Data and diversity a winning Brentford blend
Brentford have earned on-field success with a scientific approach to signing players
Those principles now being used to become “the most inclusive club in the UK”
Director Monique Choudhuri explains this pioneering approach
If you’re reading this outside the UK and know little, if anything, of Brentford, you won’t be alone. The West Londoners have traditionally been one of the English capital’s less fashionable clubs, and the bulk of their history has been spent in the lower leagues.
Those of you who have read about the Bees, and their emergence as one of British football's most intriguing success stories, will doubtless have encountered the term ‘Moneyball’. Owner Matthew Benham groans at the Billy Beane and baseball comparisons, but his scientific, data-driven approach to player recruitment has made them inevitable – and paid off handsomely.
Tens of millions have been raked in from buying and selling the likes of Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, and the current season enters its closing stages with Brentford once again challenging strongly for a place in the Premier League. Promotion to that exalted level has been the dream since Benham, better known internationally for applying the same innovative principles to unprecedented, title-winning success at Denmark’s FC Midtjylland, took control of his boyhood club in 2014.
But it is not the only target Brentford are pursuing. Their other goal is to become “the most inclusive club in the UK”, and it is just as ambitious as returning to the top flight for the first time in 74 years.
Among those dedicated to achieving it is Monique Choudhuri, a leadership, recruitment and inclusion expert who joined the club’s board in 2017. And as she explained to FIFA.com, the scientific principles that transformed Brentford on the field are now being applied to achieve similarly spectacular off-field success.
She said: “It’s well known that Brentford are driven by data science in our football operations. But more recently we’ve said, ‘Ok, let’s take that thinking and see if we can apply it to our off-pitch strategy’. Part of that is using data to drive decision-making but also to recognise that every human being has biases, conscious or unconscious, and work hard to challenge and correct our assumptions about decision-making.
“The way we’re approaching it reflects why I enjoy being involved with this club. As a commercial operation, everyone here is looking to be the best they can be and drive up standards, but in a humble, human way. It’s one of the things that makes this a great club: Brentford want to make things better, but not at the expense of people.
“I won’t pretend that it’s straightforward. When you set yourself the target of being the most inclusive club in the country, it immediately raises questions about what that looks like and how you go about achieving it. But we have a slogan of ‘Bee Together’, and what we look to do is place EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) at the heart of our entire strategy.
“We are currently undergoing an EDI ‘audit’ that looks at everything from top to bottom: from decision-making to our people and how much they feel like they belong. It’s also about our connection to our fans because we’re based in one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in London (Hounslow), and that isn’t fully reflected in our crowds.
“What we want to ensure is that this club is welcoming to everybody – fans, staff and stakeholders - and feels like home to whoever comes here. If we can achieve that, my hope is that we can be a model for other clubs to follow.”
Choudhuri’s belief is that, as with player recruitment, Brentford’s data-driven approach to inclusivity will earn admirers because it yields clear and irrefutable results. “I feel it’s having a positive impact on the club already,” she said. “We still have work to do. But there’s no question that there’s an advantage, in bringing fresh points of view, if you don’t just have middle-aged white men sitting round the table to discuss, debate and make all the decisions.”
Brentford’s drive for diversity does not begin and end with employing more women to positions of influence, and attracting more female supporters. But it is a key element all the same, and Choudhuri - who is one of several prominent female figures at the club – knows only too well the intrinsic bias that needs overcome for other clubs to follow suit.
“With women, it’s all about changing that underlying mindset that we don’t know enough about football – or at least not as much as men do,” said the Brentford director, who also sits on the board of Women in Football. “When I introduced myself as a football club director, especially at the start, I would often be asked, ‘How did you get that job?’ And that’s a question I would never ask a man.
“These days, we have a lot more women working for and supporting the club than we’ve had in the past, and we want to keep inching forward. But in terms of our final goal, I don’t see that ever being reached. Because even if we do become ‘the most inclusive club in the UK’, we’ll still want to do more.”
And that, of course, is precisely the attitude that is making Brentford a force to be reckoned with.
This article is part of a series focused on women’s football, and women in football, around International Women’s Day 2021. To find out more about FIFA’s Women’s Football Strategy and Development Programmes, and to read more articles like this, click here.