5 Sporting Directors Manchester United Should Look At

“@ManUtd, please hire a Sporting Director #GlazersOut #FullSaleOnly”, 

“Hire Michael Edwards while he is free, I am on my knees @ManUtd”, 

“Hire Paul Mitchell @ManUtd and we are cooking”. 

You must have seen such a trend of tweets getting spammed down your throat if you are active on Football Twitter. Even at times, you must have had a question that what even is a Sporting Director, what even he does and why is such a position becoming a norm at not only the top level but even at lower levels of modern-day football, that even clubs at bottom tiers are now hiring the same to help them punch above their weight in an efficient and sustainable manner on small fractions of operating budget.  

What is a Sporting Director?

As the name suggests, a Sporting Director means a person at Director level responsible for the sporting activities. In Basketball (especially College Basketball), you have Athletic Directors who work closely with the coaches, analysts to see the progress and readiness of the college players and also spot up and coming superstars in order to lure them to represent their respective colleges on scholarships. And also help the young and budding college players to land professional contracts through their contacts with professional teams. 

In baseball, you usually have your General Managers (GMs) who operate as a managerial/directorial level professional to oversee the sporting activities for a franchise. That means working with the coaches, scouts and analysts to solve both performance and recruitment related problems and come up with efficient solutions by working in tandem with the aforementioned departments. 

In football, there is actually no such direct definition for a Sporting Director because of how rapidly this sport evolves and takes up influences from everywhere. Sure, you have a Director of Football or DoF (which has become a new trending lingo among the fans, casuals and die-hards alike). But not every Director of Football is alike because of so many variations when it comes to day-to-day operations of a Football Club. There is no defined way of ownership model in Football. Every club has a different way in which the operations are carried out, hence different hierarchies and different roles.

Types of ownership models

For example, you have some local businessman who made it big and wants to pump the money into his local side in order to break the barren streak of no trophies and buy off the competition as soon as possible using the age-old flawed logic of buying best players = winning trophies left right and centre straight away; fail at this attempt, lose your own wealth in the process and putting your beloved club in peril of folding off from existence because of financial irregularities. 

Then you have your usual Sugar Daddy owner, some hot-shot billionaire of a mega corporation owning various Franchises in USA, thinking that demographics of sports culture in Europe is same as in USA, make the institution which has been there for years, a personal cash-cow of the theirs by bleeding the fanbase dry and alienating the working class people who piss blood and sweat all week long just to enjoy a game of football on the weekend: a young man stuck in his dead end desk job who wants to enjoy some quality time with his mates in either a pub or in the stands by watching the game or a single parent of two who has to work an extra shift in one of their jobs just to earn that extra bit of money so that they can surprise their kids by taking them to their first ever match and buy official merchandise from the club shop or an elderly couple who has been going to watch every home game for decades but cannot renew their season ticket because of unregulated pricing.

Or some Venture Capitalist owning a hedge fund ready to take over the club which was brought down to its knees by the previous owners who wanted to scratch their itch of being the alpha by taking decisions in capacity of a role about which they had no qualification or experience; at a cut price deal in order to make it their personal investment just to be sold off for a profit later or used in some financial deal to get any other coveted asset. 

And then you have the imperialistic, despotic and murderous regimes of some country who made their wealth by exploitation of their own people; who have the realization that the natural resources which they sold to the world in return for money and political favors are depleting fast. So, they are now ready to diversify their own wealth into various other sectors, ready to pump billions in order to earn not just the money back but also buy off political favors for the future and mask their bloody stains of generations of exploitation, discrimination through goodwill and positive PR. In short, sportswashing. And football as an industry has provided a great opportunity for actual nations to pump off clubs and bypass the financial rules which have been put to make It an even ground for all to compete, money made by exploitation, while pushing their own degrading political and discriminating beliefs under the pretence of religion and the banner of “Sports and Politics must not be mixed together”

Last but not the least, you have fan owned, fan funded clubs as well with various different types of fan-led coalitions and ownership models. The co-operative model in Germany where the club members, i.e. the fans have the final say by having more voting rights just that the institution cannot be overtaken by a hostile takeover from any external body. Then, you have the Socios of the club in Spain and Portugal; who vote to elect the sporting body who will then run the operations of the club.

I don’t want to generalize that external ownership is BAD and fan ownership is GOOD. There are various cases of external ownerships being good and delivering results by not putting the club at peril by gross mismanagement. And there are various cases of fan-led clubs who had best interests of the club and the community they represented but weren’t fit for running the club. One major difference maker in such situations can be a competent Sporting Director. 

But how do you know that a Sporting Director is competent and the ‘right fit’. And again, I have to be the bearer of bad news; that there is no straight answer to that. 

Types of sporting director models

Various factors are involved in finding the right person fit for the role of a Sporting Director in Football. But the biggest factor is to know what you actually want the club to be! Yes, the basic SWOT analysis is needed to be done by the administration by keeping in mind all the other factors (I’ll come to some of those in a while, later on in the article) in mind before choosing the candidate. 

Do you want the club to be a self-sustainable one, which earns of money through some initial investment at start but then you need to wait for some years to get the return, both in terms of prestige (i.e. trophies) and money through organic growth of the club so that it can fund itself and be competitive both and off the pitch? 

Or go for the short-term route by straight-away investing huge sums and win the lot but also comply with financial rules of the competitions it takes part in by selling and buying strategically and not lose the competitive edge? 

Or invest in youth by revamping the grassroot level programmes to nurture the next generation of superstars such that they make up the core of the team for years to come and this cycle keeps on repeating. Is it also another way of becoming self-sustainable?  

Or if you have a plan of implementing a multi-club model where you want to theorize a certain brand of football and strategically target to buy youngsters and train them in same kind of football; right from youth teams to senior team by providing a pre-planned development plan for them to grow and move up the ladder by joining the bigger club as part of the multi-club model? 

There are pros and cons of every kind of model which the said club wants to implement as a ‘philosophy’ and that has to be weighed down first and foremost by the administration. Then, only you can hire a person who may be familiar with that philosophy. Or hire someone who may have a set philosophy of their own (similar to what you wanted) and the experience plus qualification to mould the club in the way you want (given you have the clarity yourself beforehand about what you want) but at the expense of that candidate, i.e., handing him the key responsibilities of sporting matters and at times, even some key financial matters. Or maybe someone with contacts in the industry who will get you brilliant deals on players and sell off assets on profit; to keep the cash flowing into the club for the investment on players and coaches. Or someone, who knows it all- right from managing stingy bosses who have the tendency to scratch their itch by poking their noses where it is not required to managing the needs of coaches and players; and also, coordinating with the recruitment staff to plan for upcoming seasons. 

In all of this, the tendency to do proactive planning and being transparent to every stakeholder is of utmost importance for a Sporting Director.

Why do Manchester United need a Sporting Director?

Now, coming to the curious case of Manchester United. A legacy club with a lot of prestige, hailing from a major town with working class roots who take pride in having a tradition of integrating young and budding youngsters from nearby areas of Manchester into the senior team, the tradition which has been diluted under the current ownership of Glazers Family from USA. Their cross-town rivals, Manchester City have completely overtaken them in a lot of areas; a state-of-the-art training and youth facilities, a world class modern stadium. All of that, although has been funded by every kind of financial doping known to mankind and it goes unchallenged because their owners have bought off the people who govern not only the sport in the country but also the leaders who actually run the country. But their owners knew what they wanted from day 1 and got the right set of personnel to execute it, which Manchester United owners haven’t done in their entire span of ownership. And they still don’t know what they actually want from the club; hence the strong backlash (18 years too late) from the fanbase to sell off and not dilute the identity of the club while their rivals keep on outclassing them on and off the pitch.

This year may finally be the year where the huge fanbase of Manchester United will see the end of the ownership of Glazer Family and their gross negligence in keeping the club competitive on and off the pitch despite spending 1+ billion pounds of the club’s own organic financial resources and still getting inconsistent results. But then, their options for replacement are also limited; final shortlist of new stewardship being the INEOS group led by Sir Jim Ratcliffe (who is a proclaimed Manchester United “supporter”) and “Sheikh” Jassim, a mysterious Qatari bank manager (not associated to Qatari state fund and royal family as per his own claims), who just happens to have 6 billion pounds (asking price set by the Glazers Family to sell their entire stake in the club) of the King’s finest pounds in a bank account somewhere, also a proclaimed Manchester United supporter. The fanbase is so angry with the ownership of Glazers Family (which is justified given the mismanagement) that they will even go in favour for some Regen of Hitler/Mussolini as owner of their beloved club, just to see the back of Glazers. In that comparison, some Qatari bank manager whose real identity isn’t even known to the masses or a Petrochemical conglomerate is just a level 1 evil boss. But “we want our club back”, eh? (Via some superficial external party as “owner”). 

While both parties have laid out their plans of redeveloping club from scratch: redevelop the facilities and stadium, write off debt (by debt, the debt put on the club by Glazers as part of their leveraged buyout back in 2005 and not the transfer debt because it can’t be written off in one go), back the manager in every possible manner and taking the Alice back to Wonderland but there is still no coherence in how they exactly want to achieve all this. It’s like selling a project to potential clients at high margins but without any set deadlines and not enough clarity of requirement for the development.

And that’s where they will need the expertise of Sporting Directors: not just a Director of Football (focused more towards recruitment side and finding best possible finds as per the needs of the manager and his preferred coaching philosophy) but also a Technical Director (who should be the main person to identify and negotiate the contracts for the staff as per the “philosophy” and push for the said “philosophy” at all levels of the organization. Darren Fletcher and John Murtough are not at all qualified to play their respective roles) in order to gather that functional requirement in order to kickstart the development; so that once all the development is done- it can go through QA testing and then finally getting deployed in the Production environment.

And there has to be complete transparency between all the stakeholders here, from clients about what they actually want from their downstream application (the fanbase) to the parent company (the prospective new owners) about how they want to develop the required application and the developers (Sporting Directors) hired to do the requirement gathering and do the development using best possible and effective industrial practices; keeping their leads and client informed at regular intervals about everything and also help the junior developers (The coaching staff, performance and recruitment analysts, scouts) at all steps possible.

