How football clubs look to gain the advantage
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Breaking the mould: How football clubs look to gain the advantage

| 30.04.2019

It’s a competitive world out there and the football industry is now one of the biggest platforms to showcase your talents both on and off the field.

Everyone is looking for the extra edge to steal a march on their rivals, both domestically and abroad.

This push for marginal gains has seen some innovative ideas put in place, so we decided to investigate eight ways football clubs have tried to gain the upper hand.

PSG and Juventus: crypto currency

The European giants may have already wrapped up their respective leagues, but it’s their desire to be at the cutting edge of technology that has them really pushing the envelope.

Cryptocurrency was all the rage back in 2018 and both Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus got in on the action too.

Both clubs teamed up with Malta-based blockchain start-up Socios to make this happen.

Their global fan base will now be able to get their hands on fan tokens which should further connect them to the club and have a say in some vital club decisions.

In a statement on the club website, Co-Chief Revenue Officer, Head of Global Partnerships and Corporate Revenues of Juventus, Giorgio Ricci, said:

“Juventus is glad to welcome to our partners. At the Club, we are always very careful and pro-active towards innovation and new technologies. Together with, we believe that we can offer new opportunities to our worldwide fan base to engage in a cutting-edge way with their favourite club”

The world of online currency is potentially ground-breaking and it’s telling that some of the best football clubs want to be a part of it.

Leeds United: Spygate

Leeds United’s manager Marcelo Bielsa

Marcelo Bielsa used a press conference to explain how he masterminded a win over Derby

The Championship had never seen anything like it. Football had never seen anything like it. But when Marcelo Bielsa used a press conference to explain how he masterminded a win over Derby County in January 2019, it got everyone talking.

Leeds United’s manager went into the minutiae, picking out individual players and opposing manager’s tactics stretching back to 26 games.

Video analysis was presented to the press as well as in-depth player statistics and all the potential formations he could come up against.

Analysis of your opponents is nothing strange, quite frankly it would be odd if you didn’t do it. But Bielsa’s obsessive nature and his willingness to show the world how he does it was astonishing.

It’s helped his Leeds United side to third in the Championship table, winning 25 of their 45 matches to date and with a real shout of promotion to the Premier League.

Forest Green Rovers: 100% vegan diets

The importance of diet and an understanding of what you should and shouldn’t be eating as a professional athlete has grown exponentially over the last 20 years.

But in 2014, the then non-league Forest Green Rovers took this to another level and became the world’s first vegan football club.

Chairman Dale Vince made his fortune from green and sustainable energy and has slowly been tweaking the club’s food menu since his arrival in 2010.

Vince was convinced that a shift in diet would improve player performance as well as provide healthier options for fans as well.

They now serve veggie burgers, wraps, and falafel, as well as vegan Quorn pie, in a total nutritional transformation.

Veganism is beginning to get increased recognition and has been taken up by high-profile sports stars such as Nate Diaz and Venus Williams.

Performances on the pitch have certainly improved for Rovers who scored promotion to League Two in 2017 and have a chance of League One football after securing a play-off place in 2019.

Brentford: ‘Moneyball’

Everyone loves an underdog story, but sometimes you have to think outside the box to gain an edge over your competitors.

When West London club Brentford was taken over by Matthew Benham in 2012, their recruitment drive shifted massively. They now use a statistics-led method to find potential signings, searching for value in an expensive market.

After losing two big academy products to Manchester United and Manchester City respectively, they scrapped their youth system completely.

They’ve honed their take on the ‘Moneyball’ approach used in Major League Baseball by using statistics to go toe-to-toe with the more free-spending teams in the division.

This brings in fringe players from Premier League clubs and gives them a platform to develop and a chance at first-team football.

The club has had three straight top-ten finishes using this innovative technique and feel it’s the only way to compete against teams that spend huge amounts of money on transfer fees and player salaries.

Over recent years, their ability to ‘succession plan’ means they can target youth players from across Europe.

They sold youth product Chris Mepham to Premier League club Bournemouth in the summer of 2018 for £12m, which allows them to scour Europe for more untapped talent.

