Have you noticed one emerging national team in the European landscape recently? Of course, we’re talking about Ukraine, that has won the U20 FIFA World Cup last June and that is currently leading the European qualifiers’ Group B. A few months ago, we had the chance to talk with Andrea Maldera, head of match analysis in Andriy Shevchenko’s technical staff. During our talk – ICYMI, we also met with Shakhtar’s Taras Stepanenko – we spoke about the past and future of match analysis, the differences between working in a club or a national team, and how it’s like to work alongside a football legend like “Sheva”. Don’t miss a word!
After many years with AC Milan, you are now with the Ukraine national team. Can you tell us a bit about what must be a very interesting experience?
To be honest it is a really stimulating experience, both professionally and as a life choice, as working abroad is always different. The many years I spent with AC Milan helped me to grow professionally, at the same time giving an identity to what is a fairly new profession in Italy. When I began in 2009 the role of match analyst was a bit hazy but today it is recognised at a global level and all clubs have at least one. I’m really happy that Shevchenko chose me to take up this role on his staff.
What are the main differences – in terms of tasks and dynamics – between working as a match analyst for a club and for a national team?
It may seem a bit of a cliché but there are many differences because the two jobs differ in many respects. For example, at an international level, a lot more attention is focused on individuals rather than the team in general. In fact, at club level, the technical, tactical and performance data on your upcoming opponents is at most a week old and is therefore reliable. At an international level, however, you might be coming up against teams that haven’t played for a couple of months making much of the data from their previous games obsolete.
As the value of the statistics is much different, the analysis and also the approach to video analysis change radically, in some ways becoming even more important. With a few training sessions and little time before the matches, tactical preparation using videos becomes key for both the players and the staff.
Your work includes analysis of opponents, players that could potentially be called up – including youngsters – and specific video analysis of the players in the team?
Exactly, for players we have a specific modus operandi: every weekend we assess and analyse their performances for their respective clubs on Wyscout and try to stay in close contact with them, not only by telephone.
We also do a lot of work on our matches because seeing them so infrequently it is important that our analysis is thorough and very detailed. With so few matches the players, who are used to different tactics at their various clubs, have very little time to assimilate the ideas of the coach. This is where the detailed analysis of possession, non-possession, build-up play and transitions is key in helping players to feel at home right away in the national set-up. Of course, we also analyse our performances and the performances of our opponents on Wyscout, but as I mentioned it is more difficult to make predictions in this regard given the amount of time between games.
Having been a Match Analyst since 2009, what would you say are the main differences between the profession then and the profession now?
To give you one example, once upon a time we weren’t even called “match analysts”, we were simply called “tacticians” or even the “video guys”. Now the role of the match analyst is very clearly defined, there is an association of match analysts and this figure has a specific role to play at the club. At the same time, it has also evolved a bit too far as football is now studied much less than before. A match analyst should first and foremost have a deep knowledge of the game. In my opinion, too much emphasis is placed on “special effects” when what we should be doing is basing our analysis on our knowledge. To become a top match analyst, you have to know a lot about football.
Football must be studied not just by reading books – which can be of help – but by watching lots of matches, performing analyses, observing coaches and the various ways of interpreting the phases of play, understanding systems and the basics of football. So while it is important to understand ‘how’ to structure analysis, firstly we need to concentrate on the thing we are analysing. Also because when working with leading players, who are used to working with top coaches, you have to know what you are talking about. If not, your input may be of little worth or assistance.
You mention ‘leading players’: is there any difference between working with players from top clubs and working with players from further down the ladder?
Yes, there is, although fortunately, video analysis has become a daily practice also at smaller clubs. What changed is the way that players and clubs use the tool: at bigger clubs, there are departments dedicated specifically to analysis with offices for studying data and videos and specialist staff. Players that can call on these kinds of tools definitely have more chance of maximising their performances.
Today’s players are also getting used to the idea of watching back their performances with tools like Wyscout, they are interested and want to analyse match situations. This would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
Looking to the future, what do you think the next step is in the video analysis of football?
Going beyond the technical aspect, which can always be improved, I think we will see it develop mainly in the pre- and post-match phases. The two contexts are very different from each other but equally important in terms of both the time available and the type of data used. But the real leap forward will come when data and clips are also available during matches, giving analysis agility which might also make it onto the bench or into the changing rooms at half-time.
It is common practice now to send analysts and staff into the stand to communicate with the bench but these relationships are still too subjective and based on the skills of the observer, however well-respected they may be. On the other hand, numbers and data offer an objective assessment and could be selected by the analyst according to their importance and communicated to the manager on the bench during matches or at half-time. From this point of view, there is still a lot that can be done.
Similar to the NBA model…
Exactly, even if basketball, like American football, has lots of breaks in play, something that obviously makes it easier to interact with the team. But in football, you could interact with the coach who, although focused on the game, could at certain moments be provided with targeted information on a specific area, a problem or an advantage for the team.
That said, a good video analyst must be able to assess a situation as objectively as possible, without putting himself in the coach’s shoes. We can and we must work on objective situations. This doesn’t mean not having an opinion but supporting it with numbers, data and, of course, videos, giving credibility to our role.
We know all about Shevchenko the player but what is it like working with him in his new role as a coach?
First of all, despite his standing in world football Andriy is a very humble guy. He is somebody that wants to learn this new role because although the fact that he was a great footballer, a top player in his case, is important, being a coach is a different kettle of fish, a different job. An intelligent person like him must be good at supplementing the skills he had as a footballer with those required to become a good manager. He is on a learning curve right now.
Coaching a national team helps because you have more time compared with club level, there are fewer matches and it is easier to deal with the pressure and analyse things with a clearer head. At the same time, if you play less often you learn at a slower rate. But he is very young and was right to begin his coaching career with his national team where he feels protected thanks to his achievements as a player. Even if, once you sit on the bench you start from zero and are only judged on your results. But I’m confident because he is very talented, very humble and very eager to learn, all important factors in a coach’s development.