What Manchester United have

  • A great grassroots structure which helps them to scout and provide scholarships to budding schoolboys, providing them with the opportunity to earn a full-time professional contract with the club and rise up the ranks.
  • A more than decent scouting system (both in the UK, Ireland and abroad). Just, that they lack the structure above them to make the final decisions as per the basic reports handed over by the scouts. 
  • Current manager in Erik ten Hag. He knows what he wants and till now, has shown flexibility to get results but at the end of the day, he is a specialist manager and will always need certain players with a specific skill set in some positions without which his plan A may become redundant. Hiring such managers means you will eventually buy into their philosophy (which you think will yield you results that you want), not the other way round.

What Manchester United don’t have: 

  • Idea about what they actually want the club to be. And this discussion has to happen, and the executives have to initiate it. And they cannot neglect the fans in this, because the identity of the club is because of the community. Of course, a club this successful wants to win trophies but how to reach that stage? How to reform the club so that they can reach the stage of challenging in all competitions every year. Such kind of discussions.
  • Lack of Coherence from executives. The current ones, the prospective new owners. Just blank promises but when you go to ask how they will achieve those? No strategy, just plain old; throw the money and buy success. 
  • Lack of any sporting structure. Letting people do things, which they are not qualified to do and eventually that affects their own job. For example: Erik ten Hag knows about what he wants in the players but he can’t identify the best possible player (not just tactical fitment but financial package as well, which you don’t expect a manager to know) as per his expectations. And that isn’t the role of managers. Jurgen Klopp with Michael Edwards and Jurgen Klopp without Michael Edwards is yet another example; the way Liverpool have done transfers which haven’t fixed their gaping holes and the financial package offered to players going against the structure set by Michael Edwards. With. more money spent; Liverpool still looks bereft of challenging.
  • Wrong kind of appointments done at administration level: For example- Ed Woodward before and John Murtough, Richard Arnold, Darren Fletcher et al now. All are good at the commercial side but that doesn’t equate to them calling all the shots at recruitment and do that without any qualifications and/or experience for it and also without scrutiny from higher ups when the club has spent upwards of one billion pounds without any efficiency. Money isn’t an unlimited commodity, no matter how big of a club you are, no matter how prestigious you are. As someone said, “the dildo of consequences never comes with lubrication” (Pardon my French)
  • Patience. Neither do the fans have enough patience, nor do the people running the club. Everyone just wants more of this, more of that. Too many ingredients but not enough time for them to cook together (and most of the time, even ingredients are also wrong. Or the amount of each ingredient is wrong. Or sometimes, even the recipe itself is altogether wrong).

What kind of Sporting Director do Manchester United need?

Now that we know of the dos and don’ts, let’s look at the certain qualities which are a must in finding a Sporting Director for Manchester United, no matter who is the owner of Manchester United. 

  • Should have great knowledge about scouting, recruitment (yes scouting isn’t equal to recruitment, both are different but both terms are thrown around very casually). Candidates should be flexible enough to learn about new innovations being implemented in the industry which can help the club provide a cutting edge against their opposition. 
  • Ability to work with the manager, understand his requirements and then work in tandem with the recruitment team to deliver those targets. Not just the new shiny toys but new shiny toys who are best possible fit as per the tactics/playing style and the best possible option financially as well.
  • Candidates shouldn’t just be good at buying but equally good at selling as well. This is one area where Manchester United have struggled a lot. Selling when opportunity arises is also an important factor in order to keep healthy finances and raise the transfer kitty as well in order to upgrade the squad. 
  • Candidates are required to have a great Talent ID. Sometimes, the player you want may just be laying there in the academy, just that you need to create a pathway for the player and a positive environment for the prospect to thrive in. Plan transfers in the position of the prospect in such a way that his playing time isn’t neglected or that the pathway you had devised isn’t affected with future signings. 
  • Knowledge of not just Sports but knowledge of Business side of the Sport and Management is also a must. Candidates will not just be working closely with the coaching staff and recruitment team but even with the executives who work directly with the owners. The job of the candidate will be to keep everyone on the same page and define boundaries whenever possible, so that work doesn’t get spilled over and picked up by people who don’t know how to do it.

We know about the Michael Edwards’s, Paul Mitchells, Luis Campos of the world and while everyone of those is a great Director on their own and if hired; will easily fix many underlying issues when it comes to football matters at the club. But I want to look at other (you can say ‘gone under the radar’) Director of Footballs who can work with either ownership (given they are aware about the direction in which they want to go in order to meet the targets, as promised by them to the fanbase).

So, here we go.

5 Sporting Directors Manchester United should look at

  1. Florent Ghisolfi  

Age: 38 years

Nationality:  French/Italian

Current Club: OGC Nice

Current Contract: 3.5-year contract running till 30th June, 2026

Previous Clubs: RC Lens, FC Lorient (as a coach)

Franck Haise led RC Lens has become a household name in not just France but even across the English Channel with his modest side punching well above weight in Ligue 1 ever since the side hailing from the North of France has won back the promotion to Ligue 1 in 2020. A major reason in Lens re-writing their underdog story has been their strategy in doing shrewd transfer business relying on not just purely old school method of scouting (the ‘eye test’) but also incorporating modern approach to scouting and then making their recruitment strategy. RC Lens have had a great grassroot programme which has yielded them many talented players over the years. Coupling that with strategically targeted players who have been undervalued and fit the manager’s game plan and promoting players from youth teams has yielded them great results; UCL Qualification is secured in just the 3rd season after getting promoted; that too by scoring 80+ and going neck-to-neck with Paris St. Germain (there is a possibility of ending just 1 point behind them)

The main man pulling the strings in the background? A 38-year-old ex-Footballer: Florent Ghisolfi. RC Lens appointed the former SC Bastia and Stade Reims player as Director of Football in 2019 right before their start of Ligue 2 season under Phillipe Montanier (yes, the current Toulouse manager who won them their first ever trophy recently- the Coupe de France). Ghisolfi’s first step as DoF was cashing in on their 2 youngsters- Modibo Sagnan and Jean-Rincer Bellegrade to Real Sociedad and RC Strasbourg respectively in order to raise some capital in order to invest into the squad. A cut-short 2019-20 season due to Covid-19 saw LFP call off the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 and award the winners, European qualification, relegation, promotion spots as per the current standing. And RC Lens were 2nd in Ligue 2 at the time and a promotion was on the cards. 

But Phillip Montanier departed to take over as manager for Standard Liege in Belgium. And, its your first season back in the top flight after a controversial period in the history of the club. Now, your gut feeling will say to go for some survival expert who can ensure that the club doesn’t get relegated and become a yo-yo team. Instead, Ghioslfi promoted the B team manager, Franck Haise to take over the vacant managerial position at senior team. 

Some brilliant transfers followed after this, a certain Jonathan Clauss on a Bosman transfer from Arminia Bielefield, Loic Bade from Le Havre on a Bosman transfer again. Seko Fofana, Ignacius Ganago, Facundo Medina, Wulker Farinez, Arnaud Kalimuendo, Corentin Jean, Gael Kakuta also joined the team in order to make the squad competitive for top-flight football. And RC Lens surprised everyone with their free-flowing football, patiently waiting to hit the teams on the break through their use of wing backs as a primary source of creativity. A 7th placed finish was well above their pre-season targets. Yet another season in Ligue 1 beckoned. Although, team had to cash out on some players, Ghisolfi’s eye for undervalued players who fit into the manager’s playing style eased that transition very easily.  

South America, lower divisions in France, Scandinavia and Polish players became the target for recruitment in order to replace the outgoings and keep a net positive in terms of expenditure. Yet another 7th placed finish followed and yet another successful transfer window saw the Lens side punch even above their ability and they are now looking at UCL qualification. 

This great work in arguably your first ever job as a Director didn’t go unnoticed. That Petrochemical Conglomerate who is looking to buy the majority stake in Manchester United? Well, he owns OGC Nice as well. And, they hired Florent Ghisolfi as their new Sporting Director; especially with focus towards recruitment in December 2022. 

Now, Sir Jim Ratcliffe is currently in pole position to take over as Manchester United with aims of making a strategic partnership with OGC Nice, given UEFA is looking ease their rules on having multi-club ownership model exist in the market (cough-cough Please the same despots, sugar daddies to pay UEFA their royalties and cut to make it even more of a closed shop cough-cough). Having Florent Ghisolfi as a Director overseeing the operations at each club isn’t that much a farsighted thing given both clubs have a big weakness; which are Ghisolfi’s strength: Recruitment. He has been able to deliver results with a modest budget, does a deep dive into the youth system to promote highly rated youngsters and work with the coaches to provide a pathway to the first XI of the senior team. Imagine the sheer potential of a relatively younger person who will stay for years with you as a Director of Football with a large kitty at his behest and letting him lay down a structure to provide his insights, a structure which both clubs lack.

To summarize. 

Recruitment Knowledge: Central Europe, South America, North America, North Africa

Shared Vision with Board: Help the club to punch above weight by using the combination of smart transfers and utilizing the youth academy.

Pros: Good Talent ID, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game

Cons: Relatively Inexperienced (but everyone is at one stage of their career), A possible Language and Cultural Barrier

Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10

  1. Florian Maurice

Age: 49 years

Nationality: French

Current Club: Stade Rennais

Current Contract: A contract running till 30th June, 2025

Previous Clubs: Lyon (as a scout)

Just like Florent Ghisolfi, Florian Maurice is an ex-footballer and in his first ever role as Director; managing the day-to-day operations of Stade Rennais. But, in comparison to Florent Ghisolfi; Florian Maurice has a lot of experience in working in other roles post playing career. A local boy from Lyon, Florian enjoyed a decent playing career, playing for OL, PSG and OM and also plying his trade in Spain with Celta Vigo. He also won 6 caps for Les Bleus, scoring one goal. Once, he hung up his boots; he straight away joined his local side, Lyon as a scout- with his main focus being spotting young players from various grassroot programmes deployed by the club. 

He then rose up the ranks and became a chief scout for OL- before the start of 2014-15 season; a post he held till 2019-20 season. Meanwhile, in the same time period; Stade Rennais slowly grew as a club, from being one of the relegation fodders to mid table stability to challenging for European places, peak being the 2019-20 season where they secured a UCL spot.

