Every deadline day, there’s another story bemoaning football’s recruitment methods. Pundits and fans moan about the pointless loans, questionable decision making, and ludicrous sums of money changing hands (don’t mention the admin fees!) Widely misunderstood and criticised for its spending practices (for good reason), it would seem that football recruitment suffers from the same image problem as the industry at large.
However, there’s another side to this story.
Just as data-led HR is now being recognised as the crucial industry to help companies meet the challenges of the future economy, so football’s best recruiters are being recognised for their forward-thinking approach.
What can we learn from them?
Talent isn’t everything
As Chris Anderson and David Sally demonstrate in ‘The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong’, much of football’s recruitment strategy is still dictated by a very outdated philosophy: ‘talent is innate; it can be identified from afar and at an early age; talent is wholly possessed by the person, so that it can be bought and sold and moved around without friction.’
This is the same attitude demonstrated by major companies, and of course forms the backbone of much executive recruitment. But today’s scouts are searching as much for qualities which player’s exhibit when they don’t have the ball: ‘performance follows attitude’.
Psychometric testing, workplace simulations and biographical analysis are increasingly used to build up an effective character profile, but the myth of talent as a cure-all can still create problems in the hiring process even after rigorous testing.
You can’t buy a good team
In 2004 Former A.C. Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi was brought in by Florentino Pérez at Real Madrid, as a Technical Director. This was the Galáctico era, a team which was famously constructed around the idea of pooling together as much talent as money could buy.
Sacchi was unimpressed, chiefly because Perez’s multitude of talent prevented him from producing effective tactics by exploiting individual qualities. The result was ‘reactionary football’, where the phenomenal abilities of the individual players had a stifling effect, rather than multiplying in combination.
This is in stark contrast to his own reign at Milan, where pioneering team training methods – like staging full matches without a ball – forged a world-beating squad which is still being studied today.
Of course, team-building is the oldest exercise in the HR book. But the importance of hiring a team where it is allowed to happen still escapes many recruiters. Reading ‘team player’ on a CV is no substitute for establishing that a candidate has group work experience and moreover, understands the culture of the company which they are applying for.
Tailor your Data
Equally important as the scout in the modern club recruitment team is the analyst. Besides the effort of compiling huge amounts of medical, performance and psychological data, the difficulty with this role is presenting this new information to managers and coaches diplomatically. ‘To get these guys onside, to be able to share your message, you have to appreciate the importance of their expert eye and their intuition’, says Ben Knapper, Arsenal’s principle performance analyst.
Recruitment has taken a similarly data-intensive turn, with the best agencies using historical data and up-to-the-minute audience information to hone their candidate search. But where personal data is concerned, using personal information in a sensitive fashion to personalise the candidate experience is paramount. This prevents candidates from feeling overwhelmed, much as coaches occasionally need shielding from the data onslaught which is transforming football.