Dundee United and the Belichick Model

Last Saturday an article was published by the Scotsman. It was written by Alan Pattullo and, despite the very misleading headline, it was a fascinating and enjoyable interview with Tony Asghar, our new Sporting Director.

In the interview (found here) Asghar talks about the changes that have been implemented at Tannadice and the structure that we are now using. The piece also goes into detail about his own background and his life in football but what struck me was he talked about scouting and recruitment in a way that we have not heard at United before. It was an encouraging read which continues to build positivity.

One element of the interview mentions Bill Belichick. For those of you, like me, who have very little interest in American Football you may not know much about the Belichick…

You probably know so little about Bill Belichick that you haven’t realised that the picture above isn’t even Bill Belichick, it is ‘Coach Taylor’ from the TV series Friday Night Lights.

This is Bill Belichick….

He is considered one of, if not the greatest, coach in NFL history and has also been labelled as one of America’s great leaders with his career being studied as part of business degrees and the subject of many, many books. This is not a piece all about Belichick (I don’t know enough about him) but it is a piece about his character and the new ethos Tony Asghar and Robbie Neilson want at Tannadice.

Belichick is a believer in these principles – 1) Do your job (dependably and consistently); 2) Be attentive – to details (being able to improve); 3) Put your team first (to be successful, you need your teammates.)

Now, how many players have came and went (and are still here) who don’t fit that list? We’ve had dozens, upon dozens of players (especially since we have been relegated) appear and then disappear, both physically and mentally, when the going got tough. We’ve had ‘technically good’ footballers arrive and then crumble when things were going wrong. We’ve had players who talk about football being their job and yet don’t actually put in the shift required to be good at the job.

At a recent meeting with fans Robbie Neilson mentioned that the United shirt can be quite a heavy shirt to wear. It comes with expectation and history, it comes with a weight that opposition players and fans (especially in the Championship) see you as a target and a scalp. We’ve not had the players to fill those heavy jerseys but hopefully that is now changing.

The ‘Belichick Model’ was mentioned by Asghar in his Scotsman interview and it is now that Dundee United are recruiting with mental toughness and professional values in mind. It is definitely the case that we have not had anything like this model since the days of Craig Levein and for me this is a huge step forward for the club.

Scottish football is not particularly complicated and unless you have ambitions of trophies (which might be the plan in a few years) then it is definitely the case that a mentally strong team, a group of leaders and fighters mixed with determined youth, can get you quite far. These leaders can be a mix of older pros with a fantastic attitude or young and hungry players who are keen to learn and develop. Get that right mix and it can take you to a good level. Once you get to the stage of competing at the top end then you will need to have two or three luxury assets but we are a million miles away from that at the moment. For the here and now we need a strong team, not a group of individual talents.

Belichick constantly refers to “do your job” in his teachings and it is the case that we have had a huge turnover of players who don’t actually seem to have the professional pride and determination to succeed. Every single time I will take a limited but committed and professional footballer over someone with a bit of technique but no heart.

We have already seen the benefits of this new approach as we seem to have brought in young, hungry players like Charlie Seaman and Ian Harkes supplemented with older, more vocal and more committed players like Mark Connolly, Calum Butcher and Mark Reynolds.

If you take Connolly, just moments in to his welcome interview by the club you noticed that he spoke with a professionalism and focus that we haven’t been blessed with for a while. He instantly spoke like a captain or someone with that influence in the changing room. Mix that with someone like Ian Harkes who has arrived from the ultra-professional environment of the MLS and it is a great balance to have. If this is way forward then it bodes well for the future.

With the revamped scouting network currently developing and the new outlook at the club, it is a breath of fresh air to hear of the new direction in recruitment. We are still in the Championship due to a mix of bad management and terrible recruitment and it finally looks like we have now sorted out both of these problems. Miracles don’t happen over-night, and Belichick himself takes pride in long-term planning, but it is a new start for the football club and a new model that needs to be embraced.

Fans simply want players who take to the pitch with the attitude and determination they themselves have shown as supporters. We want our footballers to be professional and motivated to succeed. We want them to be proud of their role and be connected to the club. Get this right and everything begins to fall in to place.