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Joe Manns: 1st Team Recruitment Coordinator, Reading FC

Joe Manns: 1st Team Recruitment Coordinator, Reading FC

Joe Manns is the First Team Recruitment Coordinator for Reading Football Club. With a passion for coaching, Joe combines his full-time role with a position in the Girls’ Academy; coaching an U12’s and U14’s team on a part-time basis. His love for working in football has also led him to coach in both America and South Africa, with the latter, an opportunity he experienced at just 19 years old. Having adapted to a new way of working throughout the pandemic, Joe is keen to see fans back in the stadium, and he continues to approach his role with a real drive for utilising strategy & process within scouting and recruitment.

 

You have been working at Reading Football Club for 5+ years and in that time, seen real career progression… You started your time with the club as the Marketing Officer for the Women’s team but have since moved away from that department. Could you give us a little background as to how you started your career with Reading FC and how you’ve progressed into the role you are doing now?

I studied Sports’ Business Management at Sheffield Hallam University and to be honest, until the final year of my studies, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But I have always loved football, always loved sport and I had a good academic background in business studies. In the last year of my university course, I developed an interest in marketing. I really liked my lecturer, his way of thinking, and the experiences he had shared with us and so I decided to look into the area of Sports Marketing.

I looked into a marketing role in the sports industry in general but ideally, I wanted to be working at a football club. I left university in May 2015 and I had 8 months of looking for work, probably 150 job applications and 2 or 3 failed interviews… But an opportunity then presented itself… I had never watched a game of women’s football before but a Marketing Officer role was advertised for the Reading women’s team and I thought, ‘This sounds interesting, I’ll give it a go.’ I was successful in the interview and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experience in working in women’s football, which isn’t something I had previously thought about. It’s been an amazing journey since then.

 

So what made you transition from the area of marketing into the Recruitment Administrator role for the First Team and Academy?

I gave the marketing role a good go for 2 years and my main responsibility was to improve attendances, which I put my absolute heart and soul into. The attendances grew around 60-70% and I was really happy about that, but the women’s department was very small; 2 or 3 coaches, a physio, a strength and conditioning coach and me. I liked being around the team and it was that environment which made me realise I wanted to be in a performance related role. I saw how Kelly Chambers (Women’s First Team Manager) was recruiting players, and how the coaching staff approached each training session with such energy and positivity, and knew I wanted to pursue those avenues. So while I was enjoying the role I was in, I knew I wanted to try something new.

I went to HR and was honest with them; I told them that I wanted to stay at the club. It had been a great two years but if a role within the technical side of football operations arose, I would be interested in applying for it. I was actually quite fortunate because there was a role available which hadn’t yet been advertised; a Recruitment Administrator vacancy. HR set me up with the club’s Technical Director (Brian Tevreden) and I had an informal interview with him. He said, “Look, you seem cool, you have a good background here and we’ve got this vacancy available so do you want to apply for it?” Of course I did, and so I went on to meet with the Head of Recruitment and it went from there.

Within a year of fulfilling the administrative role, I was doing more than what the role entailed; it was a combination of me asking for more responsibility and the club recognising I could do more. To start with, the administrator position was a dual-role, so I worked half my time with the academy and half my time with the first team. But after a year of working that way, Nigel Howe our previous CEO wanted me to concentrate on the first team only, which was great; a real opportunity for me. I have been quite lucky because I have been able to mould the role around what I want to do, which is to be part of scouting and recruiting players myself, as well as negotiating with agents directly. I guess it is a slightly unconventional route of progression.

 

So if you had visited HR and they offered you a role within another area which was out of marketing but not on the technical side, would you have still changed your job?

No, I was definitely trying to get into the performance side of the club, whether it was scouting and recruitment, or coaching. It seems to be working out okay so far!

 

And as you just mentioned, you moved from the Recruitment Administrator position to your current role as First Team Recruitment Coordinator. What has your experience been like since starting the role two years ago, especially in regard to the negative impact that the pandemic has had on the industry for the last 12 months?