In order to make the club grow even further and stick with their philosophy of using the club’s famed academy and policy of buying exciting U23 players for the first team. Rennes turned to Florian Maurice to take over as their Sporting Director. His official title with the club is that of a ‘Technical Director’ but he oversees not just the recruitment but also finding the manager and coaches for not just first team but B team and youth staff, to keep the continuum between the set philosophy by the executives of the club.

He is like the one -man army, sandwiched between the club owners and footballing division of the club. Under his tutelage as ‘Technical Director’, Rennes have grown in reputation; regularly challenging for European spots, promoting highly rated prospects from the academy and providing a clear-cut path for them to regular first team football and also signing some exciting U23 players from abroad. Although, many in the industry will call a club like Stade Rennais as a ‘stepping stone’ but with such kind of footballing operations, club is still investing like crazy in their own youth setup while doubling down on scouting budget to find great prospects from abroad, making the club self-sufficient in the process. 

And some of the transfers done by Rennes against some stringent competition is all down to Florian Maurice being able to sell the project to prospective players and their camp. Jeremy Doku, when Liverpool was negotiating with Anderlecht and his camp; convincing Kamaldeen Sulemana to snub a club like Ajax to join Rennes; snooping right under the noses of various German clubs to seal the signing of Lovro Majer, getting a left footed ball playing center back in Arthur Theate for a cut price knowing very well how big the market for such players is and even to some extent, sealing the signing of Amine Gouiri under the noses of various PL Clubs is all down to Florian Maurice. Along with dipping their noses in the transfer market to find such gems and providing them with a pathway to take that next step in their budding careers, the ex-World Cup winner has also provided many youngsters from the academy with first team opportunities. The likes of Eduardo Camavinga, Mathys Tel, Desire Doue, Guela Doue, Lesley Ugochukwu have taken their chances to step up to the first team and make their place in the squad. And Camavinga, Tel have even sealed moves to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively and made a name for themselves at the grandest stages of all. Even players like Martin Terrier and Benjamin Bourigeaud have seen a renaissance ever since Maurice has come at the club and hired coaches who prefer a patient possession-based setup, which suits the players and their technical skillset.

Now, Manchester United do need a commanding figure in between the manager and their new owner, who help them keep the continuation without losing any competitive edge. Someone who can appease the owners and the managers, keep them on the same page and listen to the fans as well; all while doing the thing they are good at. An already brilliant youth system in place, an already existing scouting system which is decent but can be improved and you get a person who has loads of experience when it comes to scouting and recruitment to lead the operations. Florian Maurice can be a decent punt to lead the footballing operations at Old Trafford.

Recruitment Knowledge: Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, UK & Ireland, North Africa, South America

Shared Vision with Board: Help the club by appointing technical staff who help to impose the philosophy of integrating younger players with high potential in the First team and provide the team with undervalued, high potential youngsters from abroad who can be integrated into the playing style preferred by the club.

Pros: Brilliant Talent ID, Brilliant Negotiator, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game, Highly experienced when it comes to recruitment

Cons: A possible language and culture barrier

Devil’s DNA Score: 8.5/10

  1. Phillip Giles

Age: 47 years

Nationality: English

Current Club: Brentford FC

Current Contract: A 3-year contract signed in 2022, lasting till 30th June, 2025

Previous Clubs: N.A.

I have nothing but respect for Brentford and how they have played a massive part in removing the stigma around the amalgam of Data and Football, delivering results left right and centre. What Matthew Benham (at Brentford) and Tony Bloom (at Brighton and Hove Albion) have done is nothing short of commendable. A decade back, both clubs were sitting in League 1 with nothing but dark and gloomy days ahead of them. But then both of them came with their different (but somewhat similar) theory to integrate the use of data in making efficient decisions and minimize the margin of error which has impacted their respective clubs and taken them to uncharted territories. Both clubs are flying high, albeit the route they have taken to reach the Premier League has been different but their main base of running footballing operations has been to include the use of Data. (No, they haven’t done a ‘Moneyball’. It’s a different concept altogether). 

Both Matthew Benham and Tony Bloom made their investment in the sports betting industry, understanding the complex nature of a game as volatile and unpredictable as Football and broke it down through the use of the principles of Statistics and Probability. While Tony Bloom stuck through with Brighton, Matthew Benham first implemented his theory with Danish club FC Midtjylland. Once, he was able to find success there He turned to his boyhood club Brentford and completely restructured the running of the club.

And here comes the hero of this section of the article, Phillip Giles. A Mathematician by profession with interest in football, Phillip joined the sports betting industry in the hopes of combining his expertise in maths and football, eventually landing a job with SmartOdds, a company owned by Matthew Benham. Eventually, Benham got to know of the work done by Giles over the years in the industry and his theory of combining data with football; eventually landing him a job in football with Brentford. 

After joining the club, Phillip realised one thing which was very different from his previous job, that in his previous role managing a ‘regular business’; they are trying to build a product and sell it off to interested buyers. But in football it’s about people management. Using the services of SmartOdds as a data vendor, Brentford under the leadership of Phillip Giles has used this data to hire people who are the most efficient in their roles and fit the club perfectly. At the end of the day, it’s about managing the people, just that you have used data to minimize your margin of error to get them. It counts from hiring technical staff to coaching staff to players. And his track record with such methods is there to speak. 

When Brentford completely annihilated Manchester United at the start of the season, it was a tale of 2 very different clubs. Manchester United lack in all the departments where Brentford have become the experts. Manchester United have spent bucket loads of money without any efficiency for the last 10 years. They will keep on spending that kind of money irrespective of any ownership, just that they need someone to help them realize their inefficiency, rectify their mistakes and improve the efficiency of the process. For once, why not price out a certain Director who has developed into an expert in such a role. Club has no strategy and even lacks that human touch, that sense of togetherness and they desperately need such a personality who knows the best of both worlds.

Recruitment Knowledge: UK & Ireland, Scandinavia, Central Europe, Africa (through shared knowledge with FC Midtjylland) 

Shared Vision with Board: Help achieve the objectives of the board on season-by-season basis by bringing in required personnels who align with the same objectives; who have an open mindset when it comes to integrating data with the conventional methods of recruitment and coaching, to take best possible decisions with minimum margin of error. 

Pros:  Extensive networking and contacts with the industry, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game

Cons: None

Devil’s DNA Score: 9.5/10

  1. Simon Rolfes

Age: 41 years

Nationality: German

Current Club: Bayer Leverkusen

Current Contract: A 2-year contract running till 30th June, 2024

Previous Clubs: N.A.

An industrious defensive midfielder in his playing days, now working his way up the corporate ladder at the club where he found success as a player. The rise of Simon Rolfes in his role as Sporting Director over the years may not have eclipsed the topsy turvy ride of Die Werkself on the pitch but many of his decisions when it comes to recruitment and defining the playing style has been a positive for the club. 

The ex-Germany international hung up his boots after playing for 10 years with Bayer Leverkusen, spending 10 of his 12 years as a professional footballer with the club while enjoying a decent international career with Die Mannschaft, 26 caps and 2 goals with runners up medal in Euros 2008 and semi-finals in 2010 World Cup. After the retirement, the then 32-year-old wanted to get into an administrative role so he started to prepare for life after football. 1 year as a head of youth development for Bayern Leverkusen saw him attract the attention of higher ups at the club, especially that of Rudi Voller who was at that time Managing Director of Sports for the footballing division of the institution. 

Simon was quickly appointed as Sporting Director of the club, working up close under the guidance of Rudi Voller and given the free roam at re-defining the direction of the club. In his 3.5 years as a Sporting Director, Rolfes has spearheaded the restructuring of the recruitment team. Inculcating modern practices of identifying not just the exciting U23 youngsters from abroad but even in his native country, especially in the region where the club is situated. 

According to Rolfes, there are 3 key pillars to the ‘Leverkusen blueprint’: Atmosphere, Development, Performance. 

When looking for the perfect player, Rolfes and his team have the club’s culture as much at the forefront of their mind as the potential signing’s ability and its threshold. That’s why Leverkusen’s player care department travels with Rolfes when he speaks to targets- not just for senior team but also for U19 and/or B team, immediately looking to make the fit as perfect as possible for both the club and player. This process of selection not only aids the dressing room harmony in the first team, but also provides young players at the club with both a welcoming environment to grow into, as well as model professionals to show them the way when they make the step up to senior football.

Club lost Julian Brandt to Borussia Dortmund and needed a new player who can fill in as #10, in came Kai Havertz (although both players are very different in terms of playing style but Rolfes helped to spearhead a change in playing style to get the best out of Havertz). Now, Kai Havertz was out so Rolfes easily could have spent megabucks which Leverkusen received from his transfer but he rather turned his attention to North Rhine Westphalia again, the province where Leverkusen are based. Rolfes travelled to Cologne to convince a 16-year-old local lad in Florian Wirtz, trying to sell the project to him and get him separated from Leverkusen’s arch rivals, FC Koln-promising him an accelerated pathway to senior football and straight away replace Kai Havertz. And boy, were Leverkusen successful in that! 

And now comes the other 2 pillars in the picture- Development and Performance. Both go hand-in-hand. As per Rolfes, whether it’s a new arrival, an academy player or experienced pro, once someone is in the club, it is their development that takes precedence. As Leverkusen’s academy head, Thomas Eichin, puts it: “You can have the best strategy, the best philosophy but if you don’t have the best coaches, you cannot reach your goals. It’s crucial that we bring players to the next step.”. 

In order to track the development and performance; Leverkusen have made in-house bespoke software, using data pipelines and workflows deployed using Amazon Web Services like EMR and EKS. (To give some clarification, AWS’s EMR is used to automate your bulky Big Data driven workflows and EKS- in simple words is a service to host the workflows developed for usability in multiple zones from around the world, without any hindrance). It has helped the club to identify a lot of players who may not have the experience under their belt but are still ready and well rounded for their age to play at a high level. The likes of Edmond Tapsoba (just half a season as a senior in Vitoria Guimaraes side), Piero Hincapie, Odilon Kossonou, Amine Adli, Jeremie Frimpong have risen to the occasion for Die Werkself and are making a name for themselves. 

