In his latest Talking Reds column, Daniel Rhodes analyses the work that goes on behind the scenes at Liverpool FC.
The response to the last Talking Reds article, analysing the fluid movement of Liverpool's attacking players, was quite an eye-opener for me about the perception some fans have regarding the work that goes on behind the scenes at Liverpool Football Club (and, of course, many other clubs).
I have never had contact with anyone at the club about performance analysis, the use of data, medical conditioning, or the scouting of players; all the information presented here is all available to the public and has been taken from newspaper and TV interviews, blog posts and the fan press conferences LFC provided last season.
"Making it too easy for the opposition" or "don't agree with openly showing our rivals our game plan" or, finally "can't we keep all these (analysis') in house" were just a few of the criticisms. Hopefully, the evidence that follows will go some way to destroying these myths.
Scouting and Recruitment
Liverpool have a wide range of scouts all across the world who provide individual player reports on a daily basis. This information is fed into a database of players, with ratings about many different playing characteristics. It will probably include a psychological profile if any additional information can be provided.
Players can be monitored for a number of years before any official bid is made. Alternatively, the process could be reversed, and members of the transfer committee might use a statistical database to produce a list of players who meet specific criteria, before sending individual scouts to watch them and produce first-hand reports on the players.
The exact dynamics behind the way Liverpool conduct their scouting and recruitment is unknown - and that's certainly how it should be.
Since the committee started their work in the autumn of last year, we have signed: Sturridge, Coutinho, Sakho, Toure, Mignolet, Ilori, Alberto and Aspas on permanent deals, as well as many more young players for the Academy. It's hard not to conclude that the committee's strike-rate, thus far, is impressive.
This is a result of detailed preparation and months of planning, combined with identifying players who were not necessarily regulars at their old clubs and getting value on the purchases. Of course, this doesn't apply to every transfer, but it was the case with Sturridge and Coutinho.
Data and Performance Analysis
In charge of research, and considering his background you would expect it to involve statistical modelling, is Ian Graham. You can even read some of his old work (here). This is far more advanced than Liverpool had more possession or less shots or conceded too many fouls; and if I understood the intricate details, it might be easier to explain - but I don't, so I cannot.
The other element is performance analysis: opposition tactical reports, post-match individual player analysis, set-piece creation and many other facets of the game. The current head of opposition analysis at Liverpool is Chris Davies; you can watch a video of his time at Swansea City (here) where he explains, briefly, some of the work he does on a daily basis. This just illustrates my point that the article on fluid attacking movement pales into insignificance when compared to the detailed work undertaken by Graham and Davies.
Thankfully, the current work done by the backroom staff is kept under wraps. There is no point investing so much money, time and effort in improving the small margins, if fans then expect it to be made public, just to quell any concerns they might have about team selection or tactics.
This is another area that has progressed dramatically in recent years, and Liverpool are no exception when it comes to elite-level conditioning. Glen Driscoll, who is head of performance, has done a number of interviews highlighting the basic structures of Liverpool's new injury-prevention techniques. Last season, Driscoll said this, in an interview with the Express and Liverpool Echo:
"For Steven, Dan (Agger) and Glen (Johnson) it was a simple process of looking back at every soft tissue injury (hamstring and calf strains are examples) that they had over the past two seasons and going through the process of analysing their training and recovery between matches and before each injury." (Echo)
"Steven, for example, covers 120 metres a minute in a game and in training previously he was hitting 90m a minute. He is currently performing to 30 per cent of his average speed and only 10 per cent of his high intensity distance in the training sessions before matches, compared to when he got those previous injuries, which aids his recovery and reduces fatigue in preparation..." (Express)
"We have to make sure that we are on every variable we can possibly be. That is something we have done very well here. We have made every player accountable for every trait of their status, whether it be physical, mental and also technical and tactical because we have analytic departments linking in with the manager. It is important that each player is 100 per cent committed and at his peak on all those levels." (Echo)
The obvious criticism would be the number of injuries first-team players have suffered this season, but that's ignoring the key issue: preventable and non-preventable injuries. Driscoll again explains this in a little more detail:
"Sometimes you need some luck as well. Some injuries are preventable and some aren't. When people talk about injury-prone players, it is simply the intrinsic make-up of the player. Sometimes you have a disadvantage and those structures are just not as good. We have to be more vigilant and make sure that all the work we put into them outside and in the gym gives them the best possible chance to remain fit. Some people we could do nothing with and they would remain injury free."
The club is in good hands. The owners have a history of striving for the best, implementing their plans, and if they aren't working, looking to improve and stay ahead of the competition.
It's impossible to know the true extent of any future plans, but one thing we can be sure of, no secrets have been revealed in the making of this article. There is no secret to employing the best staff you can afford (and find), working as hard as you can, while embracing all areas of research - from first hand scouting reports to in-depth medical assessments - into a strategy that allows each department a voice and certain influence - albeit with the manager taking ultimate responsibility. It's a productive way to run a business and, hopefully, given time to develop, will be a successful way to run a football club.