Football analysts have witnessed a sudden surge in prominence in the Indian football fraternity, often playing the role of a third eye for head coaches. Irrespective of video and data, football analysis has gained huge momentum across football clubs, media houses and broadcasters.
Analysts have been one of the deciding factors when it comes to how a team will be performing throughout the season, decoding the opposition's methods and verifying if their head coach's philosophy is in place by tracking both individual and group efforts. Football analysts also participate in scouting and making recruitments for the clubs, ensuring that the decision-making is in line by providing valuable evidence to back it up.
In a recent chat with Sportskeeda, Odisha FC's performance analyst for the 2021-22 season, Meet Mandavia shared his journey from being an I.T. engineer at the start of his career to making it to the technical team of the Juggernauts, to life inside the bio-bubble and how football analysts will become more in-demand in the coming years. Here are the exceprts:
Q. There has been a sudden surge in demand for analysts at football clubs in India. How did your journey into the world of football analytics start and what made Odisha FC happen?
Meet: I am an I.T. engineer and while I was doing my engineering, I realized I did not want to proceed further along the same line. Hence, I got into football coaching. I think I got really late on deciding whether I wanted to play football. So, I did my first coaching license, the AIFF D License, and got into coaching. I started working in a local academy. During the lockdown, unfortunately, we were not able to operate. I did not intend on sitting idle and wanted to do anything related to football since I was committed to it.
I was always interested in analysis because I knew that it was a big part of coaching. I was always intrigued by tactics. So, I did a few courses from SportsKPI and SoccerHub. Everyone advised me to showcase my work on Linkedin and Twitter and gain exposure as well as feedback that would allow me to understand where I am. I found out about Total Football Analysis, a magazine company that publishes football analysis. I interned with them for three months. Then they allowed me to write for the main website. Total Football Analysis was a learning experience. I did a few courses within the company. I had mentors at Total Football Analysis to help and other analysts whose work I could refer to. I gained a lot of experience in tactical and data analysis.
I also worked for a Tersera Division Spanish club for a very brief period as a scout. But it was experience on how clubs do their recruitment. After that, through my posts that were about Indian football on Linkedin and Twitter, I was able to connect with a few coaches and management people in the ISL. I was approached by one other club as a reserve team analyst as well before I joined Odisha FC. When Odisha FC came in, it was a much bigger opportunity for me. I did not have to think too much about it. I gave the interview and got the call.
Q. You’ve been associated with coaching for some time now. How much did that experience play a part in aiding your growth as an analyst?
Meet: The thing is, I have coached mostly grassroots and then later on the senior team in the MBFA third division. So, the one thing that helps is the coaching language. The football language is very important. Having worked for four years, I got well versed with that language. Other than that, I am aware of all the terminologies, concepts and ideas. It brings out the knowledge an analyst needs. I think every coach needs to be an analyst, but not every analyst needs to be a coach.
Any coach that you get acquainted with will let you know that they analyze the training sessions and the matches. So, it’s not separate. When I am working as an analyst, of course, I have to respect the coach I am working for. But the thing is, the coach can trust me a little bit more because he knows that I have this experience and when we interact about his ideas, I can grasp them easily. Of course, it’s not a compulsion but it helps in understanding what your coach is demanding.
Q. As a video analyst for an Indian Super League outfit, what does a traditional pre-season, tournament phase and post-season look like?
Meet: In pre-season, it depends on what the coach wants. There are certain things that you have to do throughout the season like recording training and matches. Other than that, I had to collect GPS data using Catapult. I was new to it but the wonderful people of Catapult helped me with it. They conducted a few meetings with me so that I can get used to the technology. GPSes are very important, especially when you are working with a strength and conditioning coach because they want to see the physical data. My job was just to collect the data. The strength and conditioning coach studied and analyzed it. These two were the primary things.
Other than that, the coaches can ask for whatever they need. For example, during friendlies, they might want to focus on how the team is creating chances from the flanks. So, how many crosses is a particular winger delivering into the box, how many of those crosses are successful, and the location from where the crosses are being delivered, are a few of the things that are looked at. During pre-season, the head coach usually wants to make sure that his philosophy is embedded into the club and the team functions based on the philosophy. The analysis goes hand-in-hand with this philosophy. This analysis helps us in understanding what the coach is implementing in the training sessions and how the players are taking it into the game. It allows us to test the effectiveness of our plans and assure us that we are doing the right thing to make sure that we are playing the way we want to.
During the season, my job was to analyze our opponents. I was very fortunate that the coach allowed me to present my findings to the players. I used to watch at least three games of the opposition and then make a playlist of the phases of play based on how the team functioned with and without the ball and the transitions. I used to make a separate presentation on the set-pieces. Based on this, I used to create a 10-12 minute presentation, explaining how the opposition is playing. Then the coaches and the players would see it. That was my primary job during the season.
Sometimes the coach would also want to work with individual players to highlight things and I would be asked to create individual clippings for players. Sometimes I would be asked to show our players clippings of the opposition’s individual players. For example, if my right-back is going to face a very tricky left winger, I would compile the clippings of that player and show it to him. We also focus a lot on post-match analysis. The coach has some defined guidelines on what he wants to show to the players, some successful actions and some unsuccessful actions. Based on this, he would give me minutes from the match and I would make the presentation. I would have to make a presentation based on that and the coach would talk about what went right and what went wrong during the match.
In the post-season, the clubs would like to assess how the season went, mostly in numbers.
Q. The past two seasons of the Indian Super League have been organized behind closed doors with the bio-secure bubble in place. How much impact does the bio-bubble have on your day-to-day role?