Leverkusen are using all the cutting-edge innovations to not just player recruitment but even coaching appointments. Not just stuck to a fixed coaching style or tactical setup or playing style, Leverkusen have gone on from Roger Schmidt, famed for his heavy octane direct playing style to Petr Bosz, famed for his similar style but 3x and a structured possession shape to more pragmatic Gerardo Seoane. While Seoane’s first season was a successful one and he got the best out of players, his second season’s start was a cataclysmic one which eventually led him to get the sack- leaving Leverkusen in relegation spots and dropping down to Europa League. Now, Bayer Leverkusen and Rolfes could have easily replaced him with any coach who could have salvaged their season but they again took the risky option (but a calculated one, given all the tech. which they use to minimize that margin of error)- appointing a novice, Xabi Alonso. Now, everyone was raving that Xabi Alonso will be a manager who relies strictly on Juego de Posicion (Positional play), given his nationality and the managers he played under but then he took to the pitch in reality, everyone was proven wrong. His coaching philosophy is completely opposite to that of many of the “managers” he played under. A pragmatist who prefers to first create a defensive solidarity and then focus on dominating the possession. Leverkusen knew what they wanted and what Xabi Alonso had been doing as a manager, and backed it up with the tools which they developed to further strengthen their decision. And we have the results in front of us. 

I mean you have an ex-footballer turned Sporting Director who is flexible to learn about Cloud Technology and Machine Learning to get cutting edge over their opponents, with the penchant of further strengthening his craft and still very young to have a long last career in football. Manchester United could do something here…………..

Recruitment Knowledge: Central Europe, South America, Scandinavia, England

Shared Vision with Board: Help the club by appointing technical staff who are flexible and pragmatic but also share the philosophy of building a competitive team with a mix of both: youth and experience. Hence providing the coaching team with players who align with the philosophy of everyone involved in the process 

Pros:  Extensive networking and contacts with the industry, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game, highly flexible professional.

Cons: None

Devil’s DNA Score: 9.5/10

  1. Christoph Freund

Age: 45 years

Nationality: Austrian

Current Club: RB Salzburg

Current Contract: A 3-year contract running till 30th June, 2026

Previous Clubs: N.A.

When the Red Bull group decided to venture into football, Dietrich Mateschitz turned to his native country and found various loopholes in the existing ownership models of football club in the country, which he exploited in order to form Red Bull Salzburg (and few years later in similar manner took over a club in Germany and renamed it- “RasenBallsport” Leipzig). What Dietrich Mateschitz didn’t know that he was on the verge of devising an ownership model which will become the base for many others to copy and perfect in near future and also devise their own, unique coaching philosophy which perfectly mimics the brand bankrolling millions through those same loopholes and creating an uneven competition. 

But their starting journey was completely different altogether. When RB Salzburg was created; they wanted to win titles in the country straight away so they often went to buy veterans who were in the twilight years of their careers; same for coaching appointments. All of this changed when the management brought in Ralf Rangnick in 2012. Ralf Rangnick isn’t an unknown name in the industry anymore. He had a free hand to mould TSG Hoffenheim (again bankrolled in same manner Red Bull clubs are; by the German Billionaire and founder of SAP- Dietmar Hopp) from a regional side into a Bundesliga side in short time and building a core of talented youngsters- both from local areas and abroad; moulded into a specific playing style. And he was hired by the Red Bull group to do the same thing with the clubs under their management (Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig). 

Ralf Rangnick took an unknown identity (back then) under his wing to oversee the “re-branding” of Red Bull clubs; Christoph Freund. While Rangnick isn’t associated with the Red Bull group anymore but Freund has taken the work done by him and Rangnick notches above and streamlined the kind of brand Dietrich Mateschitz wanted. 

A retired footballer, Christoph Freund has a modest playing career; playing for a host of top division sides and lower regional sides before retiring and joining the Red Bull group as a sports coordinator. He straight away started working with Ralf Rangnick to change the structure of the club. Ralf Rangnick’s influence as a coach who relied on heavy octane direct and vertical football with intense counter pressing was imprinted on every level of the club, from youth teams to senior teams. Next step which Rangnick took was to completely change the recruitment model. Move away from the approach of buying veterans and invest in youth. In a short time (and with unlimited back-funding), RB Salzburg created the best youth system in the country and during the same time period have even invested heavily in youth academies in Africa- creating strategic partnership with academies in Mali, Zambia and providing the youngsters with a clear pathway to first team football. 

While Rangnick was Sporting Director of RB Salzburg from 2012 to 2015, post that he moved to RB Leipzig (and then at company level role with Red Bull as an advisor). His protégé, Christoph Freund took over the responsibilities from the German, becoming the Sporting Director of Red Bull Salzburg Under his supervision RB Salzburg have become the club in its present-day form- a side built from heavy investment in youth, reaping the rewards for the same by winning titles, may it be the senior side dominating the domestic scene or their U19s winning not just at home but even in Europe. Both the Red Bull clubs have created a pipeline for players to move from Salzburg to Leipzig once they have matured enough, playing consistently in the same brand of football which eliminates the extra period of getting adjusted to new surroundings. But they have also sold players for massive profits to non-Red Bull clubs, encashing them at the right moment while keeping their replacements ready to take over immediately. 

During this period, Freund has been successful in recruitment at both front- players and coaches. Pushing for implementing the Red Bull way of football- many coaches have made their breakthrough at Salzburg and then went on to do very well abroad- from Roger Schmidt to Adi Hutter to Marco Rose; while also coaching their replacements in-house. For example; current senior team manager, 32-year-old German Matthias Jaissle has managed the U-19 Side then FC Liefering (the club whose license Red Bull club bought and now use the club as their B-Team, playing 2nd division of Austrian footballing pyramid), now managing the senior side and under him, team has done very well in Europe as well.

Freund likes to work up close with the scouts, who use both the conventional methods of scouting as well as modern approach of data-driven video scouting, signing as many youngsters as possible; given they are a natural fit for their intense playing style and moulding them into superstars for the future. 

The Red Bull story has given the world a glimpse into the multi-club model and its various advantages (at the cost of sporting integrity). No wonder, every big club now wants to implement it and even UEFA is also relaxing their rules around the same kind of ownership model. The prospective new owners of Manchester United have hinted at a possible multi-club ownership model. From that angle and the current landscape surrounding the club, it makes perfect sense for them to go for Christoph Freund; given Chelsea wanted to hire him for similar reasons a year back. His track record with player and coaching recruitment is there to speak for and his way of working will immediately fix the issue of managing transfers, a department where Manchester United have always struggled immediately. 

Recruitment Knowledge: Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, North and Central Africa

with that of Red Bull group or can be moulded into the same by investing resources on them. Same for player recruitment.

Pros: Brilliant Talent ID, Good negotiator, exposure to Multi-Club Model

Cons: Just knowing one kind of footballing ideology can be a con if you don’t evolve with time in a sport as volatile as football.

Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

Honourable Mentions:

  • Cristiano Guintoli, Napoli (he has a verbal agreement with Juventus already so haven’t covered his work in detail, in the article)
  • Max Eberl, RB Leipzig
  • Pedro Marques, Benfica
  • Max Huiberts, AZ Alkmaar
  • Stuart Webber, Norwich
  • Pol-Eduard Caillot, Stade Reims

(Image Credits: Getty and social media handles of clubs

Transfer data Credits: Transfermarkt.com)

Scout Report: Tyrell Malacia

Yet another ‘mercato’ is underway and this is a period where teams either go full throttle with due diligence and planning or go full throttle with nitro boosters without any succession plan. Manchester United have been on the latter side for quite a few years but for once, there is a feeling that even a rigid institution like them is trying to be more flexible in their approach towards the transfer market. Only time will tell if they have actually learned from their past mistakes or are they just their usual self. Erik ten Hag has officially taken over the reins of the team with his first ever training session at the club taking place on 27th June. The current squad is far, far away from the ideal Ten Hag one and some massive gaping holes are needed to be fixed, especially in the areas from where his playing XI likes to build up the game.

Fullback department is one such place, Ten Hag or not, where the club needed a massive investment (and the right kind of investment). One player which the club is actively pursuing is Tyrell Malacia of Feyenoord. In this scout report, I will try to analyze the strengths, weaknesses of the player and how those will be affected if he chooses Manchester United over Lyon. 

Player Profile

Born and brought up in Rotterdam, Tyrell joined the famed Varkenoord academy of his boyhood club Feyenoord in 2008 as a 9 year old kid with the ambitions of making it big with his hometown club. Malacia rose through the ranks of the academy over the years, eventually signing his first ever professional contract with the club in 2015. Tyrell impressed in his short stay at Jong Feyenoord, the reserves side of Feyenoord and was promoted to the senior side at the start of 2017-18 season. He made his debut in the Champions League in a famous 2-1 victory against Napoli where he played the entirety of 90 minutes. A week later, he made his Eredivisie debut in a 1-1 draw against SC Heerenveen. 

He has become a regular for the team over the years while representing the Oranje at every youth level. He was also eligible to play for Curacao and Suriname due to his parents and also got a call up to the Curacao national team for 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, making the preliminary squad but the Oranje eventually capped him, picking him to play 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Norway, Turkey and Montenegro.

Malacia has enjoyed moderate success with his hometown club, winning the KNVB Cup in his first ever season as a senior player, also winning the Johan Cryuff Schaal (the Dutch version of Community Shield: league winners vs domestic cup winners). But his best season came under Arne Slot who took a Feyenoord side to the finals of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League, eventually bowing down to the AS Roma side led by Jose Mourinho. But this younger Feyenoord side went down fighting till the very end, the same mentality shown by Malacia over the years as a professional. He was selected in the team of the tournament as a result of his stellar performances.

Playing Style

For a fullback, being athletic and having brilliant stamina is a plus in the modern game because of the way the game has evolved for good (or worse?). You can’t be just ‘failed Centre Backs’ and protect the wide areas and let the winger ahead of you do his thing. Modern football requires the fullbacks to be involved on the entire flank, right from the start till the very end; the entirety of 105 meters. For a young player like Malacia, this stamina and athleticism was present right from the start which made his transition to the senior side very easy. This athleticism feeds into his defensive strengths as well: a brilliant recovery pace and the understanding of the situation which makes him a menace in one vs one situations. When you have the combination of not just the brute strength but the brains and the mental condition to make these skills work, you have a brilliant fullback on your hands.

