Yes, there was a negative undertone to the first two Secret Analyst columns, but I felt it was important to approach this project in this way for a couple of reasons.
First, I felt there are serious issues in the sports analysis world that need to be urgently addressed. Every word of my first two articles is a genuine reflection of my life and career.
Second, nobody wants to read stories about how great someone’s job is unless they include the struggles that come with it . If you want to read flashy arseholes patting themselves on the back, then just log in to Linkedin.
That said, there are some nice aspects to being a professional analyst in football, and it’s time to shed some light on the other, brighter side of professional life in a football club.
At 5.05pm on a Saturday in April, thirty or so men are gathered in a small changing room hugging, joking and shaking hands. Someone squirts a water bottle across the room at the kit man who, as cliché dictates, is a crowd favorite. The manager, who’s less than three months into the job, and the assistant coach walk into the room to a loud cheer before the noise simmers down.
The team has just won a crucial fixture on the road 3-1 against a relegation rival. Everyone falls silent as the manager raises his hand and mutters the words, “Fucking hell lads, what a performance”. The room explodes again before the boss settles the crowd and begins to talk in earnest. He tosses out the usual clichés about passion, commitment, desire and teamwork, but little do they know that the manager didn’t think any of these things would be key to keeping this team in the division.
Three months before, during his first week in charge, the new head coach met with the two young and enthusiastic club analysts. At that point, we were already used to being an afterthought in the team’s planning process. Now, we were given free rein to voice our opinion about the previous regime and to suggest ways we could help improve the team. Roughly 30 minutes of this meeting was spent discussing set pieces. Before Christmas, the team had a -6 goal difference from set plays, despite no significant difference in between set pieces earned and conceded.
Now, in the raucous dressing room, the coach discusses how well the team executed their game plan, most notably in the corner that made it 2-1. He talks about working hard during the week and maintaining concentration during key moments. He congratulates the goal scorer, and then comes one of the most satisfying 30 seconds of my career.
I remember the words like they were spoken yesterday: Pointing to me and my colleague, the manager who asked us for our input three months before shouts, “And you two fuckers, well fucking done boys. Don’t think for a second your work goes unnoticed!”
The team cheers, we’re doused in water, energy drinks and even a few chicken nuggets. The coach continues: “How many is that now since we took over?” he asks. My mind goes back to the wall in the changing room at the training ground where we now track our set piece goal difference. I answer, “I think were at +5”. The boys cheer once more before the coach moves on to talk about the fine margins that separate victory and defeat.
A few moments later, the music plays and I have some time to soak up the moment. I stand in the corner for a short while, maybe a minute, watching the players enjoy their win and participating in a fist bump or two as players enter the shower. To an outsider, it may not be a big deal, but I take pride in my work, and I truly believe that I contributed to the turnaround. I feel significant. Believe me, under the wrong coach, you’re just as likely to believe the opposite.
We are given the day off, and although I still have to code the game (make video clips for coaches and players) and produce a statistical report, it’s definitely better than going to the training ground.
Later that night, I meet some friends in the pub, some of who support my club. My ego is massaged a little. They ask about the team, talk about players to buy next year, inquire what the dressing room was like. I even get a couple of drinks bought for me. It’s all good for my ego. I work for a professional club, that my friends pay to come and watch play. This club PAYS ME to help them win games. Of course, my friends know my demanding schedule and lifestyle, but for tonight, I’m a small-town hero.
In my second column, I mentioned that for some people, just being associated with a club is enough to put up with the low pay and long hours. On this particular Saturday in April, it was enough for me, too. The attention is addictive; I can’t help but notice in the next week at the training ground that players would take just a little bit more time to acknowledge me. These are players you see in the paper, on TV, who park their sports car next to my Ford Fiesta. They wear Prada, eat where I can’t afford to, and tell time with a Rolex, and it feels good when they want to speak to you.
Looking back at my first two articles, it’s obvious in some ways that working as a club analyst doesn’t make sense as a viable long-term career. It’s fast paced, insecure, exhausting and it won’t lead to an early retirement with a pool and Jacuzzi in your house. But, it has the x factor, the secret sauce, the adrenaline of knowing you’re part of something special.
Players often talk about the goosebumps they get when scoring in front of a crowd, but remember, for every striker wheeling away into the corner to the fans, picking up his bonus, there’s often an analyst behind a camera or a laptop jumping and down off camera.