Robert Rowan - a 23-year-old from Kirkcaldy - is the latest member of Scott Booth’s revolution at Stenhousemuir but he’s not a player. He’s one of the youngest up and coming football analysts in the game.
He is the newly appointed sporting director at Stenhousemuir, working alongside the manager to develop all areas of the club from the academy to the first team. It’s a role similar to a director of football with responsiblity for recruiting players, as well as analysing the performance of the team, the opposition, and the individuals in it.
But how did a 23-year-old come to be in such a position at a professional football club?
“It’s a bit strange to be honest,” said Rowan. “When I was 15 or 16 I would just sit at home and spend hours analysing games I watched on the TV.
“I would look at transitions, set-pieces and formations. I created my own system, and my own database. I probably missed out on lots of things that my mates were doing, but I wouldn’t go back and change it.”
At the age of 18, Robert sent some of his reports out to clubs in Scotland and England and was surprised to hear back from one of the biggest.
“It was David Moss, head of academy scouting at Celtic, who got back to me and brought me in,” he said.
“That’s where it started and from there I went to work with Scotland, and I’ve also done some stuff for Bolton, Everton, and Rio Ave in Portugal.
“It was good to see how the Celtic strategy works in terms of buying, developing and selling. They are doing it at Champions League level but we can look to do the same on a smaller scale at Stenhousemuir. We can pick up players from the lower leagues and hopefully develop them up to Premier League standard and sell them on.”
Up until now, Robert has been using his expertise to assist clubs from the position of an outsider looking in - now at Ochilview he has the opportunity to develop his own system.
“I knew Scott from when I was doing work with Scotland,” he said. “He asked me to come in and do a presentation in front of the board. They were all impressed and offered me the position of sporting director.
“There’s a little bit pressure in it because I’m probably one of the youngest people in the world doing this.
“But there’s no system in place at the club now so whatever I do is going to be better than what is there. Hopefully I can make it work and go on to bigger things.”
Robert’s role is part-time, he also currently works in a bank, but he intends putting in extra hours to make it work.
“My job is to manage the performance of the team off the park,” he explained. “That involves recruitment and analytics, and putting a data set in place that everyone at the club buys into.
“I’ll have scouts at games who will be compiling reports on players and opponents. I’ll also be analysing the performance of the team and individuals so the manager can know what’s going wrong and what we can do to fix it.
“That will allow us to adapt throughout the season. A lot of teams do it as a review at the end of season, but by then it’s too late. I’ll also provide the manager with information at half-time and full-time.
“It’s a big job but I’m at the stage where I just need to do the grafting to get to the next level.”
Part of Robert’s job will be convincing players of the importance of using statistics and data to analyse performance.
“The hardest part is getting people to buy into it,” he said. “The problem in Scottish football is that people are so set in their ways.
“We need to get people to buy into these new systems and analytics. Luckily, Stenhousemuir are an innovative club that wants to bring this kind of system into place.”
The club has upped training from two to three nights a week in order for the players to have an extra dedicated session with Robert.
“We’ll address the team on what happened in the previous performance, what needs to be better, and brief them on the opposition coming up,” Robert explained.
“One of my ideas is to create a statistics culture in the club where each players stats will be on the wall, and they will work to beat each other. The idea is that it will improve their performance on the pitch, but whether that happens or not we’ll soon see.
“I got advice on it from clubs like Manchester City who employ the same system, but on a bigger scale.”
Another barrier for Robert has been convincing players that he actually knows what he is talking about!
He is, after all, just 23 and has never played the game professionally.
“I’ve found on occasions that people talk down to me because of my age, although slowly but surely they start to take me on board and listen to me,” he said. “Scott Booth was always really open to me when I was with Scotland. He showed a lot of faith in the work I did and it’s a great opportunity to work for him.
“The likes of Scott Gemmill, Davie Weir and Mark McGhee have also been a great help. I wouldn’t have been surprised if those guys brushed me off but the guys at the top level are more open to these things.”
Robert’s ultimate aim is to use his background in analytics to become a manager.
He said: “I see myself going into management at some point, although I don’t know how I’m going to make it happen.
“Coaching is probably the easiest part - managers don’t actually do coaching that much. At Stenny around three hours of the week are spent coaching, the rest is spent on recruitment, analysis and psychology.
“When you go to places like Sweden, they are always surprised at how insistent we are on learning how to coach. A lot of courses in Scotland involve going to watch coaches coach but there’s not really that much you can learn from that.
“If you go to Barcelona they’ll be doing the same possession boxes that we do at Stenhousemuir. A lot of things are the same.
“It’s more about how you do it, and how you get people to buy into why you’re doing it. Football is slowly taking the turn where people are starting to buy into young managers with the right skills.
“If I’d grown up 20 years ago I’d have no chance of being a manager. It was a case of, if you haven’t played the game and can’t shout loud enough then you’ll never manage.
“I’m growing up in right generation for it.”