you get the chance to meet a club analyst, try to skip over the obvious questions, and see if you can get them to open up about some deeper issues around their job. Ask them about their hours, and their resulting personal life, see if they’re worried about a huge & tech savvy pool of youngsters applying for their job and judge if their face changes when you ask them about their career in ten years time. Is it the dream job everyone imagines? Or the run away train you think you want to be on, not quite knowing what the future holds?

Welcome to the life of a professional soccer analyst.