Harkness brings Chelsea sports science expertise to Trabzonspor
Written by Simon Austin — October 19, 2020
EDDIE NEWTON has introduced some of Chelsea’s groundbreaking sports science expertise to Trabzonspor by adding Malcolm Harkness to his backroom staff at the club.
Newton was appointed permanent boss of the Turkish side in August after leading them to Cup glory while in caretaker charge. Since then, he has appointed former Ipswich and Southampton coach Steve Greaves as his assistant, with Harkness joining on October 6th as first-team sports scientist.
TGG caught up with Harkness - the son of Chelsea’s long-standing Head of Sports Science and Psychology Tim Harkness - during a short break in his busy schedule in Trabzon.
The practitioner worked for the Blues for almost four years, initially with Emma Hayes' women’s team, before becoming a data scientist with the men’s senior side from May 2019.
During his time at Stamford Bridge he was involved in the pioneering work they did with performance data, aided by a partnership with Microsoft, and is now introducing some of these methods to his new team.
“Instead of giving the coaches a table of numbers, we want to give context to the data we are providing,” Harkness told TGG. “Performance targets need to be specific to individual players, because no two players are the same.
"At Chelsea, we partnered with Microsoft and were leading the way with GPS.”
At Stamford Bridge, players were set individual targets for different performance metrics, with coaches able to see live data visualisations during training and then more detailed reports within an hour of a session finishing.
These were generated using Microsoft’s Power BI, creating interactive visualisations, with an interface that enabled end-users to create their own reports and dashboards. Individualised data and analysis in turn meant individualised training and rehab sessions.
“The system we are creating here isn’t far off Chelsea’s, but we don’t have the budget they do,” said Harkness. “At Chelsea, the pipelines and databases were automated.
“We would export the raw data from Catapult into a CSV format and process it from scratch into the metrics we wanted, rather than using the bog-standard reports provided by the software. Here, there needs to be more manual work - to start with, at least.
“Teams in Turkey don’t have anything like the performance staffs you would see in the Premier League. I’m the only sports scientist at Trabzonspor, whereas a typical Premier League side would have three or four."
Newton was previously with Chelsea for seven years, latterly as assistant to manager Frank Lampard. Despite a difficult start to the season, with one win from their first five league games, Harkness says he has enjoyed working with his former Blues colleague.
"This is a great place to live and work and Eddie is creating a new culture at the club, of which sports science is a major part. Space is more abundant than at Cobham, with big buildings at the training ground with huge gardens and very nice facilities. The club redeveloped the training ground in 2018."
As well as GPS, Harkness is also using heart rate monitoring and is trialling thermography.
“Research has suggested this could pick up potential muscle injuries before they happen and so far we’ve been encouraged by what we've seen. If a player says their right quad is tight, you can see it, whereas RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) questionnaires can be very subjective and imprecise.”