Hibs Exclusive: 'AI can't tell you if a player fits our culture - and that's non-negotiable.'

Monty offers insight on data, video analysis and the key recruitment factors
Final judge - Monty does due diligence before giving thumbs up to any deal.Final judge - Monty does due diligence before giving thumbs up to any deal.
Final judge - Monty does due diligence before giving thumbs up to any deal.

Data certainly plays a part in the process for Nick Montgomery, a thoroughly modern football manager dubbed, in some quarters of the Australian media, Moneyball Monty. The pundits who watched him lead Central Coast Mariners to an unexpected A-League title last season were, of course, quick to credit mastery of mathematics and a sure grasp of statistics as the “secret” behind such an unlikely success story.

The Hibs head coach is adamant, however, that crunching the numbers is no more than a preliminary stage in any piece of recruitment. The eyeball test, actually evaluating a player performing under stress in competitive action, remains crucial. And even that isn’t the final deciding factor when it comes to pushing the button on a deal.

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How does Player X fit into the culture that Montgomery is building at East Mains and Easter Road? Are they right sort of character to cope with not just the highly competitive and rarely dull Scottish Premiership, but the demands placed upon them every day at training? There is no magic stat – no xP to denote expected personality – on any of the databases available to the Hibs football department.

“For all the talk about AI and stuff, nobody has designed a system where you can check if they’re a decent person,” is how Montgomery puts it, the straight-talking Yorkshireman stressing the importance of human values as he outlined some of the background work that goes on not merely this close to the opening of a transfer window, but on a year-round basis. The former Sheffield United player, who has confirmed an interest in Adelaide striker Musa Toure, added: “That’s purely down to the people you know, checking with them, doing your due diligence and speaking to people who know the player, maybe they’ve worked with the player.

“That’s a non-negotiable for me. Because every club will have a certain culture. Any player – or member of staff, for that matter – who comes into a club, they have to fit the culture you have. That’s the most important thing.”

The very mention of data is enough to send some fans – and one or two professional commentators – over the edge, prompting a full-on rant about “i-Pad managers” who are too busy focusing on numbers to see the real football issues in front of them. Go back far enough and you’ll probably find that a similar percentage of punters and pundits were up in arms about the introduction of video analysis, players wearing heart rate monitors or, quite possibly, the decision to replace a bit of string with an actual crossbar (a mandatory piece of kit since 1882).

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Yet Montgomery understands how technology can help the coaching team to narrow down searches or prompt a second look at a potential target. Sergio Raimundo, David Gray and Miguel Miranda are all clearly on the same page. Digital, naturally.

“The whole football world now is full of data, data systems, scouts and agents,” said Monty. “The phone constantly goes. I’m fortunate because I’ve been in football a long time, so I have a lot of contacts, a lot of former team-mates are now agents.

“I never dismiss any player that gets sent through. We always take the right course of action, have a look at the footage, have a look at the situation. Myself, Sergio, David and Miguel, we have a system in the scouting department where we have our own database.

“What we try to do is look at players who could potentially fit the club at some point, then keep an eye on them. But the reality is you need to see what happens with your own squad. If there is space available, you have to look at who is best to fill that space.

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“Obviously you look at the name, look at the history, and then you look at video, which is really accessible now. There is a process where we have scouts to go and watch games, as well, so obviously you have to and watch them live. But really it’s just a process of working out if something could even be achievable if that opportunity came. If not, we move on.

“Every club will be the same, constantly looking at the database and the names that come. We give them the respect of looking at the player. Ultimately you have to have space for him, so it’s always about trying to be prepared if the opportunity comes.”

Still keen to promote from within at Hibs, putting his faith in youngsters like Rory Whittaker, Rudi Molotnikov and Josh Landers, Montgomery is also eagerly awaiting the return of more experienced players still working their way back from illness and injury. Having Harry McKirdy, Chris Cadden and Jake Doyle-Hayes is a bonus he’d like to receive before the January window closes. But he’ll definitely be asking director of football Brian McDermott to keep digging for nuggets.

“To be honest, my list isn’t very long,” he said, when asked about his compendium of transfer targets. “I just flick every player to Brian! If he comes back and says it’s worth having a look, I will. I’m too focused on putting all my energy into the team we have now.

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“It’s also no secret that we’ve got a few players out with long-term injuries, guys who we hope to see back in January or February. They’re probably the best signings I’m looking at. But there are no guarantees.”

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