Masterminding Pompey’s recruitment drive

Pompey's new head of recruitment, Phil Boardman
Pompey's new head of recruitment, Phil Boardman
Jack Whatmough. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey defender ‘ahead of schedule’

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The search has already commenced – not that it ever stopped.

In 87 days, the transfer window will be declared open, sparking the customary flurry of business among hyperventilating clubs.

For Pompey, the plans have been drawn up, the future intricately plotted under the influence of their new head of recruitment.

Summer recruit Phil Boardman previously served at Wolves for eight years, rising to the position of head of performance analysis.

While at Molineux, the 30-year-old impressed boss Kenny Jackett sufficiently to later be headhunted for Fratton Park.

In turn, Boardman was involved in one of the busiest deadline days in the club’s history, with four coming through the doors at the end of August.

Yet the necessity to recruit has refused to slow its pace.

‘The planning never ends, the job is never completed,’ said Boardman.

‘It is about succession planning, working in advance and seeking to improve in one, two or three transfer windows down the line.

‘Our concentration at the moment is working towards January, but we always have an eye on the future.

‘The relationship with the manager is vitally important, understanding exactly the type of player he wants to play for Portsmouth and identifying any gaps in the squad.

‘Currently, we are mainly working in domestic markets because they are the ones we feel are most applicable in League One for Portsmouth with the current group of players.

‘We have a list of names, and when it comes to opening the window we can act quickly, utilising a lot of background information which hopefully makes our decision-making correct.

‘A number of conversations have already been held with the owners about how the squad is going to develop, making sure we are not duplicating a type of player and age.

‘At the start of the season we saw a number of academy graduates getting into the first-team, a real positive.

‘However, we don’t want to invest in a player who will block an Academy player coming through in 6-12 months’ time. Having an awareness of what is beneath the first team is vitally important.

‘The average age of last season’s squad was 27 and, obviously, they were successful in getting promoted.

‘But the perception of the squad was it was at the end of its cycle.

‘Now the average age of the squad is 24. The likes of Oli Hawkins, Dion Donohue and Luke McGee were signed with not only the present in mind, but also a long-term strategy.’

With his background entrenched in analysis, Boardman’s Pompey role represents promotion.

It was while on a June honeymoon in Hawaii when his former Wolves boss called to gauge interest in a switch to the south coast.

The former Loughborough University student leapt at the opportunity to oversee all aspects of Pompey’s recruitment, ranging from talent spotting to improving scouting coverage and, of course, utilising analysis.

Boardman added: ‘While I have an analysis background, it can translate to a recruitment setting which is ultimately analysis of other teams’ players rather than your own.

‘I’d like to think most managers and coaches these days have some form of analysis because they can see the benefits. The stigma around it is becoming less and you see a lot more in the media, such as Match of the Day, quoting statistics.

‘It should not be a dominant decision-maker. It’s there to help with an extra strand of information rather than being completely reliant on it.

‘We are talking about one and two per-cent marginal gains through good analytical work and there are a number of ways to analyse your actual performance rather than relying on goals and the result.

‘Technical analysis is based around passing statistics and shot data. An example is expectant goals – the likelihood of a shot leading to a goal.

‘There’s analysis of the physical side of the game as well, such as sprints, high-speed running and total distance run.

‘What cannot be underestimated, though, is while they have to be a good footballer, they must fit into the Portsmouth team and the way Kenny wants to play.’

The increase in the use of analysis is still surveyed suspiciously by some.

But Boardman is adamant nothing can ever replace scouting in the field.

He added: ‘Fundamentally, the eyes offer the best view you will get of a player.

‘While it is good to watch videos – and you can learn a lot from that – there really is no replacement for being present at a match.

‘You may, for instance, want to see how that player deals with crowd influences, something you wouldn’t know if isolated behind a computer.

‘We have a number of tools. Scout7 is a database which contains all our reports, with biographical data also on there about players, appearances and contract length.

‘Then there is InStat, an online system which utilises video coverage of players from throughout the world and something taken on this season to give us an extra layer of information.

‘Yet watching players is a fundamental part of the show.

‘A general week involves taking in under-23 games on a Monday, potentially two in a day with some at 1pm and others in the evening. While Tuesday offers more of a senior game with the league or cup fixtures.

‘Wednesdays are a little bit dependant on fixture availability, Thursdays doesn’t tend to be as busy because there are mainly European games, with Fridays being a day to again watch under-23 fixtures. Then, of course, there’s Saturday.

‘Scouts continue to be used in the field, but data helps support those findings. It’s that extra layer of information that hopefully will give us a clearer decision of whether we sign a player.’