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Club News


20 April 2016

Club News


20 April 2016


Recruitment.  In the world of modern football, it is absolutely crucial and can be the difference between success and failure.  It is certainly the greatest single ingredient that differentiates achievement, under achievement and overachievement.  We know, due to the Salary Cap Management Protocol and financial reporting requirements of the Football League, our direct football spend against all the other clubs in League Two.  We are told all the numbers, but every club is anonymous.  You are told your number only.  Therefore, we know our league position according to our football budget.  So there is an easy comparison that can be made between our final actual league position and how that matches against our spend.  Obviously, situations can skew that comparison to make it less than 100% valid, such as a change in manager during the season, but it does give a good indicator on whether you have achieved "value for money" from the squad and how you have performed relative to all the opposing clubs. 

In the Premier League, this year has been a complete anomaly.  I remember people saying that it would be a massive over achievement if Liverpool or Tottenham were able to finish in the top four because their playing budgets were the fifth and six biggest in the league.  Well, I wonder what that says for Leicester this season!  And West Ham.  Conversely, it probably doesn't reflect too well on Manchester United or Chelsea.  Of course, recruitment is one ingredient.  Important but not exclusive in determining success or failure.  Management of the players, and maximising their individual and collective performances, is the job of the coaching, medical, analysis and sports science staff, led by the manager.  But it doesn't matter how well each of these functions are performed if the players aren't good enough.  This statement is simple, and could be considered over simplistic, but is basically true.  Sign poor players, and you'll have a poor team.  Sign good players, and you'll have a good team.  Take that further.  Sign unathletic players, and you'll have an unathletic team.  The staff can only work with and get the most out of what they've got to work with.  So, again, recruitment is crucial.

Recruitment of players should be no different to recruitment of staff.  It is impossible to be so vague as to say that you want "good" players that are affordable.  They have to be "good" players for the way the manager wants to play.  And whilst the tactics will always be the domain of the manager, the DNA and philosophy of the club must be implemented by the manager in how the squad is constructed.  Therefore, to sign the right players and minimise mistakes, it is crucial that each position is profiled for the physical, technical and tactical qualities required.  They must also be complimentary, so the sum of the parts is greater than the individual parts.  And they must create the right balance across the whole group.  Then the squad must be profiled, in terms of age, length of contracts and wages.  Then there are other factors to consider around the mentality of the players.  You need leaders, but not an entire squad of them.  You need a mix of experience and youth.  You need players that will react correctly to not being in the starting XI.  So each player is signed on their own merits but no signing can be made in isolation.  It can be a complex jigsaw puzzle, especially when not all the pieces may be available at the same time!

We also need to consider recruitment in two distinctly different ways; internal and external.  The former is all about producing our own players.  And there are so many advantages of doing so that failure to do so cannot be excused on the basis of these players being "untried" and therefore "a risk".  Nonsense.  We have these players at the training ground every day, we work with them in training and we know everything about them mentally, physically, tactically and technically.  Therefore, apart from the risk that is prevalent with every signing of how well will they fit into the team, there should be far less risk than a player signed from another club.  However thorough a process, you cannot know as much about them as "one of our own".  There is also another point.  These players grow up at the club, so it is therefore the responsibility of the club, and all the coaching staff, to ensure the best ones come through.  If they don't, the easiest excuse is "they are not good enough".  Clubs should look in the mirror.  Maybe they are not good enough.  And that isn't confined to the academy.  That includes the pathway from their schoolboy years to their scholarship and then the most difficult step into the first team.  That is why everyone, from the manager, to the coaching staff, to the recruitment staff, to the academy staff all need to be responsible and accountable for the progression of our own young players into the first team. 

We have a Manager who has already shown his willingness to trust young players by selecting an 18 year old, and now a 20 year old, in midfield, two young fullbacks and recalling Will Norris from his loan spell at Braintree to claim the mantle of our no.1 goalkeeper.  Look how Will has grabbed the opportunity, repaid that faith and developed into one of the most exciting young goalkeepers, with great potential, in the entire country.  But he first needed someone to trust him to play.  That is always the key in youth development.  We also have an Assistant Manager who is hugely experienced and knowledgeable in developing young talent.  Our Chief Scout, Marc Tracy, has a background in youth development, having worked in that role previously here and other clubs.  Matt Walker, our Head of Performance, also managed our old Centre of Excellence and worked in Watford's Academy.  So we have no shortage of expertise at the club, in addition to our Academy staff.