Meet: I don't think my job was any different from anyone inside the bubble. We were all working eight to 12 hours a day. Yes, it gets tough mentally. This is where I learned the importance of having a culture, having leaders and strong characters in the team. The results do have an impact on the mood, but with the bio-bubble, it can be mentally draining. So, when you have certain strong characters in the team, people who can lift each other up at the right time, it gets a little easier. It’s general with any sport. Most athletes and sports teams face performance pressure and when things don’t go your way, you need strong characters or a strong culture that helps you get out of it.
Q. Odisha FC did relatively well in ISL 2021-22. As part of Odisha FC's technical team, what is your opinion on the season gone by?
Meet: I think we started off very well. We had ambition; we had a goal. We wanted to make it to the top four. Unfortunately, some results didn’t go our way. In the end, it was a little disappointing. But what I am really proud of is that not even a single day I had the feeling that the team isn’t doing enough. Everybody was committed to the project and the goal. Sometimes things workout and sometimes they don’t.
Of course, we need to analyze and find a solution. But at no point was I disappointed to be part of the team. Everybody worked hard, especially the commitment from the players was phenomenal right from day one to the very last day. We did not achieve the goals we set out to achieve. But there were a lot of positives. Some of the wins, especially the one against Bengaluru FC. Things like this were very positive for us.
Q. Since football analytics has now gained some momentum in India, how do you think an aspiring analyst can get into the process of being one?
Meet: I think for me what I’ve realized is that courses do help you. If you are a complete newcomer and don’t know where to start, these courses help in understanding the craft. But there is no right way. It could be subjective. But what I’ve learned is that self-learning plays a huge role and your passion that drives you for this is very important. No course can guarantee that you’ll be working for a certain organization after a certain period. So, what’s important is that you have to constantly build yourself. I have seen so many analysts who have no background in football or coaching and they have just made it through their sheer hard work. I think that’s the most important thing. You keep learning and keep putting out work.
The only way you are going to learn and improve and eventually get a paid job in the industry is through practice every single day. One of the things that I would like to put across to the aspiring analysts is that you need to start watching more Indian football. I can possess the knowledge of my favorite European team and their respective competitions but if tomorrow I am working at a club and they are looking to sign a new right-back and they need you to give them your top five options and I don’t have a single name, then that’s something to worry about. Indian football is very different from European football. We need to understand how things work here and for that we need to know our teams, our coaches and our players.
Q. What kind of role can football analytics play outside the periphery of a club?
Meet: I believe that each club should have a department of analysis and not just one analyst. The roles are going to increase here in India. A lot of clubs are hiring more than one analyst. More clubs are coming up. I am very positive about how Indian football is going forward. But outside the football leagues and teams, there are opportunities for analysts to work with the media and broadcasting.
Star Sports have a couple of analysts who do a lot of tactical and data analysis and they are amazing at what they do. Then there is Total Football Analysis. I think the media is a big part of it. If you look at publications like The Athletic or Guardian and if you read their material, people working there are nothing short of an analyst. They are as talented and as knowledgeable as anyone who has worked with a club. Hence, there are multiple job roles. It depends on what you want to do.
Q. Analysts are not easily welcomed yet in the football scene. What is your opinion on the perception around analysts in the Indian football scene?
Meet: What I believe is that analysis is not something new. Coaches have been doing analysis since the very beginning. This role is something new in India. Whenever there is a change, people are a little averse. It’s not very new. I would say it’s been 10 to 15 years, but now the demand is growing. I don’t think there is a negative perception surrounding analysts as such, but people are just not aware of how important this can be. That’s okay because it is going to take a little while because Indian football in general is going through a change and there are a lot of things that are developing very quickly around the world and to cope up with everything, it gets difficult at times.
Q. As an analyst, you've had to look at numerous players, both Odisha FC and of opposition teams. Which players in the ISL caught your eye?
Meet: If I had to talk about ISL in general, I was very excited for Roshan [Naorem Roshan Singh of Bengaluru FC] before the league even started because I had seen a couple of AFC matches and I saw him there for the first time. He was playing at left-back at the time and then played as a right-back in a few matches in the ISL. I really liked that kid. He is a little different. He is not just a normal full-back and he surpassed my expectations the way he performed during the season.
Amongst our team, there are two standout names in particular. One is Thoiba [Singh Moirangthem]. He has been very mature and very focused with the team and with his responsibilities. He is a very positive influence to have around. The other one is Jerry [Mawihmingthanga]. We all know Jerry on the pitch but his influence off the pitch is remarkable on the entire team. He is like a true captain.
Q. Jamshedpur FC and Hyderabad FC, were phenomenal in ISL 2021-22 and won the ISL Shield and the ISL Trophy, respectively. What do you think worked for the two champion teams?
Meet: Jamshedpur FC is a very direct team. They are a very physically strong side as well. Their defense is man-oriented and has a very high-pressing style. They don’t give you a lot of time and space on the ball. When you analyze Jamshedpur FC, you don’t get a lot of patterns but they are very effective in the way they want to play. That goes down to the quality of the players and how Owen Coyle has shaped this team. All the Indian players have stepped up under him. They are a very difficult team to play against. They have an unpredictable style of stay and they have been so direct that you need to be on your toes all the time.
Manolo Marquez is a fantastic coach and you don’t need to meet him to understand this. Hyderabad FC are a true reflection of him. The thing about Hyderabad is that they are very particular about the positioning of the players in each instance. Even though you might figure out how they are going to play, it is still difficult to break their structure.