This includes previously bringing in Nico Yennaris from Arsenal and more recently the untried Neal Maupay who was on loan at Brest in Ligue 2, and who’s gone on to score 27 goals this season.

Charlton Athletic drones

Football drones

This type of visual learning can have a more immediate impact to players

Drones have been a controversial topic in the news, but at Charlton Athletic, the technology has revolutionised their matchday preparation.

First implemented in the club’s first-team in the 2017-18 season, the League One club are pioneering this new tactical-tool.

It was all inspired by youth coach David Powderly after he watched the 2015 Champions League Final between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Powderly says this aerial footage means both coaches and players can get a full picture of the spaces you can exploit and those you have to close off.

This type of visual learning can have a more immediate impact to players rather than an old-school tactics board, for instance.

Former Charlton manager, Karl Robinson, went as far as saying it has ‘opened up a new world for us’ in January 2018.

Current boss Lee Bowyer was Robinson’s assistant at the time, and this has helped him get the club into the play-off places for a second year in a row.

Wingate and Finchley FC

Ever felt you could do a better job than the manager? Well non-league’s Wingate & Finchley FC have employed an artificial intelligence coach to help make their vital team selection decisions.

Whilst it won’t directly take the place of the manager or his assistant per se, they are hoping it gives them an edge in avoiding relegation.

The smart speaker will be linked to a computer and use information spoken by the coaches to make both pre-match and in-play tactical suggestions.

For example, if a player is sent off, the coaches would tell the AI and it could offer a possible substitution.

The AI ‘coach’ is designed to learn on the job and adapt its suggestions over the course of the season.

The technology was first used on 9th February 2019 in a 1-1 draw with Whitehawk and it’s since seen the London club win five games.

It’s helped the Blues retain their Bostik Premier League status this season.

Athletic Bilbao: a local club, for local players

Athletic Bilbao 1 1

Their regional scouting philosophy is unrivalled

Athletic Bilbao are a unique club for many reasons but none more so than their scouting network.

They are one of four Basque-based clubs in La Liga, but their regional scouting philosophy is unrivalled.

It becomes a big family, where the club’s talent spotters only scour through the Basque regions of Spain and France.

They put a huge emphasis on creating a transparent pathway from the academy to the first team. This includes time at partner club Basconia before cutting their teeth in the regional leagues with Athletic’s B team.

The youth prospects train alongside the first team to foster this shared identity for the future.

Their open-door policy has seen clubs from all across Europe try to steal a piece of this collective community.

Sporting Director, José María Amorrortu, said; “In the world of football, unfortunately, there is no patience. But for our philosophy, we have to have patience and we have to have trust. It’s not easy but it works. For us, every boy is a long-term project. It’s about continuity, trust and a sense of belonging. They are strong values.”

This unique identity is fully embedded in the club’s tradition that instills love and loyalty in the club, which is rare in these increasingly globalised times.

It’s successful too – Athletic are one of three clubs to have never been relegated from La Liga. The other two are Barcelona and Real Madrid.

RB Leipzig: Wheel of fortune

RB Leipzig manager Ralf Rangnick

Devised a brilliantly inventive way of dishing out players’ fines

RB Leipzig manager, Ralf Rangnick, has devised a brilliantly inventive way of dishing out players’ fines at the Bundesliga club.

Punishing ill-discipline, however big or small, has happened for decades. But with players on heftier salaries than ever, Rangnick has prioritised time over money.

The general concept is fairly simple: spin the wheel and face your forfeit.

But instead of money, there are punishments such as cleaning the dirty kit, dressing like a ballerina and being a stadium tour guide.

Injecting some fun into this otherwise famous tradition has helped RB Leipzig rise to third in the Bundesliga and a return to the Champions League for next season.

A similar format has been implemented at both Norwich City and Burnley where it seems coming up with creative ways of player punishments is becoming more common place.

Football has always been about fine margins and small differences making a big impact. But with more money in the game than ever and the pressure on clubs to gain the upper hand increasing, we may begin to see more and more wacky and pioneering concepts in an attempt to get the edge over their opponents.



Charlie Dear