Note: This article was originally hosted on the Leicester Ripple website (the University of Leicester’s student paper). Leicester university student media has since changed and the website, and therefore the article, are no longer online there. It was originally posted in February 2016.
Behind the scenes at Leicester City
Behind every successful man, as the saying goes, is a great woman, and behind every successful sports team is a great backroom staff. One such person is Peter Clark, a First Team Performance Analyst at the club. His role involves doing post-match and in-match analysis, preparing statistical and video feedback on the game for players and coaches, and working with Andy Blake who heads the pre-match preparations.
While Manchester City are ramping up their analysis involvement, Arsenal (a club who also owns data company StatDNA) signing Leicester’s head of technical scouting Ben Wrigglesworth, Leicester could be said to be one of the league leaders in their use of performance analysis as well as in terms of points at the moment.
In-game, Clark will look at 4-5 points which have been identified as areas that they can exploit to beat their opponents, as well as a few more regarding how they want the team to play. At home matches, there’s a special desk for the analysis team in the stands and an analysis room in which key moments can be shown to the manager at the start of half-time and individual feedback can be given to players.
Away from home it’s a little more difficult. Leicester are one of the few clubs who take two analysts to away matches instead of one, and they try and keep their process as similar as possible to at the King Power Stadium – Clark generally filming a wide-angle view of the match from high in the gantry (similar to TV ‘tactical cam’ angles) with Andy Blake somewhere else in the stadium with a more regular broadcast feed of the game.
If the match is on Saturday, Clark will spend Sunday preparing the feedback – despite this being a post-match day off, many of the staff are still in working. It’s important that the statistical feedback to the players is ‘engaging, concise, and valuable’. It’s prepared as an iBook and includes team stats from the game, and also features a page for each player ‘including graphs, pitch maps, heat maps, and video clips’.
Further video analysis is done to be fed back to the manager, ‘highlighting the specific areas we have done well from the game, based around either the pre-game plan or from our style of play we have excelled in’. This will then be relayed to the players on Monday at training, as well as more individual feedback which the coaches may want to give.
Teamwork is key. While Leicester have been lucky in that the owners have invested heavily in many of the backroom departments at the club, it’s clear that the analysts are incorporated well into the set-up. The pre-match analysis on the upcoming opposition can ‘provide insights [which] allow the manager and coaches to shape training accordingly and develop sessions to work on counter-acting an opposition’s strengths’.
The environment around the club also helps in keeping players up to speed. Players, much to the surprise of their stereotype, aren’t bewildered by numbers. GPS data from training sessions is also used to aid them, so they’re surrounded and quickly brought up to speed in terms of what their feedback is and what is expected of them.
With a match in midweek – which happens less in the Premier League than the Championship due to the amount of league games (although may well return with European football next season) – the whole process is condensed to speed it up, trying to maintain the same level of preparation for each game.
The analysis team also puts together feedback for new signings, giving them expectations for the roles they will play in both when the team is in and out of possession. This can include showing them clips of their performance at previous clubs, giving them examples featuring themselves of the kind of things Leicester will want from them.
What’s the secret to the team’s success? There are theories everywhere. When Richard III was reburied last March the team still lay bottom of the league, and since then they’ve enjoyed the great escape and the title challenge. The club’s owners may have a more spiritual view, members of the family having travelled to Buddhist temples in Myanmar last year when the club were bottom to pray, and monks have on occasion blessed the team in the dressing room before games.
Clark however credits the club as a whole: the medical and sports science department which has kept players available for selection, the recruitment department which has led to other clubs now trying to find ‘the next Mahrez/Kanté/Vardy’, as well as team spirit. ‘One thing which is apparent and is spoken of both internally and externally is the fantastic spirit amongst the staff and players, both on and off the pitch. Although difficult to measure, I’m sure this plays its part, but is just one small part of the cog… Pinpointing any one reason is impossible!’
And in case we need any help when Varsity comes around, what can we learn from City’s winning ways to beat our nearest and dearest rivals?
‘If this season’s been anything to go by, go into the game as underdogs, sit deep and stay compact, then get the ball back and run like mad! Also having a striker you’ve plucked (or selectively chosen if any of our scouts read this) from the fifth tier of BUCS who scores in 11 straight games might help!
P.S Don’t promise pizza for a clean sheet, you’ll have to wait 12 games to reap the rewards! Just get yourself down to Soar Point instead and have beer and a burger!’