'All the names will go into the funnel' - Ashton explains his data-driven recruitment approach

Wes Burns and Mark Ashton

Ipswich Town's first summer signing Wes Burns, left, with CEO Mark Ashton - Credit: Ipswich Town

Ipswich Town have started to make summer signings, something new CEO Mark Ashton promised on Tuesday, his first day in the job. He told Mark Heath about his scientific approach to recruitment, and how he plans to upgrade it at Town...

"You have been doing your research!" is how a laughing Mark Ashton responds to my question about his famed 'data dashboard' and technical approach to player recruitment.

It's ironic, of course - because if anyone's been doing their research, it's Ashton. 

Town's new CEO prides himself on getting recruitment right. At Bristol City he spoke of the aforementioned dashboard, a matrix of all the latest information on the club's rivals, transfer business, targets and inside information, fed into a screen in his office.

Obviously, I ask if he's bringing that with him to Portman Road. And how it works.

Mark Ashton, the new CEO of Town, at Portman Road today

Mark Ashton prides himself on recruitment - Credit: Ross Halls

"Absolutely, 100%," he replies. "I've already been on to my PA this morning saying 'right, can we send the analysis, my data dashboards!

"What I don't do is talent identification. What I'd like to do is understand the industry - so we will understand what every other football club in League One is doing, and the market.

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"One of things that between myself, Paul (Cook) and his backroom staff, is we are very well connected and we have good relationships with Premier League clubs and Championship clubs, and we will use those relationships if we need to either bring players in, or to get knowledge on players that are out there.

"For me, recruitment is a balance between objective and subjective, a balance between data and analysis and a balance between scouting.

"Neither is right, or less or more important. They have to come together.

"Where I like Paul is he's really clear on how he wants to play. He's really clear on the makeup of his players. That helps us in recruitment, and we'll be active and we'll be on to it."

Town only recently announced that they'll be moving to a 'Moneyball' approach to recruitment - named after the now-famous book charting the way the Oakland A's baseball team used stats and analysis to bring in players who fuelled success.

And Ashton says he'll look at the entire recruitment process at the Blues in due course.

Town manager Paul Cook on the touchline.

Mark Ashton says they will never bring a first team player in unless Paul Cook wants him - Credit: Steve Waller-www.stephenwaller.c

"You have to, for sure," he explains. "It's one of the most important parts of any football club.

"We can have the best commercial departments, the best retail, the best conference and banqueting - but if we get decisions wrong in recruitment, it blows it all out of the water.

"We've got to make sure that we get the right talent into the first team and the under 23s, while also investing and developing the academy, and giving our academy staff the opportunity to bring young players through.

"Because, by the way, FA Youth Cup semi-final is an incredible achievement. Lee O'Neill and his staff should be given huge credit for that, and it's something we should be proud of.

"We've got to invest sensibly in all areas to take the club forward."

Young Blues celebrates their third goal to progress to the next round of the FA Youth Cup 

Mark Ashton was full of praise for Town's U18 squad after their run to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup - Credit: Ross Halls

So, I ask, trying to drill down a bit more into his approach, is it a case of Cook identifies the targets, then Ashton works his magic to secure them?

"No, he's part of it," comes the reply. Whether it's Paul, his staff, the scouts, relationships that we have, it's a funnel - all the names will go into the funnel and they will be measured against Paul's technical specification.

"What comes out of that are players that we believe will be right for this football club.

Wes Burns signs for Ipswich

Forward Wes Burns has become Ipswich Town's first summer signing - Credit: Ipswich Town

"But what we won't do, no player at first team level will come into the football club without Paul Cook saying he wants them. We don't work like that.

"I just don't believe in that. He has to say yes, he wants that player. But there will never be shocks or surprises because he'll be part of the process all the way through.

"And then when we get to the end point, and we agree that's a player we want, then it goes to me to do the negotiation and the financial piece."

With signings already coming in, Ashton's wasted no time getting to work.

A busy summer lies ahead, it's suggested.

"For sure," he laughs, with the sun beating down on Portman Road. 

"But it's great. I hope the weather is like this every day because it's fantastic!

"I'm excited, genuinely - you know what, that's probably not the right word.

"I'm honoured to be here, I'm honoured that the Three Lions and Mark Steed and Ed Schwartz have chosen me to come and work with them on this project.

"I'm proud to be Ipswich, its CEO, and I can't wait to get going."

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