CHRIS Markham has given an insight into the filtering process which will be used in Bolton Wanderers’ recruitment drive this summer.
The technical performance director, who has been with the club since February, has formulated a broad list of players with manager Ian Evatt from which several signings can be made in the coming months.
The approach differs from that used 12 months ago, when the Whites were led almost exclusively by performance data, which resulted in a patchy set of signings and a slow start in League Two.
This time, however, Markham believes his data can be used in a complementary manner, giving the manager the best possible background on each new arrival.
Speaking to The Bolton News, Markham explained how different forms of data will still play a part in decision-making at Wanderers – but will not be the be-all and end-all.
“I am very simple in the way I think things should work – there are two types of data, subjective opinion, which is still a data source. It is the data set most commonly used in football because it’s people’s opinion having watched the game and it carries a lot of gravitas,” he explained.
“The final decision will be made by the manager’s opinion. Now, what I am here to do is develop a database of objective data – numbers, video evidence – which echo the manager’s identity. So, when I show him something or give him something, it’s as if he’s looking at it with his own eyes.
“He can say to me ‘not sure how you got that?’ Or I can check and challenge his decision-making. There are always discussion points whether, it’s a report or a video.
“We are asking the board to invest thousands of pounds in a player, so I feel it is my job to show as much supporting evidence of how we came to that decision.
“People think data is all Moneyball and big statistics, and the bigger clubs invest huge money and it’s obviously an area of promise for them. Manchester City have data physicists, for example.
“For me, it’s about a basic level of evidence-based decisions. We want to be different with how we use it and whenever me, Sharon and Ian have spoken, we all want to be in a league of one. We want to do things in a way that make Bolton stand out.
“It boils down to how can I create data, which is based on the identity of this club, from a football perspective?”
With thousands of players on the market, Wanderers – who should be free of a transfer embargo for the first time in two years this summer – face a potentially exciting few months as they strengthen their squad for League One.
Evatt has already stated that he does not expect Bolton to be “big spenders” and potentially risking financial stability, rather he would like to “shop leaner and meaner” with Markham’s assistance.
The process is already well under way.
“At the moment, to give an idea, we want to be looking at creating a shortlist of five players per position,” Markham said.
“We’ve been closely monitoring between 30 and 50 players, really, and from there it is a filtering process.
“You start off with every player that you could possibly get, then here’s the first filter, which ones are in contract, which ones fall into budget, it is a fairly simple way of boiling it down.
“Then you get to the ones who we feel fit the identity, which ones have the right age profile, which ones do we know enough about that we feel they can handle the next level?
“It is only when you get to that stage do you start doing more deep-diving on them. And that really helps when you have a manager who has a firm identity and knows exactly how he wants to play football, which we definitely have at Bolton.”
After the departure of Tobias Phoenix as head of football operations in December 2020, it is understood that Wanderers effectively had to start from scratch again building a database of players who could suit Evatt’s style of play.
Markham – who had previously worked with the Football Association – believes building the profile of a Bolton signing is made easier because of the distinct style of football the manager has brought to the club.
“There are plenty of teams who want their players playing long balls or on the counter-attack and not dominating the ball, and I have no problem with that, it’s a way to win. So long as your style is specific, you can go and recruit to it,” he said. “Thankfully, Ian Evatt likes to play a very distinct type of football.
“The problem I have are clubs or managers that are style agnostic and flick between different styles, and that makes it that you cast your net around everyone and you are just hoping you get the best players available.
“The skill of the manager then is to mould that into a team – but for me, I think that is harder to do and makes it easier to make recruitment mistakes than if you have a specific style profile that the team and the manager play towards.
“You can immediately disregard certain players, for example, because you know they are not going to fit what you want them to do.
“It gives us a lot better opportunity to make fewer mistakes. It doesn’t mean you won’t make any, everyone does, but my role is to help the club limit the ones they do.”
Markham spent eight seasons with Huddersfield Town, helping the Terriers climb out of League One and to the verge of the Premier League via a record 43-game unbeaten run before taking a role at the FA with the England women’s and men’s senior team.
It was there that Markham developed a unique database to aid Gareth Southgate’s side should they encounter what was billed at the time as the ‘dreaded’ penalty shootout.
England had never won one at a major tournament, failing at Italia 90, Euro 96 and the World Cup in 2006.
“My job was as head of a football science department which provided detailed tactical insight into how it could help England teams improve on the field,” he said.
“The first project I got on my desk was a blank canvas penalty shootout project in January 2017 with a remit to help us win one at a major tournament, hopefully Russia 2018. It was an extremely broad subject – I met with all sorts of people, industry experts, and then towards the tournament we did a workshop and camps with the players, helped them develop training routines.
“There was a lot of positive feeling about that going into the tournament.
“Whether we got one or won one, the key for me was that we were more prepared than we had ever been before.
“Obviously the very first game we got an opportunity to do it was the Colombia game and I have got to say that was the longest 10 minutes of my entire life.
“We got there and then went at did the same the following summer in the Nations League, so that was something I was really proud of, being honest.”
Markham also helped to shape the style and evolution of Southgate’s side by keeping track of a huge number of prospective caps.
“The second part of my role was around helping design and provide insight into selection across the men’s senior team,” he said.
“How can we collect data that can help us identify players in our own language and monitor them playing for their club teams?
“We didn’t want to just take third-party generic data, we wanted to develop something more.
“I ended up creating something which monitored around 250 players from Under-17s right up to the senior team.
“In key positional meetings with Gareth, we’d have input and try to provide some evidence which could help their discussions in selection.”