Hearts: Who is William Lancefield and what does a head of recruitment do?

Hearts sporting director Joe Savage landed his No.1 target for the position of head of recruitment.

Hearts have made a key addition with the appointment of a head of recruitment. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)
Hearts have made a key addition with the appointment of a head of recruitment. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

The club confirmed the arrival of William Lancefield who will take on the role having left Southampton. He has replaced John Murray who retired after 25 years.

The new arrival is no stranger to Savage, having worked alongside him at Norwich City.

At the time Savage was chief scout, while Lancefield worked as technical scout.

Since 2016, the 28-year-old has been with Southampton working in different roles, from video scout to his current role as regional lead scout.

Lancefield has had previous experience with Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton & Hove Albion.

On an academic side, he has a Bachelor of Science (BSc), Sports and Exercise Science and has undergone a course in computerised performance analysis.

The recruitment dilemma

Recruitment is a somewhat touchy subject at Tynecastle and one which has prompted plenty of debate amongst fans.

Last month, Alex Cochrane became the 97th player signed by Hearts since the 2014/15 campaign when he arrived on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion.

There is every likelihood that number will exceed 100 by the end of the transfer window.

The churn over the last seven years has been brought into sharp focus due to the lack of success with only one top-four finish in that time. On top of that, it could be viewed the club has not brought in enough transfer revenue for the more than 90 players who have departed.

Recruitment isn’t an easy process. Football would be a very dull place if it was.

There are so many moving parts within the transfer market and the commodities which are being traded are human beings. Just because Player A has had success for Club X doesn’t mean they are going to thrive at Club Y.

Playing style and the environment at the club come into the mix, as do a whole range of off-field elements. A new city, a new culture, possibly a new language, being away from family, a whole new team to get to know. There are so many things to consider.

That’s where Savage comes in.

Since arriving from Preston North End in January to become sporting director he has been tasked with revamping and improving the football department.

George Brown has been brought in from Rangers to fill the role of lead recruitment analyst and now Lancefield has taken on the important position of head of recruitment.

Two appointments which could become significant.

The importance of a head or recruitment?

While Savage’s role as sporting director covers so many different aspects of the club, from recruitment to the academy to the women’s team, Lancefield is solely focused on recruitment. Yet within that, it will likely be an all-encompassing role.

The position is one which is becoming increasingly prevalent across British football as club’s look for a more professional and multi-level structure to aid the head coach, allowing him to concentrate on the coaching, while mitigating risk but broadening the club’s transfer outlook.

One of the most successful clubs when it comes to recruitment is Premier League newboys Brentford. Their director of player recruitment is Lee Dykes, who also holds the position with the Bees’ sister club FC Midtjylland.

In an interview with the club’s TV channel he expressed how competitive recruitment is becoming. As more clubs fill such positions and innovate it becomes trickier to unearth hidden gems, find talent before others and get them signed.

What will the head of recruitment do?

A likely priority for Lancefield will be assessing the club’s scouting platforms, how Hearts use data and what improvements, if any, can be made to make analysis more detailed, perhaps allowing for different players to be pinpointed.

As Neilson said: “Nowadays football is a lot more data led, we’ve brought in George Brown from Rangers, who is a data analyst, he looks at the recruitment side of it. It’s so important nowadays, because it’s such a big part of the game now – gone are the days where you go and watch a guy a couple of times and make a decision, so very pleased to have the pair of them on board.”

As Savage has spoken about previously, he knows better than anyone through his time with Hamilton, Norwich City and Preston the value of getting that balance between data and the eye test, scouts going to watch players in person.

Lancefield will be based in England and due to his experience at his previous clubs, he will have a keen eye on the English market, especially around the south.

However, in such a role he will likely be tasked with putting scouting structures and processes in place and overseeing a team of scouts, identifying which markets the club want to target.

Brexit will make signing players from abroad more complex but it will still be an area of interest for all Scottish clubs. In the UK and Ireland, Hearts will be operating in a saturated field, facing competition from the likes of Aberdeen, Hibs and numerous English clubs for targets.

That is where external relationships will be key. Coaches, fellow scouts and agents will be valuable in getting to the head of the queue.

Internally, Lancefield’s relationship with Neilson will be important. Getting to know the team, the style, its identity and then getting specifics to help identify players who will benefit the squad.

Supporters will be hoping for a positive impact from the off. Yet, this is an appointment where the benefits are witnessed in transfer windows to come.

Lancefield, with Brown and Savage, will be key in the club’s long-term planning, preparing for transfer windows in the future, the structures and processes in place to allow Hearts to approach the next one with an eagle-eyed confidence, minimising risk and preventing a yearly rebuild.

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