04 April, 2022 | Posted by Colm McDonnell

#FollowYourPassion: Adapting Performance Analysis to Scouting for the Manchester United Academy

Growing up in a town with a rich footballing tradition such as Blackburn, the sport was never too far from the thoughts of Academy Scout for Manchester United, Danielle Prescott.

She grew up watching Blackburn Rovers in a golden era, capped by their winning of the Premier League title in 1995, led by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton.

Alan Shearer Chris Sutton

Shearer and Sutton with the Premier League trophy in 1995. Credit: Sky Sports.

She played football from the age of six until 24 when a horrific injury including two broken ankles brought an end to her willingness to play.

However, sport in general and football, in particular, was still a passion she wanted to follow.

“I started studying for a sports coaching degree. I liked sport so why not get a degree in something I actually enjoy.

“This was back in 2005 so there wasn’t the variety that there is today. It was very limited in terms of what you could do in sport. I went with what I could do in terms of time and location,” she said.

The location was the University of Central Lancashire and she emerged with a degree in Sports Coaching in 2008. While there Danielle developed a keen interest in performance analysis. With a background in IT already, the two were a good match and with performance analysis still a relatively new industry, she says that she was ‘jumping on a wave’.

Through the university, Danielle was able to enter the football industry and follow her passion, landing a role with Bolton Wanderers as an Academy Performance Analyst. With the academy season ending in April, a month before the first team, she was able to provide assistance to the first team in their bid to avoid relegation and stay in the Premier League, which they did.

The experience Danielle had at Bolton was instrumental in being offered a role with the university she had studied in.

“Through those experiences, I was then asked by the university would I be interested in the role as a demonstrator. I would tend to the training needs of staff and students in terms of performance analysis. It was a growing area and I think I was in the right place at the right time to be given that opportunity.

"That’s what brought me into academia from a professional perspective. I very much wanted to work in a club and, like many students, looked for the more traditional routes toward that. But being given that opportunity in academia and trying to balance the applied world with the teaching world, I wouldn’t have even considered or thought about it.

“What it allowed me to do was be in a prime position to upskill myself, even more, enrolling on a master’s programme. I did my master’s in sports coaching with the same institution. And I was teaching alongside that as well,” she said.

Pursuing a master’s was an important step in terms of career development for Danielle and, for her, it is something that you always have to be thinking about.

“At the time I did my master’s I didn’t feel pressured. That might have been down to how long ago it actually was. Back then, a master’s wasn’t seen as it is today.

“When I did my master’s there wasn’t as many of them around. Mine was driven more by the side of academia I was in.

“Now, from an outside perspective, in terms of employability, everybody is setting the bar higher and higher. To keep up you have to make sure you’re reaching that bar. That’s when things like a master’s come in. Then CPD comes in.

“If someone comes in with a master’s and CPD, you’re going to have to match that and potentially do more. You’re constantly toing and froing with the people you’re competing with. I don’t think there’s any harm in doing external qualifications and upskilling because things change all the time,” she said.

While teaching brought her valuable upskilling, Danielle still very much wanted to be working with football clubs.

“I wouldn’t say I was completely happy in terms of just teaching. I wanted to be out there and doing the original career path I had set myself.

“I was always keen to make sure I was still doing things outside of academia. I got opportunities through connections at the university to do some analysis work for Fleetwood Town. I helped Blackburn in terms of their undergrads,” she said.

Fleetwood Town proved especially important for Danielle’s career as it introduced her to manager Micky Mellon. When Mellon moved on to Shrewsbury Town, he brought her with him as part of his team, as a consulting scouting and recruitment analyst.

Micky Mellon

Micky Mellon. Credit: Tranmere Rovers.

While her experience thus far had been in performance analysis, it was at Shrewsbury that Danielle got her first taste of scouting, doing opposition analysis for Mellon’s preparation.

“It wasn’t anything I asked for. It was more opportunistic. Being asked to look at particular players at a game. That’s where it was highlighted to me that that’s a side of performance analysis, scouting and recruitment, that I had never thought about.

“The skills I acquired as an analyst can be transferred into scouting and recruitment. You’re essentially looking at the strengths and weaknesses of players, just not from a team perspective anymore.

“That was something that was really interesting to me. As someone who is progressing in the game, it also appealed to me in the sense of it didn’t take as much of my time. The amount of time an opposition report takes versus a player report is vastly different. It appealed to my lifestyle and getting the balance better,” she said.

When Mellon moved clubs again, this time to Tranmere Rovers in Liverpool, he once again asked Danielle to join him. It was then that she requested that recruitment be her main responsibility, a request that was duly granted.

In this time Danielle had also worked with the University of Salford and UCFB in Burnley in a teaching capacity, running both her practitioner role and academic role in tandem. From this, she had managed to develop connections with Premier League giants, Manchester United.

With almost ten years of practical experience and connections built up, she successfully applied for a role as an Academy Scout for Manchester United, a role she still holds today and thoroughly enjoys doing.

Danielle Prescott is a shining example of where following your passion can take you.

Portobello Institute has undergraduate and master’s level qualifications in sports performance analysis.

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