Mark Leyland: Why I left Newcastle United for City Football Group
Written by Simon Austin — September 22, 2023
NEWS this summer that Mark Leyland was leaving Newcastle United to join City Football Football Group may have come as a surprise.
He had been on Tyneside for a season and a half and was carving out an innovative and influential new role as Coach-Analyst with the Magpies. The job merged two disciplines and meant Leyland being heavily involved on the training pitch as well as in the analysis room.
The former Liverpool Post-Match Analyst even drew public praise from manager Eddie Howe, with whom he had worked for four months at Burnley early on in his career.
“He has had a big impact, he's played a huge part in what we've done this season,” Howe said of his Coach-Analyst in April 2022. “We love him to bits and he's been an integral part of our team.”
Leyland’s job at CFG is a new one, Head of Coaching Methodology, and, speaking on a live episode of the TGG Podcast at Hudl’s UK Football Conference at Loughborough University (which you can listen to below), he explained exactly what this entailed and outlined the reasons for his departure from Newcastle.
NEWCASTLE AND THEIR 'MIND BLOWING' PREPARATION
Leyland described the level of detail that Howe and his coaching staff go into as “mind blowing.” The Magpies were deep in the relegation zone when Howe arrived, in November 2021, and he led them to an 11th-place finish in his first season (2021/22). Champions League qualification then followed the next season, in his first full campaign.
“The way the manager works at Newcastle, and his coaching staff, they are incredible, they are so elite,” Leyland, who joined Newcastle in December 2021, told the TGG Podcast.
“Their processes, their delivery of training sessions, their review of matches and the detail they go into in analysing the performance of themselves and the players is mind blowing. They are an incredible bunch of staff.”
Of Howe in particular, Leyland said: “He’s obsessed with football, it’s his whole life. He’s an incredible human being, an unbelievable football coach and an incredible thinker on the game.”
Leyland’s decision to leave the Magpies was a difficult one, driven mainly by concern for his young family.
“It sounds really ridiculous, but leaving Newcastle was probably more difficult than leaving Liverpool, because I felt we’d just started the process,” said the practitioner, who worked as a Post-Match Analyst for Liverpool for more than eight years before joining Newcastle.
“My relationship with the coaching staff (at Newcastle) was improving daily, I was understanding more and more what the manager wanted from me, so I was getting to a process where I think we were starting to work more efficiently, more effectively.
“It was a really difficult one. I’ve got three young children now, and had two young children at the time, and decided to leave because it was a strain. The job was all-consuming, it was seven days a week. Despite being at home some days, the workload was still 10, 12 hours a day.
“It was probably more challenging than I imagined it to be, as someone who has been local in the North West my whole life. Newcastle was an unbelievable city, but it was just something I found incredibly difficult and it probably affected my ability to perform my job to the level I would have liked it to.
“I know for a fact if I said to the manager at Newcastle ‘I need a day’, he would have been more than willing to do it, but you almost feel like you can’t, you’re so driven, you’re so focused on your process that you can’t do that. I felt as though the opportunity to come to City Group, with the job role I was given, was something I would have been silly to have turned down. It’s a football decision and a family decision and if you pair them together you’ve got a life decision you have to make.”
Leyland, who started his career as an analysis intern at Everton’s Academy in 2008, said he now realised that working in football had taken a toll on his family.
“I was living at home for the three seasons and Liverpool were in the Champions League when I was there and I think I saw my wife once a month,” he explained. “I was never home. We had no days off, there was no space within the calendar, and I had two daughters who were under the age of three at the time.
“I think that’s ok at the time and I look back at them now, as a six and four-year-old, and think that’s not fair on them. It consumes you, football consumes you. If you want to be successful at the elite level of football, it consumes every part of your life. You never switch off, you can never switch off.
“It was very difficult for them, more than it was for me, because I was in a process where I was trying to achieve something and luckily for me I was in a place where we did achieve. I know there are hundreds of staff who are putting in equally as much work, or even more, and not seeing the success.
“I knew I was lucky, but I was also mindful that the effect it was having on my wife and children was something I wasn’t comfortable with and that’s global in football, there are people all over the world who are struggling with that every single day and it’s not easy to solve.”
HEAD OF COACHING METHODOLOGY AT CITY FOOTBALL GROUP
Head of Coaching Methodology is a new job within City Football Group - and an unusual and innovative one within football as a whole. Leyland explained that it had come about through a strong relationship he had developed earlier on in his career. This is a theme of the episode as a whole - the importance of soft skills and building relationships.
“A former physio I worked with at Liverpool, who I remain really close with, Lee Nobes, put me in contact with Brian Marwood, who is the Managing Director of City Football Group,” Leyland revealed. “We had a chat and it transpired there was a role within his team that was quite suited to my skillset.”
So what exactly does the new job entail?
“We have 13 teams in the City Football Group,” Leyland said. “It’s grown pretty rapidly over the last few years, starting with Manchester obviously as the first and flagship team.
“The ownership group have expanded across the globe and, as a group, as City Football Services, we want our teams to play with a collective identity or ideology and to do that there needs to be a methodology.
CLUBS WITHIN CITY FOOTBALL GROUP
- Manchester City (England)
- New York City (United States)
- Melbourne City (Australia)
- Yokohama Marinos (Japan)
- Montevideo City (Uruguay)
- Girona (Spain)
- Sichuan Jiuniu (China)
- Mumbai City (India)
- Lommel (Belgium)
- Troyes (France)
- Palermo (Italy)
- Bahia (Brazil)
- Club Bolivar (Bolivia)
“It needs to be founded on objective data and based on fact. My role is to try and align that across the 13 teams within the group. I’m quite new to it, I’m only two or three months into it. The variety of people within the group and the variety of cultures and languages and identities is so far-reaching that it’s something I’m going into every day and learning something new.
“It’s a huge shock to your system when you realise football isn’t just a one-club environment, which is what most of us are exposed to. That’s the bulk of it - trying to align the methodology across the group and trying to work with the coaches and Sporting Directors within the individual clubs to help them understand the way we want to approach football with our game model and training periodisation.
“Obviously we have Manchester, who are possibly one of the most attractive football teams we have ever seen. But the stakeholders from everywhere - the managers who are in our group want to align to the group; the Sporting Directors within our group want to play with a coaching methodology that is similar to something that looks like beautiful football or the city way.
“So there are multiple stakeholders. That comes from the ownership, from the Managing Director Brian, from Sporting Directors, from Head Coaches, from players within the group that we recruit - they are all aligned to the same vision.
“It’s a huge funnelling of information into a final point of having 13 teams with staff and players who are all aligned.”