It’s been a crazy time. My role is varied and I think if I was at a bigger club, I wouldn’t have these opportunities because there are so many people working in the technical department that you just have one thing to look after. We don’t have a lot of full-time staff at Reading but that has allowed individuals to develop in other areas that we wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. So in my role, I am pretty sure I do a lot more than those with similar titles at bigger clubs, such as speaking directly to agents all over the world, speaking directly with Pauno (Veljko Paunović) the first team manager; looking after our loan programme with another colleague… all in addition to the video scouting and data collection responsibilities…. No day is the same and that’s great.

The pandemic absolutely killed the momentum we had though and we’ve had to adapt to a new way of working. We are a relational football club, and by that, I mean we communicate a lot with each other face to face; it might be a quick catch-up over a coffee with a coach in the morning and pass information on that way. It’s a personable, face-to-face approach a lot of the time. But we had to be more process driven when the pandemic hit – it was suddenly a lot of networking over Zoom and scheduling meetings well in advance. We are a more traditional club in a lot of ways, so we’ve had to adapt to a different way of working.

 

And for those individuals hoping to pursue a career in recruitment and scouting, what do you think are the key factors they need to know? Do you have any specific advice?

Great technical knowledge is key; everybody watches football but not everybody watches football with an analytical frame of mind. Football is all about opinions and you will have people who have watched football all their life and think they know football really well. And to some extent, they do. But when you step back and analyse individual players to the extent that we do, it’s a very different concept. I guess exposing yourself to people who have knowledge in this area will help you see the game in a different way. It is extremely analytical.

Also, keep developing. I feel like I have taken an uncommon route into the industry i.e. I have been given a role with great autonomy and have developed as I am doing it, rather than following the traditional framework of being employed because I have an extensive background in a specific field. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what I was doing when I started, but my role has become much bigger and I have grown alongside it.

You also have to be committed to learning and being open minded, as well as being a good networker. Be highly personable and trustworthy, and then use these attributes to build a good network of people. Football is still about who you know.

 

The use of advanced technology is becoming more and more prevalent in the areas of recruitment and scouting i.e., a real focus on data and analysis. How important is the use of data and analytics in your role specifically and how much progress is being made in that area?

Data, and how it is interpreted, is imperative! Manchester City have just employed a data scientist who was a lecturer at Harvard University to lead their data & intelligence operations, something which would have been hard to imagine 10 years ago. I think being open to new technology and ways of working have helped me in terms of my personal progression too, because I was so willing to be involved in the more progressive elements of our operations. You still have traditional scouts that just want to go to a game and watch a match with a completely open mind, which can be beneficial in certain circumstances, but data & analytics has absolutely arrived in Talent ID, and it is essential to be able to make informed decisions. Sometimes, you are signing players and their contracts could be worth millions of pounds, and you can’t have an emotional response to that process; it has to be driven by data and metrics. Having said that, the human eye is equally important in scouting too, so for a club in the modern era, you have to be experts at doing both. If clubs are not making decisions underpinned by data though, it’s likely they are going to be left behind…

 

Reading are having a great season thus far, currently sitting within the play-off places in the Championship. What is the environment like at the moment because although the team are doing well, how difficult has it been for both the team and club to play without fans in attendance?

It’s bittersweet for sure. This has been one of the best seasons we’ve had in the 4 or 5 years I have been here; since Jaap Stam got us to the play-off finals. The energy around the club during that time was amazing so not having the fans here each week to bring that energy is disappointing– I am gutted for the fans. I think it would have given everybody at the club a bigger lift too. Fingers crossed we will have a semi-normal, or even a normal 2021/22 season.

Economically speaking, our gate revenue is a huge percentage of our overall revenue so it has hurt us from that side of things as well.

Madejski Stadium (Source: Reading FC)

In addition to your full-time role, you also work in a part-time capacity as the Regional Talent Club Manager (Girls’ Academy) – a role you have fulfilled since 2016. What was the driving force behind maintaining this role alongside your full-time position at the club?

The simple answer is that I enjoy it. I am fortunate to have been able to successfully carry it on alongside my full-time roles at the club, and I really enjoy what I am doing.