Malacia has good anticipation skills but often he gets caught out of position during transitions. He will avoid the opposition’s wingers to get into their preferred areas of the pitch pro-actively but get caught lacking, which somewhat is a concentration issue and can be fixed with experience.

In terms of attacking game, he has that burst of pace and acceleration to beat his man and a good control on the ball to make dribbles down that left flank. His athletic build and good ball control makes him a brilliant ball carrier. He likes to stay wide and use the width of the pitch, sitting deep into the opposition half to receive the ball wide, allowing the winger on the same flank to keep the fullback of opposition busy and narrow and Malacia using this created space to exploit in order to gain advantage. Crossing is one of his decent facets of the attacking game, knowing when to cross, where to cross. With a competent pair of wingers and a striker who has brilliant off the ball movement, Malacia’s deliveries into the box can yield him a lot of assists.

In terms of progressive passing, Malacia was lacking but the past season has seen him improve a lot in terms of progressive passing and it is down to the coaching under Arne Slot. Earlier, Malacia at times used either under-hit a pass or over-complicate a simple pass when bombing forward but this season has seen him fix this glaring issue in his game and completely take a U-turn in the possession phase of the game. There was also a reason for this part of his game being under-developed. Malacia made his debut under Giovanni van Bronckhorst but his stay was short when he jumped onto the scene, after that he has went on from Jaap Stam to Dick Advocaat who didn’t emphasize a lot on possession phase of the game but with the introduction of Arne Slot on the sidelines, it’s not just Tyrell Malacia who has seen massive improvement in his overall game, his team-mate Lutsharel Geertruida has also improved his overall gameplay.

If we compare Malacia’s expected threat with fullbacks from the top 7 leagues, he doesn’t look bad at all. While league differences play a part, and in the Premier League, this could reduce, Malacia still looks good in the top-right quadrant of the above visualization, being strong at creating threat both from carries and passes. Within the Under-24 age bracket, keeping aside the 2 ground-breaking wonderkids, Alexander-Arnold and Alphonse Davies, Malacia looks the next best. All indications are that he will become a well-balanced fullback who offers good attacking threat at his peak for a top team.

Another facet of his game which he requires attention is the positions where he should receive the ball. Malacia has always been instructed to stay wide and receive the ball deep into the opposition’s final third. But for Oranje and bigger teams where he will need to see more of the ball, he will need to learn when to invert in-field while receiving the pass. Some improvement has been made in this aspect under Arne Slot last season but there is still some way to go.

Transfer Situation

A brilliant 2021-22 campaign has seen him win plaudits from a lot of his critics and has attracted the attention of teams from abroad. Lyon have already made an agreement with Feyenoord for a transfer worth 15 million euros but Manchester United have now tried to hijack the deal. Malacia is himself in a similar situation to his Oranje teammate Jurrien Timber. Both players are rated a lot by Louis van Gaal and are preferred in their respective roles as well. A move to a big club just months before the World Cup can dampen the chances if playing time isn’t managed well at new clubs. At Lyon, Malacia will be guaranteed playing time given Malacia is rated highly by their head coach and fellow country man, Peter Bosz.

But at Manchester United, there will be a fight for a place with Luke Shaw being a senior player and Brandon Williams and Alex Telles also there at the club. Malacia’s skillset is scalable to both Lyon and even Manchester United but the settling period at Manchester United will be more given the jump from Eredivisie to Premier League is very challenging in comparison to the jump from Eredivisie to Ligue 1. At both clubs, Malacia has managers who rate him very well and know very well about his playing style, but at Lyon, Malacia has a shot at the starting XI from day 1, which isn’t the case at Manchester United. 

A sensible decision will be needed from the player’s camp, who has the same agent as Frenkie de Jong, another player who Erik ten Hag and Manchester United are pursuing. Whatever club Tyrell Malacia may choose, this is a player who has the tools to become a well-rounded fullback/wingback and play at the top level at both club and international level for years to come. 

TL;DR: He got dat dawg in him

Tactical Analysis: Boubacar Kamara at Aston Villa

Since many users had found out that there is an issue with the original scout report of Boubacar Kamara, I have fixed the issue (you can read the original report here- Scout Report: Boubacar Kamara). But again, due to another technical glitch, I couldn’t merge the changes I had made in the article (had updated the visualizations and added extra content since I wrote this article back in January).

So, I thought; why not make this into an extended article and provide my 2 cents on how he can be used by Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa.

Boubacar Kamara at Aston Villa: a tactical analysis

Aston Villa have it all at this time; an ambitious owner who is ready to pump cash in the team- a progressive, proactive up and coming manager at the helm, a revamped youth system which taps into the local and diverse community of Birmingham and nearby areas. Advantage of staying in Premier League means healthy amount of cash coming in all thanks to the lucrative financial deals of the original Super League which is running since 1990s and the record sale of Jack Grealish last season meant that club can easily spend good amount of money for few years and some sales here and there to balance the books without any issues. This summer they have already got Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara and are in the market for few other players as well (depending on outgoings)- along with some high-quality youth prospects already coming from the ranks and knocking on the doors of the senior team.

Diego Carlos is an aggressive centre back who likes to play as a ‘dog’ (basically a stopper CB). Tyrone Mings being error prone, Kourtney Hause being injury prone and backup player at best (same case with Chambers whose versatility means that he will be a good rotational cover at RCB slot and RB) and a long-term injury to Villa’s best CB: Ezri Konsa can see Kamara play at CB as well, instead of playing in his preferred role in the midfield; as the deepest midfielder. 

In midfield, Kamara’s competition will be with Douglas Luiz who is the out-right starter at defensive midfielder position for the club (but an expiring contract and interest from a host of Premier League clubs including the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City who have the right to refusal option on him can see the Villans cash out on him). Marvellous Nakamba is another option for that slot. Meanwhile for that 2nd midfield slot (Gerrard mostly lined up with 4-2-3-1, but also switched to 4-3-3 depending on the situation at Rangers; at Villa he has gone for a 4-3-1-2, 4-3-2-1 as well), Villa usually have midfielders who are comfortable playing a box to box midfielder profile: hence the likes of John McGinn and Morgan Sanson (all thanks to Andre Villas Boas who converted him from a deep lying playmaker and orchestrator into a combustive, tenacious, all-rounder box to box midfielder at Marseille) are available at the club. The third midfield slot belongs to their new recruit, Phillipe Coutinho (along with Emi Buendia who ended up playing as attacking midfielder when Gerrard switched to 4312/4321) and last midfield slot is a toss-up between the up-and-coming Jacob Ramsey and Carney Chukwuemeka (who is also adept at playing as a box to box mid and as a defensive midfielder: most of his time in youth ranks saw him playing as a #6). Tim Iroegbunam is another youth prospect in midfield who has risen up the ranks, already making his debut for senior team under Steven Gerrard and regularly training with the senior side as well.  

John McGinn’s tenacity and high defensive output can provide an extra layer of security during transitions where Kamara can end up being isolated at times.

Aston Villa have more than decent depth and quality in midfield and with the addition of Boubacar Kamara means that they can line up with a brilliant midfield (on paper as of now, cannot comment about future in the present because I’m not Doctor Who) and have quality options as rotation/back up. Plus, many players in that midfield are flexible and malleable, something which Steven Gerrard likes a lot as well in his players; especially in midfield.  In case, Douglas Luiz ends up getting sold (will fetch a good profit in the end), Kamara will be the #1 option as defensive midfielder, ideally slotting in straight away and being comfortable playing in a possession-based system. The Zimbabwe international, Marvellous Nakamba will act as a decent backup in either case.

While in defence, Kamara can also slot in as an able partner to Diego Carlos at times. Carlos as a stopper CB with Kamara as cover CB in an ideal scenario (because in reality, Kamara is very aggressive in terms of duelling; a Diego Carlos, Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz and Matty Cash will make a brilliant rest defence which can allow Aston Villa to play higher up the pitch and win back the ball again higher up the pitch.). Carlos has decent-ish ball progression ability but Kamara is notches above in that aspect in comparison to Carlos and can provide a decent outlet of ball progression from the back along with their fullbacks: Lucas Digne and Matty Cash. Villa usually lacked this ball progression from deeper areas into the midfield. In Boubacar Kamara, this problem can be crossed out.

(for comparison, I have taken the advanced data from 2018-19 and 2019-20 season because Kamara played majority of his minutes in both seasons as a center back. While, Diego Carlos spent his 2018-19 season as a standout performer in an underwhelming FC Nantes side and 2019-20 season at Sevilla, argeubly his best season in Spain in my opinion. All thanks to fbref and statsbomb and the kind people behind the scenes who have made the availabiity of advanced data and it’s access very easy and making the work of analysts: armchair ones like me and professionals at various football clubs alike; very easy)

Now comes to biggest question, can he thrive in Premier League (the usual ‘is he ready to handle the pHySiCaLiTy and iNtEnSiTy of the eNgLiSh gAmE)

Players coming from France usually haven’t had difficulty settling in England. Kamara will have an old friend in Morgan Sanson (if he stays put) at the club along with fellow national mate in Lucas Digne. So, that question of being alone in a new club and country should be out of the question (plus he is moving to a city which has a great mix of cultures). Also, players coming from Ligue 1 usually end up adapting to the intensity, speed of the English game in lesser time and again for this, there is a brilliant track record so I don’t think that there should be any major issue as such. Plus, he is coming to a club like Aston Villa where he will have guaranteed playing time (may that be as CB or as DM) and no ‘unwanted’ pressures of big club which fights for titles and have impatient fanbases, ready to pounce on players the moment they do a mistake like hungry pack of wolves.  Aston Villa, in a nutshell is an ideal club for Kamara to choose at this stage, while it will seem weird that player left Champions League football for ‘money’ but what most people don’t realize is that players don’t have a long career, one nasty injury and it’s over; and players have to end up neglecting formal education and social life at times in order to make it as a professional footballer. It makes complete sense from their point of view to chase a fat paycheck in compensation for that missing education and social skills and risk of a short span of career but in this case, it isn’t just a fat paycheck; opportunity to play in England, play in Premier League, grow as a player at a club where you will be guaranteed minutes and grow as a player without unwanted pressures of big club (no disrespect meant to Aston Villa here) and eventually move to a club which is a regular participant in UCL (in case Aston Villa project tanks).

