Alfie Sparks arrived at the Football Club in January this year as our new Brentford B Analyst. Having gained experience with Premier League side Southampton as well as with the likes of Cardiff City Academy and The FAW, the new staff member has now stepped into a full-time role with the young Bees, helping to aid the development of the young players.
“I started around two years ago with Cardiff City Academy as an intern whilst I was doing my undergraduate degree at Cardiff Met University,” said Alfie whilst stood pitch side setting up his camera equipment at a breezy Jersey Road in February. “Alongside that, I also did internships with The FAW in projects with their Under-15s and Euro 2020. I then moved to Hereford and following that, Southampton, to do an internship alongside my Masters. I started with the B Team at the beginning of January.”
Analysis is a subject which has developed significantly in recent years with more and more teams turning to that approach in order to reflect on and improve their performances. It’s an ever-growing industry which has become more competitive to break into. Alfie explained: “I think it’s a very competitive industry and there’s lots of people going for the roles that come up. The university course that I did has become more and more popular and every year they’re taking extra students onto the Sports Performance Analysis course.
“I gained experience with the First Team at Southampton to support the three analysts that were already there. It would be looking at a lot of the opponents and looking at individual players that they were about to come up against. These clips would then be uploaded to iPads to show the players in preparation for the games. I would then maintain and update lots of databases with information across the Premier League with details on set pieces, goals, styles of play etc.”
Having gained more of a grounding in the role with The Saints, the opportunity to join the innovative project at Brentford B was too good a chance to turn down. A role with a freedom to develop and try new ideas as well as work with a fantastic group of hard-working staff and players on a full-time basis.
He continued: “From outside when you hear about Brentford you hear about the culture, the environment, and about it being a great place to be. Also, having looked into the B Team, I could see it was a very niche setup and I think it’s a very attractive programme in terms of how it operates. When people ask you where you work and you tell them it’s at Brentford, they always ask if it’s as great a place as everyone says. No doubt, it’s exactly that.”
Alfie believes that the B Team’s adaptable programme enables it to act as an excellent support mechanism for the First Team and gives the players a well-rounded grounding in the game.
He explained: “It’s a case of having a structure there to support the First Team. Of course, there is no league so it’s adaptable and flexible. Some of the experiences that these players get are very unique and I believe it’s seen some real success since it was formed.”
Having worked alongside Neil MacFarlane, Sam Saunders, Jani Viander and the rest of the B Team staff for a good six weeks or so now, Alfie says he’s thoroughly enjoying the role so far. He continued: “We work closely, in the short time I’ve been here it’s been about building relationships with the people around me and learning how everyone works. As a group we’re all very reflective on the performances and everyone is looking for ways to improve and develop how we’re doing as individuals in all of our own departments. It’s about making sure that we’re doing everything that we possibly can to help that player make the step to the First Team, and analysis plays an integral part of that.”
So, how exactly does Alfie go about his job and what directly does it entail from week-to-week?
“Starting with pre-match, it’s a case of watching the opposition. At times that can be tough because the team that you’re watching is very rarely the team that you come up against due to the flexibility of the games programme and the sorts of opponents that we play against. Teams may put out players for minutes from their First Team or they may go with their Under-23s and sometimes Under-18s.
“A lot of what we do is focusing on ourselves, how we’re going to win the game, and how we’re going to improve. I’ll then put together a little pre-match presentation for the players to reinforce particular things from previous performances or training. During the game it’s a case of capturing it on video and live coding it for any immediate feedback that the coaching staff may need. Following the game, it’s about reviewing it, going through phases of play and our philosophies. This is then provided to the coaching staff so we can reflect on things that went well, or things we may need to work on.”
It’s clear the staff buy into an analytical approach, but how do the B Team players react to watching their games back? Pleasingly, Alfie says all of the players are so dedicated to improve, that they’re eager to reflect and learn all the time.
He said: “We’ll clip out each player’s involvement in the game. Not just on the ball, but off it as well, their reactions and counter-pressing. Every player here wants to learn and improve, their work ethic from what I’ve seen since arriving, has been incredible, everyone has a real desire to improve themselves. The players are always wanting their clips from training or games so they can reflect on their performances.”