I recently read a fascinating article in FourFourTwo (a football publication) about Brighton & Hove Albion Football club with a focus on the recruitment strategies.
As a Manu fan of 40+ years (it’s even scary writing that) I have looked at Brighton with envy in recent years as they have recruited some fantastic talent for nominal fees (relative in today’s market) and then sold them for unbelievable profits! So, what were some of the take aways from the article?
Brighton started planning for playing Premiership football in 2012. They had just achieved their highest league position in the Championship in 20 years but rather than celebrate that, the priority of the business was putting the foundations in place to be a Premiership club. The CEO was Tony Barber, and his role was to set the vision for everyone; to communicate it and make it real for people, to make them feel as though it was a possibility and a likelihood.
This vision didn’t start with splashing the cash and looking to attract new talent. The initial focus was on systems and processes to be ready for the Premiership. Today (11 years on), the focus is on a succession plan for all playing and non-playing staff and funnelling a continuous flow of talent into their Premiership team.
The use of algorithms is seen as the secret sauce which has fuelled Brighton’s growth. From Championship (one level below in Premiership) in 2012, last season saw the club finish sixth in the Premiership, their highest ever finishing league position), and qualify for European football for the first time. The CEO of Brighton is a mathematician, and the formula he has introduced into the club has helped them identify emerging talent earlier than most of their rivals. The data is sourced from football leagues across the world and has seen Brighton sign players from Argentina (Mac Allister won the world cup as a Brighton Player), Ecuador (buy Caicedo for £4m and sell within 30 months for £115), and Mitoma from Japan who is leaving defenders in his slip stream in the last 12 months.
Although there is a global reach to their talent identification programme, the department that runs this is small and efficient. Brighton has a clear picture of the type of player they like (ability wise and personality wise) and unusually compared to many other clubs, their scouts are assigned by position. The striking scout only looks at strikers and he is comparing apples with apples, and his scouting colleague could be at the same match focused on a defender, midfielder, or goalkeeper.
Brighton would say that one of their USP’s is that they have coaches, managers and technical staff who want to give people chances. A player can be extremely talented, with a great attitude, but if they don’t get the opportunity to demonstrate that talent how can they grow? There is no doubt that the culture that Brighton have created has seen players sign for them as opposed to the bigger name clubs in the league where they might be twiddling their thumbs on the bench waiting for an opportunity that may never come.
Last year Brighton’s manager was headhunted by Chelsea to take over their team. Many people thought that the loss of Graham Potter would negatively impact Brighton, but their succession planning was already in place and Robert De Zebri was already on their radar as a potential future manager, and due to international events (De Zebri was coaching in Ukraine when the war broke out) Brighton were able to bring him on board as their manager and the team hasn’t skipped a beat since.
The CEO of Brighton said that “we have a culture at this club, where we are transparent, we communicate, and we don’t hide when it goes wrong. We try to be as visible in bad times as we are in good times – hopefully that brings stability back faster and breeds confidence”. He added, “it’s not about deviating from your plan when you hit a bump, because it will happen. If you deviate everything you hit a bump, you will deviate a lot. That breeds instability, reduces confidence, and impacts on morale, and then you get people wanting to leave”.
And the next question is how do Man Utd compare/benchmark against this? What data metrics are being used when deciding on who to recruit on and off the pitch because the reality is what’s there today is not working! Talent Partners are available to help (but not to play!!)