Football clubs the length and breadth of the country are seeking ever innovative ways in which they can steal a march on their rivals.
Sports scientists, nutritionists, dieticians, podiatrists, strength and conditioning coaches and banks of video analysts and so on all beaver away behind the scenes supporting the football staff.
Hibs East Mains training centre has all of the above, but now a new game is at play – the tabletop football game Subbuteo, once a firm favourite of schoolboys everywhere.
It may appear rather out of place among all the high-tech stuff and perhaps something of a crackpot idea, but Hibs head of football George Craig has seen it at work at St George’s Park, the £105 million home to England’s 28 international football teams.
Craig, along with chief executive Leeann Dempster and others from the Easter Road club, have been touring top English outfits to study how they operate and he’s convinced the introduction of a Subbuteo board will prove to be an important addition to the wide array of tools already available.
Describing Craig’s suggestion as “bloody brilliant”, Dempster said: “How simple is it? When it’s performance analysis on a screen sometimes it’s too quick, sometimes players are sitting at the back and not getting it.
“It’s top tech everything, but to help the players visualise it they set it out on a Subbuteo board. You can have everything at the top end, it can be fast, fast, fast, but they take ownership themselves when they take hold of the bit – where should you be standing and move it themselves.
“George said, ‘right, we are doing that’ and he comes in with a Subbuteo board, he has these wee green and white men, he tells me the story and I think brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
“It’s not anti-laptop, it brings the two together. It’s something George has been saying to me for ages, it’s not about making it simpler for the guys, but making it a more collaborative way where they are getting involved in it.”
Technology does, of course, have a major place in today’s game with Hibs determined that each young player within the club’s academy is given every help possible to realise his potential.
Dempster said: “The investment we have made is this, that a young player and his family will be looking for their support science information, where are they in comparison to other best young players in Scotland and we will be able to give them their stats.
“If Club Academy Scotland is doing anything right, and let’s hope they are, they should be gathering all that sports science information and all that speed and power information – it’s anonymous – and we should be able to benchmark ourselves where we are as a club and where the youngsters are.
“And then they take ownership of that. It’s not just us taking ownership but they do so that they can say they know what their numbers are, they know where they need to get to and we do everything to help them get there.
“That’s what Southampton can do, they give it to their kids, clips on their phones, digital, tech. The culture of those kids from age 11 upwards have them in that space early doors, they want it and they want it all the time.
“It’s stopping this idea that it’s all about how much talent you have, how big you are. It’s performance, about saying to that young person we will try to help you realise your potential. It might not be at Hibs, there might come a point where it goes somewhere else, goes in that direction or the other, but we will help you realise your potential.
“It’s not rocket science but having an environment and having someone at the centre driving, driving and driving. I’m driving everything else in terms of the first team. I am taking on that mantle, George’s mantle is all football, developing young players.”