Tactical Analyis: Ange Postecoglou

Every revolution is born in order to change the status quo. And it is born out of a collective idea, a unique impression to unite the masses for eternity. For a revolution to become successful, you need to have not just the brains behind the idea but the brute strength to support that idea and bring everyone together. You need to have a Leader to make It possible, who knows how to connect on a mental level with the followers to put them on the same page and keep them motivated towards the fulfilment of the ultimate goal

The history will never forget the Greeks for what they achieved and their contribution to various fields will be unforgettable for time immemorial. In Sports, many thought that the Greek victory in Euros 2004 (article link) was the pinnacle. But what they didn’t know that this was just the beginning. While, the progress in football slowed down; the country progressed in other sports: especially basketball and tennis. Antentokounmpo brothers have taken the NBA by storm (the back story about their rise to the top can make even the most cold-hearted person shed a tear), Olympiakos and Panathinaikos has lit the brazier in EuroLeague. Stefanos Tsitsipas is breaking many records at a young age for a Greek tennis player. But it is the Greek export who has proved his doubters wrong (and as Jurgen Klopp once said: converted ‘doubters into believers’).

The man under the spotlight? Ange Postecoglou.

A relatively unknown football manager outside the Euro-bubble, the Australian-Greek manager has made a big name of himself in his native country and Japan over the years. Born in Athens, his family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia when the 1967 coup in Greece completely destroyed his father’s business. A move half-way around the world and the culture shock that comes with it is not easy to handle which the Postecoglou family also faced. It is these experiences which made a young Ange learn about humility and the value of hard-work (which he has shown in his entire professional career). People say they go to another country for a better life. My parents did not have a better life, they went to Australia to provide opportunities for me to have a better life.

Managerial profile

Ange had a modest playing career, playing in it’s entirety in Australia for his hometown team, South Melbourne; winning 2 league titles with them while also earning 4 caps for the Socceroos. He ventured into football management; eventually becoming the manager of South Melbourne in 1996. He led them to 2 consecutive league championships in 1997-98 and 1998-99 season and also winning the 1999 version of Oceania Club Championship, thus taking a tiny team from South of Melbourne to FIFA Club World Cup. His work as manager of South Melbourne didn’t go unnoticed and the Socceroos soon came with an offer of managing the U17 Australian side, a young side with it’s high coming a year before where they reached the finals of FIFA U17 World Cup, hosted by New Zealand- only to bow down to the mighty Brazilians in the final. He achieved a total domination in the OFC Championships, winning the 2001, 2003 and 2005 versions and even reached the quarter finals of the 2003 version of FIFA U17 World Cup.

He was then promoted to the U20s setup where he managed the likes of Robbie Kruse, Adam Federici and Danny Vukovic who went on to make a decent career in Europe. A victory in OFC U20 Championships was marred by failure to qualify for FIFA U20 World Cup due to poor display in the inaugural AFC U20 Championship saw Socceroos relieve Ange of his duties.

Ange then embarked on a new adventure, returning to his roots, to Greece. He took up his first ever job in Europe, as manager of 3rd division side Panachaiki. He kept the side in contention of promotion but a falling out with the directors led to his departure inside 9 months. A short break from management did him a great deed when he came back with a renewed vigour to take reigns at Brisbane Roar. 3 Trophy laden years at Brisbane saw him move further up with Melbourne Victory. His stay at Melbourne Victory was a short one when Socceroos approached him once again, this time to appoint him the manager of senior team.

Ange took the reigns of the remnants of the Golden Generation when Australia played at 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil; pitted against the previous edition finalists: Netherlands, defending champions Spain and South American champions Chile. It was a difficult group but Australia still delivered some respectable performances.

A thrilling AFC Asian Cup campaign in 2015 saw Australia lock horns with South Korea in the final, which Australia won 2-1 after extra time. Once, qualification for 2018 FIFA World Cup was confirmed, Postecoglou resigned from his position which shocked many Socceroos fans.

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

His next destination? Japan. Yokohama F Marinos approached him to take over as manager, a position which he did take over at the end of 2017. He guided the team to their maiden league title in 15 years once he settled down in Japan and moulded the team in the way he wanted them to play. There was an active interest from Greek national team to sway him away from his job at Marinos but he eventually signed a short-term extension to stay put in Japan.

Tactical setup

Postecoglou’s success in the A-League with Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory led to him getting the Australia job. He took the national team to the 2014 World Cup, playing an attack first oriented 4-2-3-1. Wide forwards and full backs were the key to modest success as Socceroos boss. Mile Jedinak and his partner in the midfield stay put so that fullbacks could bomb forward and the wide forwards came in-field to play in between the lines. When the central midfielders got on the ball in deep positions, they either looked to play direct balls up to Cahill, or targeted the wide midfielders.

(Credits: The Coaches’ Voice)

He used 4-3-3 as well which provided the team with more balance and extra cover in the centre of the pitch and Postecoglou evolved to put more emphasis on keeping a structured possession system instead of just playing on transitions. Ange even used a 3-4-2-1 while keeping the tactical skeleton same, complex rotations in order to isolate the opposition in various zones on the pitch.

But it is at Yokohama F. Marinos where he perfected his system; which eventually led him to another league title in his budding career and Japanese club’s first major honour in 15 years. At Marinos, he used a 4-3-3 but instead of bombarding full backs and narrow wide forwards, he chopped the system. Instead, he used fullbacks in a more unconventional way. Instead of making just overlapping runs, Ange instructed them to make more underlapping runs into the central channels. Instead, wingers stayed wide instead of being narrow and central midfield became very fluid to accommodate the inverting full backs, with one of the #8s going wide to press back the opposition and carve out an opening using either a cut back or by pinging a pass into the opposite half space. Postecoglou selected wide forwards who could beat an opponent and could therefore occupy two defenders, which would then free up another player elsewhere.

Coaching Philosophy

Ange Postecoglou is very flexible when it comes to management. He puts equal emphasis on the coaching aspect and well the management aspect of dealing with the emotions. He has a set tactical philosophy and he likes the player recruitment to complement his coaching style but he is flexible in chopping up systems according to changing situations. He has always been a performance first manager. Results can be churned out but in long term, you need to prefer the performances. According to him, good performances will eventually lead to consistently good results.

He likes to integrate youth with experience, always ready to give younger players a chance; not just giving minutes to youth for the sake of it but phasing them in favourable surroundings which don’t hamper their development and destroy their confidence. These are 2 very important aspects to maximize the output from younger players.

His man-management style has been moulded from his experiences as a Greek immigrant growing up in Australia, learning the value of hard-work and humility from his family and instilling the same at the clubs where he has managed. He is very direct, honest person and has a way with his words when it comes to presenting his ideas, improving not just the playing attributes of his players but also emphasizing on the human element of his players as well, striving for them to not only become a better player but a better human being as well.

Ange was always attracted to the Australian rules football from a young age and he found his motivation to become a professional player (and afterwards) manager because of his love for the game and his father, “My motivation,” he would say when he’d become a football manager, “is always to produce teams [my] dad would enjoy watching.”

(Ange with his father)

Formed by Brother Walfrid as a means to help curb the poverty among the Irish immigrants living in East End of Glasgow, Celtic Football Club was eventually set up as a private limited company with a select few families seeing their descendants taking their place in the board of directors. Even after seeing success come their way over the years, this family dynasty at the club was making it run on fumes. Jock Stein and his ‘Lisbon Lions’ made history but they were often underpaid in comparison to their counterparts at Rangers (and even the Edinburgh based clubs: Hearts and Hibernian).

(Jock Stein with his ‘Lisbon Lions’: a team built from local Glasgow players who defeated Inter Milan in Lisbon in order to win Champions League)

The club was less than 24 hours of going bankrupt in 1990s when it was sold to a Canadian-Scot businessman: Fergus McCann who bought the club for 9 million and ensured that club can ‘modernize’ with the changing times: funding the major re-development of ‘The Paradise’: Celtic Park and also re-structuring the way club was run: changing it into a public listed company and even offering the fan led coalition to become the major share-holder after 5 years of his ownership.

With this re-structuring, 90s was for Rangers to enjoy but the appointment of Martin O’Neil turned a new chapter in Celtic’s history. Led by the mercurial Henrik Larsson, a club which was looking at getting erased from history was lining up in sunny Seville for a major European final in less than 10 years. Though, McCann owned the club for just 5 years but he sold his share for a profit of 40 million to the next biggest share-holder: Dermot Desmond (ironically it was Dermot who sold his share in Manchester United which ensured that the Glazers family became the principal owners of the club in 2005).

While the family dynasty at Celtic was a thing of past but the way they ran the club, was very much evident under Desmond’s stewardship as well. In 2012, it was Rangers who faced the similar fate which was hanging on Celtic’s head in 1990s. In this case, there was no one to save their parent company from getting liquidated and the club staring at rock bottom: 4th tier of Scottish football pyramid. And there was absolutely no one to give competition to Celtic due to disparity of funds distributed in Scottish football (and football in general nowadays). Despite the mismanagement, Celtic did find success come relatively easy with Rangers out of the picture, starting in 4th tier of Scottish Football.

Neil Lennon, Ronny Delia and Brendan Rodgers brought about a domination at domestic level but Celtic was lacking success at European stage (partly due to no direction in running the club and partly due to poor distribution of funds at European level, rich becoming richer scenario).

While Rangers, starting from absolute bottom learnt from their past mistakes and came back to Premiership in 4 years, but this time they had a direction, a plan to reach the heights of the past. A direction in how they want to play, how they want to recruit, how they want to grow at European stage.

All of that happened under Steven Gerrard’s reign: deep runs into Europa League and eventually winning the Premiership, bringing in 55th Championship in club’s history (or 1st as many hardcore Bhoys will say). Not only did Rangers win the league but they stopped the dream of a 10th consecutive title for Celtic (just like they did when they stopped Jock Stein from winning a 10th league title in a row). And there are a lot of parallels in these.

