Swansea City's Andy Scott on the analytics boom and trailblazing Brentford

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Andy Scott
Andy Scott played for Sheffield United and Brentford among others before embarking on a career in coaching, management and then scouting

When Ollie Watkins scored to set Brentford on their way to victory over Swansea City in their Championship play-off semi-final, Andy Scott may have felt conflicting pangs of disappointment and pride.

As the Swans' head of recruitment, his hopes of Premier League promotion were fading and soon to be gone.

But as the man responsible for signing Watkins for Brentford in 2017, he could take some satisfaction from his contribution to one of football's most innovative projects.

Brentford lost the final to Fulham but, as a small club even by Championship standards who were in the fourth tier as recently as 2009, the Bees' rise has been a triumph of resourceful creativity.

Having worked in finance, professional gambling and data analysis, owner Matthew Benham has based his regime on those industries' guiding mathematical principles.

Using analytics to find players unwanted by other clubs or ignored in unfashionable leagues, Brentford aim to unearth gems before selling them for large profits.

And when they harness their carefully cultivated data and blend it with the nous of their coaches, the result is exhilarating football.

As a player, manager and chief scout, Scott played a significant part in Brentford's transformation.

Now he is at Swansea, the 48-year-old has a new - and quite different - project.

"You can't take your model from Brentford and take it to Swansea, even though the style of play is similar," Scott tells BBC Sport Wales.

"Finances, squad make-up, expectations from the owner could all be different. You have to make it work for your club.

"We got things wrong [at Brentford] but we got a hell of a lot more right. We were certainly ahead of the curve, which was fantastic.

"It's shown with the players coming into Brentford and moving on and the money that they made that it worked.

"But you've still got to keep moving forward and developing your strategy and improving it because virtually every club worth its salt now has data analysts and scientists working for them, building their own models which are similar to the others.

"So you've got to find a difference and something that's a little bit ahead of what everyone else is doing to make sure that you've got a gain. If you don't keep up with the times, you get left behind."

Ollie Watkins
Ollie Watkins, who scored 25 goals for Brentford in 2019-20, is a transfer target for several Premier League clubs

Rising above the analytics backlash

Terms such as data and analytics used to - and sometimes still do - prompt howls of derision from some of football's old guard.

Expected goals, for example, is a metric which measures the quality (xG) of every attempt based on various factors such as the position of the shot. The higher the xG - with 1 being the maximum - the more likelihood of the opportunity being taken, so if a chance is 0.5xG, it should be scored 50% of the time.

This is now a relatively well-established tool but former Scotland midfielder Craig Burley dismissed the concept as "nerd nonsense" in one particularly animated rantexternal-link in 2016 - and he was not the first.

When Harry Redknapp managed Southampton, he reportedly turned to an analyst after a loss and said: "I'll tell you what, next week, why don't we get your computer to play against their computer and see who wins?"

Scott encountered this attitude as a player - in all four divisions of the English game - as well as a manager.

"Traditionally, football people are very insular and keep themselves to themselves," he says.

"They don't like people coming into what they believe is their domain and taking charge. But there is value and if you're closed off to that you're never going to progress."

There was scepticism when Liverpool made Ian Graham, who has a PhD in theoretical physics, their first director of research in 2012.

He now leads a team of analysts who are involved in pre-match preparation, post-match analysis and player recruitment.

When that same team helped appoint Jurgen Klopp as manager and sign Mohamed Salah, Alisson and Virgil van Dijk among others, the resentment towards these new methods seemed misplaced.

Brentford and Liverpool are not alone. Arsenal bought the analytic tool StatDNA in 2012, while a decade earlier Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren were early advocates of the Prozone data service.

However, that did not stop Allardyce from saying years later as Everton manager that football is "too unpredictable to make decisions on stats".

Scepticism remains, but Scott has always kept an open mind.

Andy Scott
Andy Scott won the 2009 League Two title as Brentford manager

'It opened my eyes'

Having left his post as Aldershot manager in 2015, Scott found himself at a crossroads and called Benham.

"I'd always had a good relationship with Matthew. He'd sacked me as a manager [of Brentford in 2011] but that's life, that's what happens when you're a manager," Scott recalls.

"I wanted to change my career path so I spoke to Matthew and asked if there was anything he could help me out with.

"Fortunately he appreciated the work I'd done at Brentford as a manager and coach and the players I'd brought in, and saw I had an eye for a player so he recognised it was an opportunity to develop Smartodds' data and way of working."

