777 Partners’ director of football analytics Mladen Sormaz explains how his team operates within a multi-club model as the group agreed a deal to purchase a controlling stake in Everton from Farhad Moshiri.
With Sean Dyche referencing expected goal (xG) stats in his press conference after Everton’s 2-1 defeat to Luton Town, it’s clear that analytics are being considered ever more important in football and 777 Partners’ stats guru Mladen Sormaz has lifted the lid on how the Blues could deploy them in the multi-club model.
It was announced on September 15 that 777 Partners had signed an agreement with current majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri to acquire his full 94.1% stake in Everton. The Miami-based private investment firm’s co-founders Josh Wander and Steve Pasko both made their first visit to Goodison Park against the Hatters, alongside Don Dransfield, CEO of 777’s football group.
One of the supposed benefits of being part of a multi-club group is the use of shared data. If 777’s purchase is approved after the period of regulatory review, they would be joining a football ‘family’ that also includes teams from Italy (Genoa); Belgium (Standard Liege); France (Red Star); Brazil (Vasco da Gama); Australia (Melbourne Victory) and Germany (Hertha BSC). However, Stamford-based Sormaz, 777’s director of football analytics, would provide Everton with a domestic perspective having previously spent three years as Leicester City’s head of football analytics between 2019-22 after spending the 2018/19 season as Huddersfield Town’s first team data analyst.
Sormaz is someone with strong roots in Northern England having been educated in Yorkshire, gaining both his PhD in Modelling Neural Brain Responses and Pattern Recognition plus Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of York having studied for his degree in Sports and Exercise Science with Psychology at Leeds Beckett University and obtained a Graduate Diploma in Psychology at Sheffield Hallam University.
Speaking in a video on YouTube, Sormaz outlined the type of challenges his team faces when it comes to implementing analytics within the multi-club model. He said: “We have a huge workload so you have to balance and satisfy expectations.
“If we’re not careful, we could be seen as the outsiders, especially as we work at holding group level. You have to be aware of difference in preferences in process/views of football/data suppliers.
“You’re not at one club where there is a unified vision of how things should be done, there are cultural and language barriers. There is also non-stop football 12 months of the year in the multi-club model.”
Although he and his team are employed as number crunchers, Sormaz realises that they can’t just be locked away with their figures but need to be sociable across their networks. He said: “Within the central analytics department of three of us who cover the technical work and all three of us have contact points at each of the clubs that are developed at the earliest point possible. At minimum, at each club you need to have at least a good relationship with the sporting director and a technical member of staff on the coaching staff.
“It doesn’t have to be the same across all clubs but having a similar structure to deliver all insights across all clubs is absolutely vital to make a success of a central analytics department. The other thing is that ideally I’ve found is that it’s easier to start lean in terms of how many staff you have and have the flattest hierarchy possible.
“You need to have people who can be club-facing who can talk to people and work with people as well as doing the technical side. At 777, I’ve got my director of R&D (research and development), Dan Nichol and senior data scientist Elliott Stapley and they’re both experienced with football data and they’re both good at communicating with people.
“The way we work is that any person from these clubs can approach any one of us directly, it doesn’t have to go through me as the head, as that would slow things down, and also it prevents us from building useful relationships because it minimises our point of contact with the clubs. We need to focus on their needs and that means the maximum amount of availability so starting lean with a flat hierarchy is key to this and especially to the communication part that will make this a success.”
Sormaz also stressed the importance of putting in ‘face time’ and by that he doesn’t mean the app for remote meetings but rather face-to-face contact with influential club figures. He said: “Face time is key to this, in the 777 football analytics department, all three members of us attend games at all the clubs where possible. It’s important to show your face because you are actually invested in what’s going on so you do need to feel what is going on within the clubs, you need to build personal relationships with people at the clubs and you’re always more personable if you’ve had any time on the ground with someone versus just being remote.
“The other thing is, it just allows good periods of time with club practitioners and staff and allows conversations to happen spontaneously and ideas to be formed in a less formal setting. So having that face time, especially being a multi-club, and being prepared to travel and all the members of your team being prepared to spend time travelling is absolutely key.
“Another key is the balance of consistent KPI (key performance indicator) reporting so we have a set pre-match report that every club gets from us based on needs that they have expressed to us. What we do on top of that is any ad-hoc work that we think each club might re-use is prioritised, especially if it’s specific to either their game model, their game situation or their part of the season.
“It’s really important to have both halves of this. You need consistency across the whole group so everybody is speaking the same language, are able to compare against each other and can build a synergy that way.
“You also need the flexibility because football is varied, people’s approaches to playing the game is varied and their goals – even across your portfolio of clubs – are varied so you need to be covered in all those situations and have the bandwidth to do that work.”
While 777 Partners insist that they don’t prioritise when it comes to how they treat their different clubs, given that Everton operate in the Premier League, the richest domestic division in world football, they would instantly find themselves at the top of the group’s food chain but regardless of who you are dealing with, Sormaz maintains there are some key tips to follow. He said: “Always remember – even more so than in an individual club – you’re part of a social and a cultural endeavour here. Be prepared to build for more diverse situations, different game models and different recruitment challenges.
“There are different styles of play, even across our portfolio of clubs, based on the leagues that we’ve bought into, so we have to be aware that’s the case on the ground so we have to build around that. There are recruitment challenges as some of our clubs are salary capped and others aren’t so that needs to be built for and addressed.
“The technical easy win it to just build efficient and comprehensive databasing and technical synergy is just the easiest win off the bat in the multi-club because it’s the one that’s of clearest benefit to everyone. You also need to remember to build strong links, not only with your central ownership who employ you directly at holding level, but with each individual club.
“The point of you is to serve them so make sure those links are as strong as possible because that just makes the work be used effectively. You need to provide that solid, consistent base of work with consistent reports in the same formatting but with the flexibility to pivot to a diverse set of circumstances such as having people on hand to be able to do specialist bits of work that maybe only one club in the group needs at any one time.
“Also, remember to automate. The workload is massive so make sure anything that will be used repeatedly is automated at the earliest possible moment.”