A Rangers team with renewed strategy to progress as a club, Celtic marred with complacency and mismanagement, a team bereft of any direction. Disconnect between fans and club ever growing. And again, to mention: your arch rivals looking ready to dominate the domestic scene and even having the tools to have modest success at European stage.

Whoever was going to be the next Celtic manager had a MASSIVE task on his hands. And that’s where the protagonist of our article comes in.

Ange Postecoglou and Celtic: a bond meant to be  

When Brendan Rodgers was poached away by Leicester City, Celtic turned their heads to then Hibernian manager Neil Lennon to once again take over as Celtic Manager. Pitting him against Steven Gerrard and first major managerial role. Gerrard used a patient possession-based system which brought the best out of the long serving full back James Tavernier. While Lennon relied on playing a transitional based brand of football with more emphasis on individual brilliance at times. This was reflected in Celtic’s recruitment as well, buying individuals for the sake of it, without any planning. While Rangers filled the holes in their squad with some thought process behind it, Celtic did the exact opposite. Not only Celtic had no clear direction in their player recruitment, they also didn’t know when to cash out on players at right time, also costing a lot of money at times after under-selling a lot of their assets by keeping them for too long. Rangers went on an upward trajectory while Celtic went on a downward trajectory, silly mistakes from everyone costing a 10th consecutive title and fans and the team growing apart day by day.

In order to select the next manager, club tried to look at various profiles: some at board level wanted to tackle this possession-based approach used by Steven Gerrard at Rangers with the anti-dote: direct and aggressive brand of transition-based football: hence looking at coaches who had experience in Germany and Austria- Jesse Marsch was one on the shortlist (but a pipe dream), Valerien Ismael was also looked at one stage but he was already employed by Barnsley- taking them very close to a promotion to Premier League. While some in the board wanted to go with more British, man-management oriented approach. Again, club started looking at almost unattainable names: Eddie Howe being one in this kind of approach.

When the board had exhumed all their possible shortlist options (almost every name in that list being unattainable in first place), Celtic turned their heads to Japan- specifically to Yokohama where Ange was managing Marinos. A completely unknown name, an ‘outsider’ taking reigns of a club as revered as Celtic in such a delicate situation, many fans were discontent with the appointment and Ange had a massive task to not only coach the team in his philosophy but also win the approval of fans and repair this breaking relationship with the fanbase.

So, he packed his bags and came to Glasgow, without any coaching staff of his own and even at one stage, UEFA making extra background checks whether his coaching badges would make him eligible to manage in Europe or not. Once, all of this bureaucratic stuff was sorted; Ange took the reigns of the club on a one year rolling contract.

The thick South Melbourne accent meets the Glaswegian accent. The ‘Straya’ meets the ‘fitbaw and patter’. A blend of 2 different worlds. A mini rebuild of sorts started at Celtic; but this time they weren’t targeting the ‘big name’ signing but signings suitable for the manager to build a team capable of challenging the rise of Rangers. A young lad from Israel by the name of Liel Abada came, Ange used his connections in Japan to bring Kyogo Furuhashi from Vissel Kobe to Celtic. He then turned his attention to Benfica to lure in once highly rated Jota to join on loan (with option to buy on a permanent basis). Celtic had been leaking a lot of goals under Lennon due to mis-profiling of centre backs Julien Stephen and Nir Bitton and also the Greek goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas. In order to fix the defensive issues on a personnel basis, Ange looked at Tottenham Hotspurs and picked up out of favour Cameron Carter Vickers (now a full time USA international) and Joe Hart. Josip Juranovic came from Polish club, Legia Warsaw. Celtic had a major gap to fill in the centre of the field with the fan favourite and a cult legend, leader and captain, Scott ‘Broony’ Brown leaving the club; creating a major leadership void to fill. Ange turned to Callum McGregor to take the arm band, fitting that a local lad from East Glasgow who has been a boyhood Celtic supporter and came from the youth ranks, also being one of the longest serving player in the current squad take up the duties of a captain.

When Ange had assembled his squad, he tried to implement his high risk-high reward approach right from scratch. It was unrealistic to completely change the squad in one window so he integrated many players from previous years, some from academy and reserves. Many players who looked underwhelming under previous manager, looked reborn; especially the fullbacks Anthony Ralston and Greg Taylor: adapting to the instructions of manager and completely taking a 180 degree from being line-hugging full-backs to inverting, underlapping full-backs; comfortable in possession. Joe Hart who was phased out of Manchester City under Pep Guardiola for not being comfortable in sweeping and distribution also looked reborn. At an age where Goalkeepers start peaking out, Joe Hart picked up these new skills with relative ease. Another player who responded well to the tactical instructions was the recent acquisition of Georgios Giakoumakis from Dutch club VVV Venlo. A typical archetype of journeyman physical centre forward, often mis-profiled as a target man due to his built. Ange identified his knack of playing of the shoulder of centre backs and breaking the offside traps. Kyogo Furuhashi was adept at dropping deep to become a +1 in possession while Giakoumakis was lethal inside the box, giving a lot of flexibility in terms of getting goals out of the strikers. The midfield was also instructed to follow the similar principles which the Australian used as a Socceroos and Marinos coach: a flexible and fluid midfield; with McGregor being the deepest among the 3 midfielders, taking extra defensive duties. David Turnbull and Tom Rogic being the ‘free no 8s’, depending on the direction from where game was being built up, one of the midfielders pressed the opposition by going into wider areas, operating in half-space in order to isolate the opposition and free up space in order to be exploited.

(Credits: The Coaches’ Voice)

Along with this, the narrow full-backs’ positions help Celtic dominate possession by overloading the centre of the pitch, while also providing the single pivot with support at defensive transitions. They will help to lock the ball in the opponent’s half and prevent counter-attacks when the number eights are beyond the ball. In terms of defending and counter-pressing, Ange has been more pro-active than before when it comes to setting up a defensive structure. They press aggressively, often high up the pitch after having lost the ball. The wingers have been instructed to press high up the pitch with centre forward, making in-ward runs in order to force the ball into centre of the pitch so that the no. 8s can also activate pressing triggers to completely choke the opposition, but this often leaves space on the flanks at times if teams know how to circumnavigate through the press.

Credits: The Coaches’ Voice)

After a very long time, it looked like there is a set direction, a plan to execute not just good performances but get good results which are sustainable in long run. But all of this didn’t happen overnight, it is quite natural and humane for anyone to take time to adapt to changing scenario and it was the exact case at Celtic as well. Squad took it’s sweet time, gelling in and getting acquainted with the manager and his tactical instructions.

Early losses to Hearts, Rangers and Livingston in the league did amplify the rusty nature of the team adapting to new set of instructions along with elimination from Champions League qualification rounds to FC Midtjylland, being forced to go through a lengthy Europa League qualification round: battling Jablonec and AZ Alkmaar to book a place in Group Stages of UEL. Europe has been an achilles heel of Celtic in last decade. It was the same case when Celtic were pitted against Real Betis, Bayer Leverkusen and Ferencvaros. Yet another difficult group.

This transition period and a tough UEL group also added to the misery of tackling many off the pitch criticism from the not only fans but from so called ‘pundits’ for not being ‘fit’ to lead such a prestigious club (because Ange was a completely unknown entity in this Euro-bubble of football).

Although, Celtic tried to play to it’s new found strengths in Europe and produced some scintillating moves in those matches, results didn’t go their way, with the weaknesses of the new system being exploited a lot. Meanwhile at domestic level, there was also a mixed bag of results in the initial months. Some commendable wins but that rustiness was still there to see. But Ange stuck to his principles and eventually results also started flooding in.

Ange’s camaraderie and his down to earth attitude eventually started winning the approval of not just the players but even the fans as well. And when results also started going their way with an up-turn in performances, even the most critical of fans swallowed the bitter pill of being ‘wrong’ and started to back the manager unconditionally.

Winter window came and in came a host of signings, with skillsets tailor made to suit the Australian’s coaching style. Reo Hatate came from Kawasaki Frontale, Daizen Maeda got reunited with Ange, playing under him at Yokohama F. Marinos and Yosuke Ideguchi came from Gamba Osaka. This was his 2nd venture into Europe. Initially picked up by Leeds United as a youngster from Gamba Osaka only but a series of underwhelming loan spells at Cultural Leonesa and Greuther Furth along with a feeling of home sickness prompted him to return back to Japan.

Reo Hatate’s versatility to play a variety of roles in centre midfield, left wing and even left back: especially in the inverted fullback role was one of the reasons why Ange wanted to go for his signature. Daizen Maeda’s off the ball ability to counter press the opposition and Celtic’s poor depth in wings was also ticked off with this signature.

Callum McGregor had been playing non-stop and there was no suitable player to play his role in the team (Ideguchi slots right in this scenario). But crème de la crème of the winter signings has to be that of English/Danish youngster Matt O’Riley from MK Dons who usurped the role of Tom Rogic and completely provided a fresh breath of air to Celtic’s midfield.

The new recruits from Japan and Ange again faced the wrath from the conservative sections of British media with some racially driven reporting being done around the new recruits. The Australian did step in to defend his players and taking a right stand, which he has done a lot of times in a short span of time in Scotland: completely aligning with the ethos on which the club was founded.

(L to R: Yosuke Ideguchi, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate)

Now, with a replenished squad full of jolly good characters, Ange’s ability to attach to every player closely on a mental level and a team responding well to the manager’s instructions saw the team go on a massive 31 match unbeaten run in the league with a few upsets coming in Europe and Scottish Cup. Highlight of this unbeaten run has been the complete annihilation of their Old Firm rivals: Rangers on 2 occasions. A 3-0 drubbing at Celtic Park, preceded by one of the best atmospheres seen at Celtic Park in recent times, coming after such a difficult time when world came to it’s knees in front of the Covid pandemic and it’s effects on society and 1-2 win, away at Ibrox Stadium.

Celtic did get some help from Rangers as well in this period, who saw their manager Steven Gerrard leave his post in middle of the season to take up the vacant seat at Aston Villa. His replacement? Giovanni Van Bronckhorst. An ex-Rangers manager with a similar tactical setup to Gerrard eased the pain of losing Stevie G midway into the season. While Celtic went in a complete domination stage at domestic stage, Rangers had a memorable run in Europe; reaching the finals of UEL in a dramatic style, annihilating teams in their path.

