When Matt Crocker returned to Southampton as the club’s director of football operations in February 2020, he underwent a costly tour of the training grounds.
Crocker, 48, oversaw the academy at Southampton from 2006 to 2013, but was disappointed with what he saw on his return.
Southampton immediately invested £1 million ($1.25 million) to upgrade part of its Staplewood training base at Crocker’s suggestion. Improvements included a new sports science and analytics office space, as well as an academy, rehabilitation and medical labs for women’s and girls’ programs.
This is just a behind-the-scenes look at what Crocker has done during his second term at Southampton, but it shows the kind of sports director United States Soccer has hired.
athletic Answers key questions about his appointment…
Where did his career start?
Crocker has never played football professionally. His first notable appointment was for Wales club Cardiff City, where he spent six years as academy manager from 1999 until 2005.
He was given the responsibility of transforming a relatively small youth program into a fully functioning academy. So he had the autonomy to oversee every element of the youth system.
At Academy level, he was responsible for Cardiff City’s strategic direction, staff and player development, player recruitment, and implementing a philosophy and culture that everyone should follow.
He surpassed his goals for Wales, serving as a Youth Development Monitor in the English Football League (EFL) and was responsible for supporting the Academy Manager in all aspects of youth development.
A little over a year later, Crocker joined Championship side Southampton as Academy manager.
What did he achieve in his first stint at Southampton?
Crocker oversaw the under-9 to under-21 academy program. This included strategy setting, coaching and player development planning.
“I always loved the project,” Crocker said athletic “Looking back on my early days at Cardiff City, it was a long-term project to obtain Academy status. had.”
At Southampton he achieved Category 1 status in the academy. This is the highest rating given to the club’s youth system, and for good reason.
Real Madrid’s multiple Champions League winner Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Manchester United’s Luke Shaw, England international, Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse and other players all passed through the academy when Crocker was in charge.
Did he succeed in FA?
Without a doubt, that is what USA Soccer should be most excited about.
After leaving Southampton, when he joined the FA in November 2013 as head of the team (coaching), Crocker worked with Gareth Southgate, England’s U21 manager at the time, and Dan Ashworth, director of elite development. Together, we launched ‘England’. DNA’.
Southgate is now the manager of the England men’s team, while Ashworth is the sporting director of Newcastle United.
“England’s DNA is a clean slate and we’ve had the opportunity to adjust our path from the juniors to the seniors,” Crocker previously said. athletic.
The program is designed for England’s under-15 to under-21 youth teams and is the FA’s starting point for elite player development. It is he divided into five parts. ‘How to play’; ‘Future England players’; ‘How to coach’; and ‘How to support the process’.
During his six years in the FA, Crocker managed the England men’s and women’s national teams (under-15s to under-20s), including men’s victories at the 2017 U-17 and U-20 World Cups. . European Championship at under-19 level in the same year.
England’s under-17 squad at the time included Manchester City’s Phil Foden and current Manchester United winger Jadon Sancho. When he was acquired from Borussia Dortmund in 2021, the club cost him £72.6m ($90.5m).
It was also in FA that Crocker began his technical director course, which eventually led to a reunion with Southampton in February 2020.
Why did he return to Southampton?
“I feel like I’ve worked my whole career to be in a position to be able to do these kinds of roles,” he said. athletic“It was a really great opportunity for me and it felt like time for another project.”
Southampton recently overhauled their senior leadership team, with Chairman Ralf Kruger, Vice Chairman Les Reid and Football Operations Director Ross Wilson all stepping down.
Southampton chief executive Martin Semens had several conversations with Crocker before offering him the role. Given that he had never been a director of football before, it could have been seen as a risk.
“In my conversations with Martin Semmens, it was very important that I was the behind-the-scenes strategy and process person,” said Crocker. “I am the person who makes sure we are accountable for the processes and plans we have in place.”
What did he do as director of football operations?
“Some clubs have football directors who are traders. They fly around the world making deals that could be seen as sexy. said Crocker.
His influence and relationships were sought when the club targeted young English players such as Tino Livramento, but his focus was not on player trades. Instead, Crocker focused on other areas of the club, such as modernizing the academy.
Another idea for him was to implement a review process every six games, bringing all divisions together at a table to discuss performance.
However, there was friction between former Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttle and Crocker, which limited his first-team influence.
Crocker’s role was then reduced somewhat following the acquisition of Southampton by Sports Republic in January 2022. Over time, they were shown to have a different vision than the one being implemented.
Was he involved in Southampton’s club-wide playbook?
The ‘SFC Playbook’ was a club-wide project that brought a fundamental change to the academy. That’s right, Crocker was also involved. Hasenhuttl was frustrated by the time it took for academy players to get used to his style. Playbooks were a way for all ages to play and train in the same style.
“I think one of the big wins is the complete elimination of players under the age of 23 from the academy and placing them as the B team associated with the first team,” Crocker said. “We developed and calibrated the SFC playbook with the style of play, every session from a first-team perspective, and the position-specific profiles required for each of the six positions across the team. with the B team.
The playbook is a digital archive of training sessions, communicated to the B-Team coaching staff prior to conducting under-18s. Earlier this season, it was deployed under the age of 16.
Has he shown interest in women’s soccer?
absolutely. Aside from former England international and Southampton Women’s current manager Marianne Spaceycale, Crocker has been the biggest driver of the club’s recent success.
Spacey-Cale works closely with Crocker, describing him as her “consultant” and someone who “infuses a great deal of emotion into the team.” They meet formally every month, but keep in touch on a weekly basis.
The Southampton Women have achieved consecutive promotions and now play in the Women’s Championship, one tier below the Women’s Super League.
Under Crocker’s oversight, the club will develop one of only four Tier 1 regional talent centers in the country, and in August will operate a new emerging talent center designed for girls aged 10-12. Licensed.
How well will he fit into American soccer?
Sources who have worked closely with Crocker describe him as a “perfect fit” for US football due to his experience building sports infrastructure and implementing strategy and culture.
He is used to working in a high-pressure environment at the international federation and club level.
“He will be a good fit for the new role because strategy, planning and program management are among his greatest strengths,” the source said, requesting anonymity to protect the relationship. “He knows what he’s good at and he’s focused on it.”
(Photo above: Dan Mullan via Getty Images)