Rotherham United First-Team Analyst Matt Neil talks about his career so far, the role analysts have in the football league and the future of technology in football.
Football is an ever-changing sport that always moves with the times.
The most recent example of this is the introduction of VAR into the Premier League, with admittedly mixed results. But this does show that technology is having a bigger influence on football with each season that passes.
This has coincided with the introduction of Football Analysts at teams up-and-down the football league.
Matt Neil joined Rotherham United last summer as their new First-Team Analyst. He had previously spent seven-years in a similar role at Plymouth Argyle.
In his chat with me, Neil looked back at his career so far and how he came to join Rotherham United:
“I started off at Plymouth Argyle in 2012 as First-Team Football Analyst. This was after I recommended a player to the then manager Carl Fletcher and impressed him enough to get a job.
“I worked there for seven years and experienced some unbelievable highs and lows including trips to Wembley (unfortunately in defeat), Anfield and winning promotion from League 2.
“I left there around this time last year and moved on to work for a company called InStat who provide data and video solutions to football clubs.
“But I really missed being involved at a football club on a day-to-day basis and decided in the summer to look for somewhere new.
“I spoke to a few people who have played and worked at Rotherham in the past and everyone had great things to say about the staff and environment and felt it was a great chance for me to get back involved.
“It’s a brilliant group. There are no egos in the building, and everyone buys into what the manager wants to do. The players run their socks off every single game and always try their best and it’s the same with the staff.
“There are countless people behind the scenes who work a lot of unnoticed hours to try and achieve the best.”
📷 | Monday morning still 🔛🔝
— Rotherham United (@OfficialRUFC) February 10, 2020
Rotherham have been on a great run of form in League 1 of late. They have picked up an impressive 24 points out of a possible 27 from their previous nine games.
This run has seen them rise to the top of the league and they sit three points clear at time of writing. Everything has seemed to click into place. Paul Warne has found the right formula and his team are flying at the minute.
It is easy to look at this and just give all the credit to Warne and the players. They are doing really well at the moment, but a lot of praise should also go to staff behind the scenes who do go under the radar.
Neil is one of these people. He plays a vital role in the midweek building up to games to ensure the players are properly prepared for their opponents at the weekend. He told me what a typical working week is for him at the club:
“On a Thursday we would start with our first introduction meeting on Saturday’s team. We will look at how they play in and out of possession. Introduce the players to the individuals in their team with handout sheets to give them an idea on the players in the team.
“Then a day before a game we have our final meeting of the week where we show the players our opposition’s strengths, weaknesses and set pieces for and against.
“On a match day we will film the game and code it live. Anything that the staff may need to view again or relay to the players is clipped and taken down at half-time to show. We also have a direct microphone link to the dugout to relay anything I can see from an elevated position in the stand.
“On the Sunday I would distribute individual player clips to all the players who played the game. This is so they can watch their game back and watch the next opposition and break down their last few games.
“We can then watch them as a staff team and work out how we’re going to approach the game and what clips we are going to show the players in the meetings during the week.”
— Rotherham United (@OfficialRUFC) January 2, 2020
It is pretty obvious that the Premier League is the big heavyweight in English football, and perhaps world football as a whole.
The amount of money that is pumped into that league from TV revenue is obscene, and it just seems to be getting more severe year on year.
It is not so bad for certain clubs in the Championship, but as you get further down the football league it starts to get extremely difficult for teams like Rotherham to compete with the top sides.
Despite the limited resources at their disposal, Neil said that data analysis still has a big role at teams in the football league:
“Technology can still have a big influence in the lower leagues, you just have to make the most out of what you’ve got. So at the stadium we have a projector in the changing room to show players clips before, during and after the game.
“At the training ground we have a massive touch screen TV that allows us to annotate during our meetings which is brilliant for the visual learners in the room.
“We can put across the exact message we want in a picture form rather than talk about it which has made a big difference since I came in and introduced it.”
With each season that passes, we are hearing more and more about analyst’s roles at football clubs.
As we move into the future, you would assume that their role will increase as technology continues to develop.
Rotherham United are a cohesive family club lead by a man in Paul Warne who has the Millers in is heart. Human interaction and being able to motivate your players ahead of a game will remain at the root of football.
Even though Neil sees more players moving into analysis roles in the future, he says that the human element of football coaching needs to remain at the fore moving forward:
“I think there will always have to be a human element to the job however far technology goes because the human eye will always tell a story that a machine cannot.
“It’ll be interesting for sure and I think a lot of former players will start to move into analysis roles soon as they’ve grown up in an era where technology has been introduced to them at a young age.”