Next year's first year scholars will include seven players that we have brought all the way through from eight years old.  They join another, Matt Foy, and Dylan Williams, who we recently offered a development contract for next season.  This will become an annual occurrence, with the large majority of our scholars having been developed throughout their formative years at CUFC and playing against their counterparts at the best clubs in the country.  Our U9's to 14's have two remaining away fixtures this season: Manchester City and Manchester United!  Exciting times and more about the Academy in my final notes of the season against Plymouth.

Then there is external recruitment and that is the subject of many discussions at present.  Clips of players, discussions with agents, background checks, statistical analysis and covering games are all happening and have been happening for some time.  This process is now being led by Greg Abbott, a recent acquisition to our football staff.  Obviously, Shaun worked with Greg at Notts County but I have got to know him over a number of discussions over a number of months, and we are absolutely delighted to bring his experience, knowledge, enthusiasm and contacts to the club in such a pivotal role.  He started his role on 1 April.  Greg will work closely with Marc Tracy and our recently appointed Performance and Recruitment Analyst, Will Stenner, who has done a brilliant job this season as an intern in this role.  We should also thank George Buckley, who has also combined a Masters at ARU with a part-time role in our football department, for his commitment and contribution this season.  And a particular mention for James Clarke-Reed.  He looks after these interns, and an undergraduate programme, lectures at ARU and oversees all our analysis.  He works closely with Matt Walker and Marc Tracy to ensure that Shaun and Joe have every possible piece of information regarding the performance of our players and information regarding future opponents.  It's increasingly important and we are extremely lucky to have someone of James' calibre.  Will's role now includes recruitment, so that we can find out everything humanly possible in terms of previous performances, trends and statistics for every future signing.  That, alongside experienced eyes and ears, should ensure that we minimise mistakes, unearth some gems and make astute signings.  It's definitely not a one man job.

The recruitment process in the year we were promoted from the Football Conference started in the previous January and was led by Ben Strang, who was a tough act to follow.  Richard and I then watched a plethora of games, crossing players off lists, confirming players on lists and then executed eight signings from ten targets without breaking a strict wage structure or making extortionate payments to agents.  The following season, our first back in the Football League was more difficult as we didn't know our fate until close to the end of May, after the play off final.  We went with experience; players we knew.  Safe bets.  Last summer, was difficult.  We had a traumatic second half of the previous season.  We only finalised the first team management structure after the season had finished.  My job had changed.  Ben had left.  The result was that many signings came from viewings on WyScout, not in the flesh, and many were based on their CV and reputations, not up to date information and watching them live.  Nothing beats that but to do so, the process must start months in advance.  We also had the "problem" of the Manchester United factor.  We had a perceived wealth and when you only have limited options, and/or start the process too late, agents hold you to ransom.  It was a result of circumstances, and a desire to take several steps forward at once.  Let's not forget that we spent nine years outside the Football League, and last summer was only our second back.  We had also finished last season nineteenth, with 51 points.  So it was important that we tried to take several steps forward at once.  But that's always difficult.  

We now have 60 points with four more games.  We have the right structure and processes all in place and already in full flow.  That's why I wasn't at Accrington or Newport.  It's important that we use all our resources to watch players, especially when Shaun and Joe have such limited opportunities.  That said, the number of games they cover, particularly U21 games, when we are not playing, is incredible.  So the appointment of Greg, and it's timing, has been crucial.  Likewise Will.  As always at this time of year, there will be tough decisions for the manager regarding our players, whether they are contracted for next season or not.  But we are now in a position to make sure that we improve the squad and continue the upward trajectory of the club over the last four years.  

Four wins from our last four games will add a welcome complication to the process!  I was at Anfield on Thursday evening.  Enough said.  Anything is possible until it's impossible.  But only if enough people believe.

Let's believe!  Then we can keep the season alive going into the last three games.


*Since these notes were written 18-year old Dylan Williams, who has been with Cambridge United since the age of eight, was given his Football League debut. The youngster played 13 minutes against the Shrimps at the Abbey Stadium.

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