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Changing the future of Portuguese Football through Analysis- Hugo Ferreira

As we continue our series of Interviews with Professionals, this one is a fantastic insight into the life of Hugo Ferreira at SC Braga's U23s. Read, enjoy and pass it on!

PAUK: What is your current role?

HF: I am the SC Braga’s U23 Performance Analyst. The team competes in the Liga Revelação, the newest professional championship in Portugal, aiming to give an opportunity to players between the ages of 19 and 23 who finished their academy trajectory but still aren’t prepared to play in the first team of their clubs. In the SC Braga’s U23 team, we have 2 full-time analysts.

PAUK: Tell us about your background and what has led you to this point....

HF: Well, I’ve always been passionate about this game, since I’ve grown up watching and playing football. So I decided to start my Bachelor in Sport Sciences in 2011 and the Master in Sports Sciences, with a specialisation in Performance Analysis, in 2016 where I had the opportunity to experience some essential tools like Sportscode and GPS units. While my colleagues were all trying to be football managers, I’ve always had this curiosity about how a performance video analyst could help a team or a player to improve their performances. I’ve had some Portuguese models in elite football like André Villas Boas, who started as Jose Mourinho’s analyst, or even Pedro Marques, that helped Manchester City to establish their analysis department. That’s how I decided I wanted to be a performance analyst. I had just finished my Bachelor when I joined the SC Braga’s U17 team as an assistant coach and match analyst intern in the 2015- 2016 season. When I arrived at the club the analysis department wasn't so developed, since only the professional teams had performance analysts. However, the club experienced a huge change in 2017 by investing in a brand new academy and all the departments in the club had the opportunity to evolve and improve their facilities. Fortunately, the club invested in the analysis department by providing Sportscode and Hudl to all the teams in our academy. Since then we are increasing the number of players reaching the professional teams and Portugal international squads. Also, we improved our scouting department and now we are capable of signing and attracting better players to our academy.

From 2016 to 2018, I’ve worked with the U19 team as a performance analyst and I helped the first team analysis by recording the training sessions.

From 2018 to the present moment, I am working with our U23 team and helping to develop and prepare our players to our “B” or first team.

PAUK: What does your working week consist of?

HF: My working week depends on how many matches we have during the week. We have periods where we play 3 matches in 7 days, so we try to focus more our analysis on our training sessions and post-match analysis and how we can improve our playing style. In that case, the opposition analysis presentation is not as detailed as on a regular training week.

On a regular training week with 1 match, my working week consists of recording and coding the training sessions, preparing the opposition analysis presentations and reports —usually on Thursday and Friday, when we play on a Saturday— where we also include some clips from our training sessions, with some behaviours we want to happen in the game. Our opposition analysis is focused on how the opposition behaves when they have the ball and when they don’t and also on what they do when they recover or lose the ball. And then we also provide insights on how they attack and defend the set-pieces. Then, live- coding of our matches —we pick 1 or 2 clips to show during the halftime break; post-match video analysis, that is presented to the players on the next day, and finally individual statistical reports —that we code by ourselves because InStat or Wyscout still doesn’t cover our league deeply.

In addition, on special occasions I am responsible for creating motivational videos to present to the players.

As we are 2 analysts, we divide our tasks. When one of us is responsible for opposition analysis, the other is responsible for live-coding and post-match analysis.

Also, I am responsible for scheduling and distributing the cameras and equipment to the other teams of our academy, from U9 to U19.

PAUK: How would you describe your analysis philosophy?

HF: From my point of view, I think that the analysis philosophy must be fully directed to the team’s playing style and how we can help the coaching staff to improve the individual and collective performance. Even when I’m analysing the opposing team, I always try to identify their strengths and weaknesses and how we will draw up a strategy to beat the opponent, based on our team game principles and dynamics instead of adapting our team strategy to the opponent’s playing style.

Also, in my philosophy, I see the analyst as one of the powerful allies of the manager because through our insights and video presentations we have the right and effective tools to help them communicate and provide accurate information to the players regarding their training or match performances.

In our club’s academy, we focus a lot of our analysis in the player development and that occurs because SC Braga wants to increase the number of academy players playing for the 1st team in the medium term. I have a personal conviction that performance analysis is one of the most powerful tools which could help in the player development process and in what I think that is one of the most important characteristics to develop in a player, which is the decision making within our collective dynamic.

PAUK: Is there a club philosophy or is it dependant on the manager at this moment?

HF: Well, as I referred before, the club is experiencing a big evolution over the recent years and is also developing a playing and a player identity. Although every coach has the freedom to introduce some personal nuances in the playing style, the club gives references on how the teams must play (tactical system, game principles) and how a SC Braga player must perform. So, I think that this is now much more a club’s philosophy than a manager's philosophy.

PAUK: Best moment in analysis?

