Every morning, when Rangers chairman Dave King and managing director Andrew Dickson wake up, their inboxes ping with emails from the club’s new manager, Alex Stewart. Often the missives are difficult to understand; a list of never-ending numbers punctuated with a request for more refill pods for his fancy coffee machine.
It is fair to say Stewart’s appointment was something of a gamble, with his only previous experience in football coming as an unsuccessful goalkeeper for his school team. His only qualifications appear to be owning a MacBook Pro and living reasonably near to Iain Macintosh, but he is now managing the Glaswegian giants with a self-professed “data-driven” approach. Results thus far suggest it’s more data drivel.
The increasing influence of stats men, or ‘evil number wizards’, in the Scottish game has left many sceptical about what the future holds. But as Stewart told The Guardian in a sympathetic puff-piece last month: “It’s an evolution. We’re harnessing information and ways of scouting and analysing that have been out there for a few years, but we’re doing it better.”
— Alex Stewart (@AFHStewart) December 31, 2016
Despite a lack of playing experience at any relevant level, Stewart, who earns probably more than he ought to, has a big say on everything that happens at Rangers. His office is equipped with not just a laptop and a machine that makes proper, frothy coffees, but also the best air-conditioning money can buy. There are also several bookshelves filled with back issues of The Blizzard – no expense has been spared in making the new boy feel at home.
Stewart, who likes his staff to call him Alex to create a matey feel in the working environment, seems to have invented an entirely new vocabulary to talk about football.
Strikers are all about xG (which is not even a word), chances created, and the number of touches in the opposition box. Defensive midfielders are judged on such spurious ‘metrics’ as interceptions and successful tackles in key areas of the pitch. He has even shunned hot cups of Bovril at windswept non-league grounds for a recruitment philosophy that is driven by data analysis rather than the time honoured tradition of following one’s gut.
But one has to feel sorry for any Proper Football Men left at Ibrox following this shift in the corridors of power. Sources close to the club suggest that David Weir, the assistant manager retained by Stewart to give him some actual footballing knowledge, is already close to walking out. And who would blame him.
— #FM17Project (@FM17Project) December 19, 2016
Stewart’s army of number-crunchers spend most of the week huddled in their pristine offices, with the whirring of the air-conditioning in the background, editing videos of matches in leagues all around the world. They provide all manner of useless information on the opposition – such as key strengths, which players are especially important, and how they attack and defend. Truly, the days of just ‘fucking running around a bit’ are behind us. It’s sad to see tradition take such a kicking.
Quite whether Stewart will make anything of his time at Rangers remains to be seen. The team currently sit in 8th place, ahead of Celtic only on goal difference, but with a recent 3-0 victory over Hamilton to build upon.
Stewart, who believes that using data to unearth undervalued players is a route not just to success, but also to financial stability – as if the biggest club in Scotland have ever needed that – might just be in over his head. We suspect, when the time comes for him to go back to whatever library he crawled out of, he won’t need a spreadsheet to tell him he’s failed.
Will Alex Stewart lead Rangers to victory or will he be taught a lesson by Proper Football Man Iain Macintosh? Join us on Facebook next week for a live stream of the first Old Firm derby of the season.