THE YOUNG GENERATION
The official Chelsea website looks at some of the less visible work in the club's Academy, this time focusing on analysis…
The Academy building at the club's Cobham training headquarters houses far more than a couple of changing rooms and the manager's office; it is the bustling hub of the club for any player not involved on a day-to-day basis with Jose Mourinho's first team squad. Coaching, scouting, analysing, nurturing, recruiting, organising and feeding our young players all comes under the remit of staff in the building, and the Academy also has a full-time school providing daily education for the bulk of our Under-15 and Under-16 players.
Ben Smith heads the Academy's analysis department, a position that he has occupied since moving from Fulham in 2007, and his brief is to use the latest technology to provide the best and most accurate information to coaches and players.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website as we look to uncover more of the hidden corners of life inside the Academy, he explains: 'Our department concerns analysis and data management, basically the technology side of how we support the club.
'Technology has become increasingly important for us to hit the heights that we're trying to achieve as a club, and there needs to be proper support so that experts in their own field can use the technology available to help them.'
Smith (pictured in the white shirt below) pioneered braving the elements to reach high vantage points and record every game that is played throughout Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 levels at the club. Taking that footage back to the office, he and his staff can then dissect the relevant pieces of video and present them to the appropriate player or coach
'The video footage is probably best to explain as information in our whole development programme that we use from a learning perspective; providing the right information to coaches so they can make their expert judgements in the shortest amount of time, and providing the right information for players so that they have a proper understanding about what they're doing and not doing in games.
'The players and their coaches can then have pretty short but high-impact conversations around performance and everybody knows that they're talking about the same thing. Until they have seen themselves on the footage, players can often have a slightly distorted picture of what has gone on in a game. Having a proper review of what they've done means that everyone has a crystal-clear idea of what has happened and the conversations about what to do about that become a lot simpler.'
Pre-match preparations will often centre on work that has been done by the Academy's analysis department, both internally as they look to improve upon the last performance and externally as they take into account their opposition. Ed Brand, himself a graduate of the Chelsea Academy having progressed from Under-10 level to reserve team captain, takes on the role of opposition scout for Dermot Drummy's Under-19 and Under-21 teams, and his work complements the internal performance analysis as the manager constructs his modus operandi before games.
'Ed does the opposition scouting for Dermot, as well as for Adi Viveash in the FA Youth Cup, so as part of our match preparations he will provide all our information on the opposition, which then goes to the coaches so they can make their strategic reviews,' Smith continues.
'Our work is to look at how we did during the last game and to try to see if we can learn and build on that so we can improve as a team in our next game, while incorporating information that Ed gathers and puts together to tweak what we do. We don't generally make wholesale changes on our approach based on our opponents but we'll learn what their particular threats are and obviously use that in our preparation and understanding.'
However, Smith's department isn't solely focused on combing through video footage from games and passing on the relevant snippets of information. The analysis team are also relied upon to aid recruitment and auditing, while Smith himself has worked closely as the club have attempted to incorporate the recent changes of the Premier League-endorsed Elite Player Performance Plan [EPPP].
'We try to offer support to Neil Bath [the Academy manager] and Jim Fraser, who works under Neil, as best we can, usually with audits and evaluations, or with external parties like the Premier League. We also provide some assistance in recruitment.
'The recruitment department might want to look at some Government census information to work out where we might be insufficiently covered in our existing recruitment. There might be an area that is demographically high in potential players but where we don't have many scouts working, so we will help them out with that.'
While sceptics of this information-heavy new approach to football might argue it over-complicates the beautiful game, advocates will point out that even the smallest improvement in a developing player's game and understanding can make the difference in their fiercely competitive struggle to make it as professional players. Smith, meanwhile, is just happy to be of assistance.
'Nothing is ever going to replace the development that players get through training and matches but we can enhance that match or training experience by showing them what they've actually done. By cutting the video of a game into the right sections and sharing those sections with the relevant people, it saves them time and allows them to focus on what they're good at.'
By Sam Poplett