HF: I see this in two different ways —the collective and the player achievements— since that our biggest goal is to develop and prepare our players for the first team. Collectively, since I am in SC Braga we usually reached the national youth championship in the Top 4, so I think that’s already a great achievement. Also, in the 1st edition of the U23 National Championship (2018/2019) we got into the Championship Group, mostly playing with U19/U20 players.

Individually, I think that the best moment was when 3 of our U19 players were U19 European Champions in 2018, which reflects the good work that we’ve doing in the last years.

PAUK: Best player that you have worked with?

HF: As an academy analyst, I’ve worked with several talented players and I am sure that soon they will be in the top European football. But, personally, I think that Pedro Neto —now playing for Wolverhampton— or Francisco Trincão —best scorer of the Euro U19 2018— are the most talented players that I’ve worked with until now and I think that they are two examples that the future of Portuguese football is in good hands.

PAUK: What’s the ultimate goal for you and why?

HF: In the near future, my goal is to keep developing my analytical skills and to help the club to develop the players so they can improve their individual and collective behaviors and get prepared for the first team and Portugal squads.

In a medium to long term, my personal goal is to be involved in a team competing in the UEFA Champions League. Personally, I would like to experience the English football, because in my opinion is where football is performed by the best on the business and where there is more passion for the game, with full and vibrating football stadiums week over week!

PAUK: Are you more data or video heavy in your work and why are you more heavy on that area?

HF: As you may know, Portugal is well known for the football coaches and I think that what makes us a little bit different is the tactical knowledge and the importance that we give to the collective behaviors and game principles allied to a good leadership and a sophisticated training methodology. Because of this, my analysis philosophy is more focused on videos and in helping to improve our players individually and collectively, focused on the improvement of our team game quality. However, year by year we are introducing some individual and collective data to provide our coaching staff more tools to support their decisions and to help them to have a more effective perception of our players’ performance.

PAUK: How do you use data to affect performance, i.e are there specific models, where does the data come from and does it have an affect on your club?

HF: In my opinion, Portuguese clubs —beside SL Benfica— are still not aware of how Big Data is changing football and the impact that it will have in the future of sports and football specially. As we don’t have too many tools or an external partner to collect data in a big scale, we’ve tried to develop some models applied to our U23 team that could help us to better understand how the team is performing in some key indicators our coaching staff considered essential in our game model.

For example, we count every ball recoveries and ball losses and where they occur in the field. It’s an essential indicator for us since we try to recover the ball where we lose it and if possible, near the opposite goal, so it is important to verify where the team is mostly recovering and losing the possession.

Through the data we collect, we are creating a database match by match with these individual and collective stats, so we can understand in which matches the team performed better or not and which players are performing well according to the team playing style and our manager demandings.

PAUK: What do you think is next for the analysis industry?

HF: Over the recent years, we are assisting to a big change in the way of how analytics are getting involved in sports. I remember when I started university that collecting events like possession or shot locations were a big thing for the teams at that time. Recently, we’ve seen several studies on positional data like how possession sequences can describe a team’s playing style or even the “on-the ball” event data measured through expected goals (xG).

In my opinion, in the near future we are going to assist the increase of Big Data’s impact in the analysis in football and the arrival of the VR and AI that will empower even more the impact of data in sports as the number of data scientists will also increase in the business. It will be necessary to adapt our skill sets in order to take the most of these new approaches.

However, I think that nothing will replace a great game knowledge, especially tactically, and those who will be able to combine the football knowledge with these insights and new approaches coming from data will get the best results and win more.

PAUK: What tool has the biggest impact on your job?

HF: I will have to say that the tool with more impact in my daily work is definitely Hudl Sportscode because it allows me to code all my training sessions, matches and

opposition matches in a fast, organized and effective way. Personally, in my presentations I enjoy to combine the Sportscode clips and edit the final videos in the Final Cut Pro or Coachpaint when we get access to this tool, but I could perfectly produce all my work through Sportscode, so I think that this tool is the “best friend” of a football analyst.

PAUK: What advice would you give someone that wants a job in the industry?

HF: I think that for anyone wanting to get into the football industry as a performance analyst it’s mandatory to have a great passion for the game. And I say that because from your first day in a football club you will breath football every second of your life, and if you aren’t passionate about this, I’m sure you won’t succeed. Moreover, I think that it is very important to have a related Sports Science or Performance analysis degree and the UEFA coach badges. I would also advise you to try an internship in a football club with a good analysis department that will help you to experience different tools and to improve your skills within a very demanding and under pressure environment. And finally, you should be very creative, innovative and perfectionist in your presentations and daily work so you can help the coaching staff understand how the match analysis can improve the team performance.

Our thanks to Hugo for providing us with this fantastic interview and allowing us to learn from him and his experience. You can follow Hugo on Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you are interested in becoming an analyst or know more about what the life of an analyst involves, take a look at our Introduction to Analysis Course here!

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