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Data Analysis: Finding the next great young coach

The use of data in football is now relatively widespread both within the game itself, as part of a recruitment structure, and throughout the media where even mainstream outlets have started to embrace the use of data in their content. In truth, the entire world of football and the industry around the game has taken a huge leap forward in recent years.

Within football, it is now the norm to use data as a part of your recruitment process. While the extent to which it is used and the ways that it is understood and utilised differs on a club-to-club level, the usage is still there. Data allows us to cut through a lot of the noise in terms of the sheer numbers of professional football players that are out there and to come to the right decisions in terms of who to add to our squad.

While data in recruitment is relatively normal these days with players, it is less widely used when assessing potential coaching options. In truth, the appointment of coaches is still widely based on clubs relying on a network of contacts within the game or inviting applications for vacant positions. 

Smart clubs, however, are starting to turn increasingly to data to not only identify potential coaches for now but to find coaches who may be of interest to them in the future.

In this article, we will use data analysis techniques to identify five young coaches who we believe will go on to have interesting careers in the game. All of the data that we will use comes from the team rankings tab on Wyscout, and Python is then used to create percentile rankings of the data and to visualise the data. All percentile data that is shown is based on a comparison with the coach’s current team compared to the other teams in their league.

#1 Martí Cifuentes, 39 years old, Hammarby and Spain

Our first coach is the 39-year-old Spaniard Martí Cifuentes. A coach who has actually been involved in first-team coaching for a number of years despite his relatively young age — he started his coaching journey in his native Spain with the U19 teams at Sabadell before moving abroad for experience, firstly at Ajax in the Netherlands and then at Millwall in England. 

He ended up moving back to Spain and taking head coach positions at a few different lower league sides before moving abroad again and going to Scandinavia where he joined the youth team at AIK Stockholm. From there, he moved to Norway to take the reins as first-team coach at Sandefjord and then to Denmark where he coached Aalborg BK. 

He moved again at the start of this year to take charge of Hammarby in the Swedish top-flight.

Cifuentes is someone that we would consider to be a career coach given that he started his development at such a young age. 

When considering the data produced so far this season by Hammarby, we have to, of course, mention the sample size for the data. At the time of writing, Cifuentes is only 8 league matches into his spell at the club.

With that said, however, the data is impressive. Hammarby currently sit second in the Allsvenskan with two games on AIK at the top of the table. As you can see from the pizza chart for Hammarby under Cifuentes they are strong across the board but the emphasis that the Spaniard puts on passing football that looks to break the lines is clear to see.

The next steps for Cifuentes might be to stay at a club for a season or two in order to put down real roots although so far, the Spaniard has shown a clear willingness to travel and develop his game model.

#2 Matthias Jaissle, 34 years old, RB Salzburg and Germany

Next, we have the latest coach in the Red Bull production line — the 34-year-old German Matthias Jaissle

There are real similarities between Jaissle and another coaching prodigy, in the current Bayern Munich coach Julian Naglesmann; both were considered good prospects at a young age before suffering unfortunate injuries that effectively ended their playing career. Both then started their coaching careers in the youth team structure in Germany before being given the opportunity to become first-team coaches at a young age.

Jaissle started coaching in the youth setup at RB Leipzig before moving away from Germany to coach at Brøndby in Denmark as the assistant manager of the first team. He then made the move to Austria to join RB Salzburg as head coach of their U19 squad before stepping up to their feeder club Liefering and then being appointed as the replacement for Jesse Marsch as first-team coach in 2021.

Since then, Jaissle has not looked back. As you can see from the pizza chart for Jaissle at RB Salzburg, he is coaching the most dominant team in Austrian football. They impress in all phases of the game but play an aggressive pressing style out of possession with real vertical intent in possession. Indeed, the data across this season at the club under Jaissle suggests a coach who has fully embraced the Red Bull style of football.

His next steps will be interesting. I would expect him to spend at least one more season at Salzburg before looking for his next move. The lessons learnt from Jesse Marsch ultimately failed time at RB Leipzig may see the young German take a more measured approach to leaving Austria but there will undoubtedly be interest from abroad.

#3 Guerino Capretti, 40 years old, Dynamo Dresden and Germany/Italy

Next up, we have a personal favourite of mine in the 40-year-old Guerino Capretti. He has dual Italian and German citizenship and has recently moved to the 2. Bundesliga side Dynamo Dresden although his appointment was not enough to halt the slide of the side from the East of Germany and they face a playoff against Kaiserslautern to remain in the second tier. Prior to that Capretti was coaching at SC Verl in the third tier.

The data for the pizza chart for Capretti is taken from Verl’s 2019/20 season in 3. Bundesliga as it gives us a full season of data to consider.

Capretti is a young coach who spent his playing career bouncing around the lower leagues of Germany but as a coach, he has aspirations of reaching greater heights. His Verl side typically saw a lot of the ball and when in possession, his German heritage shone through as they looked to play line breaking forward passes to access the final third often.

They also impressed in terms of chance creation and attacking output with good numbers for shots per 90 and touches in the opposition area per 90 in particular.

If Dynamo Dresden are relegated this season, then many would back them to bounce straight back up and given that Capretti is an experienced coach in the third tier, he certainly knows the league. If they stay up, however, we are likely to see an altogether more interesting season next year than we have this year.

#4 Vincent Kompany, 36 years old, unattached and Belgium

Vincent Kompany’s transition from playing to coaching was not quite as smooth, initially, as many thought it would be. The former Belgian international central defender was long thought to be a potential coach given the leadership qualities that he showed throughout his career.

Initially, he moved to Anderlecht from Manchester City to be player/coach of the club but the side from Brussels were suffering from a run of poor recruitment and poor performances at the time, and the lack of an immediate upturn in form saw him initially step back from coaching the club. He formally retired before the start of the 2020/21 season, however, and took back full control of the club. This was until very recently as he has decided to leave the club for a new challenge.

Anderlecht are now in a far better position than when he joined the club and as you can see from his pizza chart, they have been one of the most impressive sides in Belgium across the course of the last season. They tend to look to dominate matches and create opportunities to break lines with their passes before taking a more measured approach to chance creation in the final third.

At the time of writing, multiple news reports are linking Kompany to a return to the Premier League this off-season with Burnley, if the club avoids relegation, but this does not necessarily feel like a fit for the Belgian coach. I would expect to see him coach in England one day, but he is likely to wait for the right project.

#5 Alessio Dionisi, 42 years old, Sassuolo and Italy

The final coach on our list is the 42-year-old Italian Alessio Dionisi of Sassuolo. Dionisi is an exceptionally interesting young coach who spent his entire playing career bouncing around the lower leagues of Italian football before retiring in 2014.

He moved straight into coaching and has worked his way up the leagues in Italy before finally being appointed as coach of Venezia in 2019. After just one season at the side from Venice, he moved again, this time to Empoli, although again he stayed for just one year before moving to a more established Serie A side in Sassuolo.

Under Dionisi, we have seen Sassuolo field one of the youngest teams in Serie A and his commitment to attacking football with an emphasis on positional play and chance creation in the final third is clear. The less said about the defensive performance from Sassuolo this past season though the better.

Going forward, Dionisi needs to stay in one place for a couple of seasons to build a body of work, although there will certainly be interest in him from other sides across Italy sooner rather than later.