Smartodds is a company Benham owns which provides statistically-based betting advice and, following his work there, Scott rejoined Brentford as head scout.

As well as acquiring Watkins for less than £2m, Scott oversaw the signings of Neal Maupay - bought for £1.6m in 2017 and sold for £20m two years later - and numerous others including Rico Henry, Henrik Dalsgaard and Emiliano Marcondes, all of whom featured in last week's play-off final.

"That was my real introduction. When I was coaching and managing, the data wasn't really there," Scott says.

"It opened my eyes at Smartodds and we took that into Brentford. The people in charge at Brentford were mathematicians and wanted to go down that route but had the foresight to realise traditional scouting had a place in their recruitment department.

"It was like quality control for the data and the scouting - it worked hand in hand. I've taken that on."

Brentford owner Matthew Benham, enjoying a kickabout at Griffin Park after the win over Swansea, is a lifelong Bees fan
Brentford owner Matthew Benham, enjoying a kickabout at Griffin Park after the win over Swansea, is a lifelong Bees fan

Rebuilding Swansea

Scott's success at Brentford saw him poached by then Premier League club Watford in November 2017 and promoted to sporting director a year later.

When his contract expired last summer, Swansea pounced to make him their head of recruitment.

Scott is now rebuilding a recruitment model which contributed to the club's struggles in recent years.

The Swans had tentatively experimented with analytics when they appointed Harvard graduate Dan Altman, of North Yard Analytics, in 2016 but that was only on a consultancy basis and he lasted less than two years during a tumultuous period for the club.

Altman felt the Swans did not listen to his ideas as they made a string of poor signings which led to what even then head coach Paul Clement described as an "imbalanced" squad.

Swansea's erratic recruitment was a major factor in their relegation from the Premier League in 2018, with Roque Mesa, Sam Clucas and Wilfried Bony among their most expensive flops, costing a combined £40m in transfer fees.

The Swans were also weighed down by unsustainably high wages in the Championship, leading to drastic cost-cutting measures at all levels of the club.

Then after another manager, Graham Potter, overhauled the recruitment structure in the summer of 2018 only to join Brighton a year later, Swansea had to start all over again.

That is where Scott came in.

There was no money for another era of costly mistakes so, by the time Scott started work, head coach Steve Cooper was using loans and free transfers to build his squad for the 2019-20 campaign.

"This year has been a bit different because I came in only a few weeks before the start of the season," Scott says.

"We used an analytics company called MRKT Insights, who I'd been following for a while and I was interested in how they worked.

MRKT Insights graphic of Matt Grimes
MRKT Insights produce player profile graphics such as this one for Swansea captain Matt Grimes

"Steve Rands, our head of performance analysis, has got a model he's built from his time at Manchester City and Derby, so we wanted to run that alongside what MRKT Insights were doing, and see if either was bringing up names the other wasn't.

"You've got to keep yourself ahead of the game in terms of knowing what metrics look like, how data is displayed, the websites and spreadsheets, so in the presentations you put together you don't bombard people with data and statistics.

"That goes along with more traditional scouting, going to watch them live, how they interact with team-mates, staff, watch them in the warm-up, watch them home and away and try to cover every aspect."

Scott tends to work several transfer windows in advance, so Swansea's recruitment this summer will be based on significant existing research.

Planning ahead meant Brentford "always bought early and sold late", he adds, which allowed them to sell players at inflated prices close to transfer deadlines, having already bought their replacements.

While Scott is mindful that transfer strategies are different at every club, some principles remain - 'buy low, sell high' being one of them - and he is looking to expand at Swansea.

A MRKT Insights graphic compares Championship teams' passing lengths and success rates in the 2018-19 season
A MRKT Insights graphic compares Championship teams' passing lengths and success rates in the 2018-19 season

"We've got a model in place and we're currently recruiting for a recruitment analyst who's going to develop that model and work with me directly in the recruitment department," Scott says.

"We're always trying to look at how we can build and how we can progress the recruitment department. At the moment, it's just me.

"The consultancy with MRKT Insights has finished and the club wants to bring in people who work for the club exclusively, which is my way of looking at it, building our own models and our own profiles.

"It's a case of building something that's going to be useful to the club for five or 10 years, rather than skirting around and trying to do it haphazardly.

"You've got to have a plan and it takes time to build that but, once it's in place, it should work."

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