“Rob Esteva, founder, owner and managing director of The Stats Zone, attended the strategic review presentation at Altrincham on Sunday as an interested onlooker and offered his services free of charge to the club in a meeting with chairman Grahame Rowley three days later.
The partnership begins with immediate effect, and as Rob said, in an interview with Alty’s press department, he is ‘here for the long haul’ and ‘determined to make a material difference to the club’s on-field fortunes.’
In essence, it means Alty will have constant access to an extensive network of scouting reports and information on teams, players who could become transfer targets and managers who could be shortlisted for a vacancy from a company who have established themselves, inside two years, as one of the market leaders in performance evaluation.
Underlining his eagerness to hit the ground running, Rob has already started analysing footage of an AFC Telford game in the hope it might benefit manager Matt Doughty’s preparations for Saturday’s Vanarama National League North fixture.
Explaining why he has aligned himself with Alty, despite coming from Leeds and spending six years at UEFA and three as a director of Brentford, the 37-year old said: ‘I’m not going to try and hoodwink anyone into thinking Alty have always been my team, but they do feel like my team now.
‘After my time in Switzerland with UEFA, I returned to the UK and founded The Stats Zone about two years ago. We initially moved to Altrincham, then Hale and have bought a house there. We have a five-month old daughter, so this is home and we are here for the long haul.
‘For me, Alty are the local team. I may not have arrived in the area as an Alty fan, but I love football, and if you love football, you know all about Altrincham and their famous Cup exploits down the years.
‘I have been to games this season, and it has been painful to watch. There is so much off the field that sounds positive and is positive, but there’s no hiding from the fact this season has been a disaster. That doesn’t put me off one bit, though. I really want to help the club now, when it’s at rock bottom. I want to make a difference, and I firmly believe my experience on the board at Brentford and professional expertise can help me make a significant contribution to turning the team around.
‘There is no secret recipe to make it happen overnight, but there is plenty that can be done, like improving the infrastructure to support the manager and players for the rebuilding job that is needed. Right now, plans have to be drawn up for next season. It has to be promotion, and the planning has to start now.
‘One of the first things is analysing Alty’s own performances, because player retention is one of the big decisions for the manager ahead of next season. I’m waiting for Alty TV footage of some recent games, so we can analyse them and provide feedback for the manager, and that’s something we intend doing on a regular basis moving forward.
‘The guys who work for me are not just scouts who provide detailed form reports but performance analysis specialists and sports science graduates who are absolutely in tune with the latest cutting-edge technology for getting the maximum out of players.
‘They will analyse videos of each Alty game and provide feedback and opinion for the manager to digest at the following training session. Not just the manager and his coaching staff, but any players who want to study clips of themselves,
‘Whenever the manager identifies areas of the team that need strengthening, we can dip into a data base that has been developed thanks to a nationwide scouting network. Admittedly, the amount of data available for the level we look like playing at next season is limited, but I’m quite prepared to send a guy to an Evo-Stik game to film future opponents or run the rule over a player who may be of interest to us. Of course, the higher we go, the more we’ll have already to hand.
‘In terms of recruitment, stats alone don’t give you the whole story. We will provide qualitative analysis and research to provide an insight into a player’s injury record for example, which can be quite telling. Also, when a manager moves on, he takes the knowledge he’s built up of the club with him, but not if we build a database, like I intend doing. It will all be stored, ready for the next manager to access, so there are processes in place for a transfer of knowledge.
‘Ultimately, what all this does is minimise risks and increase the likelihood of successful player recruitment and in turn, improved performance levels. There is always an element of risk, and mistakes will be made, as indicated by the incredible turnover of players this season, but the service we provide undoubtedly reduces it.
‘It’s very easy to get caught up in the emotion of a game, and a second set of eyes is often useful. We have got a great team, so many good, experienced performance analysts and scouts, and I’m excited at what we can do to help Altrincham get back to where they should be.
‘We have done so well, and gone from strength to strength since launching less than two years ago, because I pay for the services of people who work for me. League clubs use these guys because it’s a vital service in the modern game, but they only pay expenses and, accordingly, don’t get the same level of commitment as I do.
‘We’ve worked with clubs in this country and abroad as far as Mexico, and we work a number of major international sports organisations as their data services arm, giving meaning to their data by translating it into layman’s terms.
‘I believe in embracing all concepts surrounding getting the best out of players. I’m flying out to Boston shortly to look at some of the innovations in American sport and see if any can be adapted to our game here. They are very advanced in their thinking over there. When I get back, I’ll be meeting the manager and his assistant to start formulating some plans and ideas.
‘I want to make a difference for this club. It is part-time, so maybe the manager and players don’t have the time to do all the research and checking we can do. It is crucial we come straight back up next season and then keep going in the same direction, as outlined in the five-year plan.
‘I’m all for planning but, ultimately, the people who turn up every week want to see an improvement now. They want to see evidence the club is being turned round from the start of next season, and that’s what we have to work towards. I do think my time at Brentford will help. I knew the owner of the club and he invited me on to the board in 2006, when I was only 26.
‘They were struggling at the time and went down to League Two before gradually fighting their way back to League One, and it was an invaluable learning experience that should stand me in good stead for a not dissimilar situation here at at Alty. I was at the meeting on Sunday, and I just felt the club could do with a bit of energy and a bit of youth. I’m still only 37, and I’m hungry to do well.
‘As to whether I might join the board in due course, I think I need to build some trust with the club first and vice-versa. Let’s focus on improving things for now, and I’m confident I can contribute importantly to that, then see where we are.’
A delighted Grahame Rowley said: ‘There has always been talk about the need for a proper scouting network, but the costs involved are considerable, and there is also the problem of finding the right people to run it. It is something we’ve been keen for a while to address, so I was overwhelmed when Rob made his generous offer to help us in this way.
‘It is one of the highlighted areas we need to improve on, so the offer has come at exactly the right time, Many thanks to Rob for that, and we look forward to a long and prosperous relationship that will hopefully be of enormous benefit to the club.'”