I’m passionate about player development and I really enjoy coaching; I coach the U12s and U14s. If I have had a long day at the training ground, it’s great to shift my focus and coach kids who are just buzzing to be there. It completely recharges me; it’s a great energiser and I do it for the sole reason of enjoyment.

 

And on the subject of enjoying coaching, you took a sabbatical from Reading FC to go and coach in America. How did that opportunity arise?

Again, I got a bit lucky! I was in the recruitment role for just over a year and a friend of mine offered me an opportunity to go over to America and coach for 4 months. I had never been to America before. I love travelling and I had never coached full time so I thought, ‘This would be amazing, to combine all of these things.’  I knew it would be a huge risk to just leave my job and I was enjoying my role too, but following a few conversations over a period of months with the CEO, it all came together. He said, “You’ve been doing really well in recruitment, and everyone I’ve spoken to likes you, so I’m going to let you go. You can have a sabbatical. You won’t get paid but you can go off for 6 months and when you come back in January, your job will be here for you.” I bit his hand off there and then!

I went across to America and it was an amazing experience. The key driver was to try full-time coaching and I absolutely loved it. I came back in January 2020 and once again, it was a stroke of luck that I returned before the pandemic hit.

I know I am extremely lucky to have that opportunity and it’s something I will always be thankful to the CEO and club for.

 

Going back to your time before club football… In 2014, you completed an internship at the Football Foundation of South Africa. What encouraged you to pursue that opportunity and what was the experience like?

Sheffield Hallam University had a partnership with the Football Foundation and they would send 2 or 3 coaches out to South Africa each year; I was lucky to be one of them. It was incredible. To go to South Africa at the age of 19 was amazing; it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.

Cape Town is really hipster, so cool and has a lot of history – it’s a special place. And South Africa is such a beautiful country in general. In regard to football, the kids I was coaching, well - football was absolutely the highlight of their day. They would run out of school and couldn’t wait to get a football. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a coach – I would love to go back and see everyone there again.

 

You have a degree in Sports Business Management. How important has that academic background been in supporting the roles you have held in the football industry? Generally speaking, there is often a debate about academic experience versus practical experience so it would be interesting to learn your thoughts as an industry professional who has followed a traditional pathway into football i.e., a relevant qualification has led you to a career. Do you think the academic background has led to your career, or do you think with persistence and practical experience you would have got to where you are now anyway?

I think for me, the academic qualifications have been key. I didn’t play football to a particularly high level and I didn’t know anybody working in professional football so I think getting a start in the industry would have been very difficult without my academic background. My degree got me an interview but also, my time at university got me into a mindset where I knew if I wanted to progress in my career, I would need to adopt an ‘always learning’ approach. So, every year, or every couple of years, I have tried to enrol on a different course to ensure I keep learning and developing.

It’s a good question though because it probably is a 50-50 split across our organisation in regard to academic background versus non-academic background. But what I would say on that is, whatever your background, if you are passionate about football and are willing to work hard and keep learning, there is a place for you in the industry. And on top of that, if you are a decent and honest person, lots of opportunities will then present themselves.

(Source: Neil Graham/Reading FC)

What has been your career highlight?

That’s a difficult question… I’m so proud of everything we have achieved in the girl’s academy, but my promotion to work with the first team on a full-time basis was a huge step for me. I had transitioned from a non-technical role to a technical role working with the men’s first team in the space of about 12 months. I would say that is something I am particularly proud of.

 

And finally, where do you see your football career in the future?

I know I always want to work in football, definitely. In terms of job titles, which I don’t think any of us should pay too much attention to, the Technical Director / Sporting Director roles are naturally appealing. But above all, I am passionate about people and player development, so it wouldn’t surprise me if coaching became a bigger part of my career. I’m also really interested in the Player Pathways and Loan Manager roles. Loans, and the strategic development of players, is becoming such a huge part of football. The primary driver is developing people and players though and ultimately, that’s where my passion lies.

 

Interviewer: Sascha Gustard-Brown

Sascha is highly experienced within the area of Supporter Engagement, having held the positions of Head of Supporter Engagement at Luton Town Football Club and Supporter Liaison Officer at West Ham United. She is currently working on small supporter engagement projects in sport and freelance writing in football.