When Ange had taken over the vacant seat at Celtic, no one could have thought that he would achieved a lot in such a short time for someone who had no experience in Europe and not only achieve great results through some exquisite performances but make the team feel connected with the fanbase again. Who would have thought that a bunch of Gaijins (a derogatory term in Japanese, meaning outsiders– also used by a certain you shall not be named newspaper in Britain in the context of Ange and the Japanese players at Celtic) will play a massive role in bringing a cultural shift at the club, which was lacking such an atmosphere in the dressing room for a long time? This world is full of talented people. If you have an open mindset, you will always find under-appreciated and under-valued gems. Ange and his Bhoys are one such example that if you want to find a niche, you have to broaden your horizon, break open from stereotypes and think out of the box in order to perfect this new found niche.

The onset of aggression from Russia on Ukraine has resulted in Russian football teams barred from playing in European competition. With Russian League out of the picture, the winner of Scottish Premiership will get a direct place in group stages of UEFA Champions League. Now, with Celtic winning the league and Rangers in the finals of UEFA Europa League, potentially we can see both the teams play against the elites in UCL next season, high time the Scottish football and arguably 2 of the best teams in terms of prestige in Europe get back to where they belong, while they usher into a new era and continue with their rivalry, free from any shoddy Sectarian elements which marred the Old Firm teams whenever they locked horns in the past

Celtic is a football club which has been deeply engrossed with it’s Irish roots and it was fitting that they needed a revolutionary character, someone who can lead them to new heights. In Ange Postecoglou, they have got the perfect character who can steer them into a new era. Long may the revolution continue. Viva la Posteglucion!

Scout Report: Darwin Nunez

Charles Darwin put together his ‘Theory of Evolution’ in 1869. What he didn’t know is that 153 years later and 11,000 kilometres apart, another guy with the same name will be making a mark for himself in another profession, justifying the theory put forward by Charles. And this guy goes by the name of Darwin Núñez. 

Before this takes a turn towards a thesis on evolution, let’s take a look at current media darling and Benfica forward Núñez’ career and how he has burst onto the scene, with the likes of PSG, Chelsea and Manchester United being frontrunners for his signature this summer.

Player Profile

From the likes of Luis Suarez to Diego Forlan to Edison Cavani to Enzo Francescoli to Alvaro Recoba to Gus Poyet, Darwin Núñez is in the pipeline with the potential to become not only one of the best Uruguayan forwards but one of the best forwards in the world. 

Born in Artigas (named after the Liberator of Latin America: Jose Gervasio Artigas Arnal), 550 km south of Montevideo, Darwin joined the famed academy of Penarol. He suffered a couple of serious knee injuries in his development years in the academy, but still progressed through the ranks and eventually made his debut for the first team, coming on for Maxi Rodriguez in a 2-1 loss against River Plate Montevideo. Although he managed just 14 appearances for his beloved Penarol, scoring 4 goals in the process, he attracted the attention of a host of clubs in Europe. He eventually ended up in the South of Spain in the province of Andalusia. Almeria CF, who plied their trade in Segunda Division snapped him up beating a host of Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and German teams in the process thanks to their good relationship with Penarol. A modest fee of €13 million (because the club is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabian Government) was enough for Darwin to pack his bags and start his European journey, becoming the record sale for a teenager in Uruguay and the costliest transfer in the 2nd division of Spain.

A 16-goal haul in just 30 appearances was enough to earn him a move to Benfica worth €24 million, again becoming the costliest buy in Portuguese League history and biggest sale from the Spanish 2nd division, that too in a period where world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Darwin’s start in Benfica wasn’t one he expected. A couple of injuries and getting infected by the Coronavirus kept him on the sidelines and there was no regular, consistent playing time in the first few months. But this period of transition helped him evolve and improve his physical self. 

His second season in Lisbon has proven to be the breakthrough at the big stage. Consistent playing time coupled with playing in his preferred spaces on the pitch has seen him score goals consistently. He has been praised for his off the ball movement and defensive work rate: culminating the fact that he has come from the land fabled for indigenous Charrua people. Him being Uruguayan automatically means that he is the epitome of “Garra Charrua”: no matter what the odds and what adversities are existing, there is sheer tenacity to take on any obstacle head-on and come home as victors. 

Playing Style

Darwin has evolved into a well-rounded forward, carrying the lineage of his Uruguayan ancestors and combining that mentality with the modern game. His athletic frame – upright in posture, defined in shape, rangy in length – is his distinguishing feature. Excellent acceleration and sprinting speed is the defining facet of his athletic skill set. His athleticism is a game-changer and is only enhanced by incisive movement and intelligent instincts.

I will now look more at the tactical instructions and the player’s strengths and weaknesses which has made him a hot property, combining my analysis with data and visualizations from our good friend Anuraag (Twitter: @Anuraag027. Check his work out if you haven’t). 

Benfica have used a host of formations under Jorge Jesus and Nelson Verissimo – 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2, 3-4-3. Darwin has played in a number of roles – as a primary forward, with him being the focal point of the game in counter-attacking situations or on the left flank, interchanging positions with the Ukrainian Romain Yaremchuk or playing off the shoulder of talented Second-Striker/Attacking Midfielder Goncalo Ramos. 

Núñez doesn’t restrict himself to remaining in the central channel. Whilst he can play in this space, working the centre-backs, and running into central channels, Núñez looks to explore wider spaces.

In doing so, he can find space to receive where he can provide a line-breaking pass option, but he can also draw the opposition defenders well out of position as he does this. Núñez doesn’t frequently use the width of the pitch to provide an option during build-up play but regularly shifts into these areas to act as a creator sometimes. Núñez shows quality in 1v1 duels as a dribbler too. This season he has averaged 6.05 dribbles per 90 and has completed 50% of these. He usually doesn’t overdo the dribble. He instead releases the ball quickly after beating an opponent.

Núñez is able to play quick touches away from defenders and can comfortably play one touch passes, however, he also shows an ability to hold up possession. He backs into defenders effectively and uses his full frame to protect the ball when doing this. Núñez has the ability to create enough space to turn in tight areas. He rolls defenders easily using the frame to get across them and allow the ball to roll past him, shielding the ball as he turns. He scans with frequency and his awareness of space for himself or the positioning of others is well beyond his young age.His natural tendency to drift leftwards which makes him more efficient as a wide forward at times. A player of his quality is a real threat on counter-attacks where his athletic frame and speed plus acceleration is a real menace to deal with on defensive transitions for the opposition’s high defensive line. 

In the above visualization, it can be clearly seen that the majority of his touches are in the left half space. Neither are they deep and wide enough to be classified as a LW movement nor are they central enough to be classified as a proper Center Forward. His progressive carries also confirm this aspect. He prefers to drift to the left and take on players using the angle for his preferred right foot.

Finishing is one facet of the game which requires a lot of improvement if he is to become a lethal finisher for a top team. Despite getting into brilliant positions, thanks to his great off-the-ball movement coupled with a burst of pace, he doesn’t have the calm and composure to regularly put the ball past the keeper yet. He is a volume shooter who ends up getting into good positions, but he is yet to master his aggression where it matters the most – in front of the goal. This aggression ends up getting the better of him at times during one vs one situations. 

In comparison to his single season in Spain and his first season in Portugal, Darwin has shown some signs to improve this aspect of his game with some improvement seen this season. He now takes more shots where he tries to bury the ball into the corner, may it be top one or bottom one instead of hitting straight at the keeper or taking an extra touch.

Once again, from the visualization, it can be clearly seen that his pass reception is also very left half-space dominated but the verticality and box presence should also be noted. It is much closer to a striker’s pass reception map than a winger’s, just a very left-leaning one. His shot map is a bit more well spread and 20 non-penalty goals from 71 shots is a good return for sure. He comfortably sits at the top of the Primeira Liga scoring charts with 24 goals, 9 ahead of the next best scorer. There are goals in this exciting forward, especially if he keeps improving his composure and if a team plays to his strengths like Benfica have done this year.

Tactical Fitment

A failed bid of €50 million on deadline day in January 2022 by West Ham United apparently sparked something inside Darwin, who recently changed his agent, aligning with one of the agencies run by super-agent Jorge Mendes. There is a reason why Chelsea, Paris St. Germain and Manchester United are frontrunners when it comes to Darwin’s signature this summer (As per the reliable David Ornstein).

But does Manchester United need yet another left-leaning wide forward who likes to play on the break? United have been trying to align to a more structured possession-based game for a few years, and this will be even more true if the Erik Ten Hag rumours come through. The squad already has Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Elanga and Cristiano Ronaldo who all prefer the left wing or left half-space at the very least. The team badly needs a proper right winger and a Central Forward who provides central box presence and hold up, something which Ronaldo has struggled to do all year despite his intermittent goal-scoring. Núñez is neither of those and given his personality and traits, he would naturally drift to the left and utilize his pace, physicality and right-footed angle to beat defenders and take shots. It might be quite similar to Marcus Rashford when he plays striker for United.

At a reported price of a whopping €80m, when United have many glaring issues to sort, not only in the squad but in the day-to-day running of the club, it probably doesn’t make any sense to go for Darwin Núñez. This would quickly become yet another example of mis-profiling players and getting caught in the over-the-top hype created by media and fans. United should turn their efforts to scouting attackers that fit their needs instead of getting caught up in this high profile chase.

Final call: This is one transfer United should simply side step without thought. As good as Núñez is, It doesn’t make sense from a financial or tactical angle.


In summary, Núñez has the tools to grow into a brilliant striker and the mentality to adapt to new tactical setups and new cultures. He commands a big asking price given his red-hot form and potential. He now has Jorge Mendes as his agent who can broker deals for even dead players. Benfica have a healthy period of time (Darwin signed a 5-year contract with the club in 2020) to earn a hefty profit, knowing that he is attracting the interest of the elites. An absence from the Champions League may just push them to cash in on him. 

Football has become very cut-throat as an industry at the top level. If you are paid top bucks, you are expected to deliver instant goods. Darwin still needs a year or two to ease into that transition to a top team as of now – time which he will not get at those top clubs if he moves straight away. 

As his namesake suggests, it all comes back to “Survival of the Fittest.”

Verified by MonsterInsights