Mo Bobat: The cricket supremo bringing sporting intelligence to Derby

Mo Bobat: Helping Derby County have "quality decision-making"

Mo Bobat: Helping Derby County have "quality decision-making"

Derby County have bowled a googly by appointing Ed Smith and Mo Bobat as their new joint Heads of Sporting Intelligence - which is perhaps fitting for a club with a manager named Warne.

The duo haven't worked full time in football before, having made their names with England Cricket, where Smith was National Selector and Bobat the Performance Director.

“Credit to the CEO and Board for having the courage to think differently and for taking a punt on a couple of cricket guys,” a smiling Bobat tells TGG.

The appointments are part of Derby's quest for “quality decision-making” and “long-term thinking” in a new era under owner David Clowes.

The property entrepreneur took over from the wreckage of the 2021/22 season, when the club had entered administration and were then relegated into the third tier for the first time since 1986.

“The club have been keen that they don’t make the mistakes that Derby - and other clubs - have made in the past,” Bobat says, with some understatement.

This is where he and Smith come in. Bobat worked for England Cricket for o total of more than 12 years, becoming their Performance Director in November 2019 and helping to win two World Cups (the 50-over version in 2019 and the Twenty20 in 2022).

It was during his time at the ECB that he worked alongside Smith, the former Kent, Middlesex and England batsman, who was National Selector from 2018 to 2021. The pair subsequently set up a performance consultancy called Acuitas and have an “aligned vision and values”, yet complimentary skills, Bobat explains.

“With England, Ed was responsible for selection decision-making at a squad level. My job was to run the machine behind the scenes, making sure our analysis, scouting and pathways were all contributing to the bigger picture. Our desire is to try and apply our learning and experiences from other sports, mainly cricket, into football.”

Mina Cup

Working closely with Derby CEO Stephen Pearce, they started off with "a review of some of the club’s processes" and "provided some recommendations”, before engaging in a formal partnership.

The Sporting Intelligence department will have direct oversight of four areas: Sports Science and Medicine (“the doctor, physios, conditioning coach, nutritionist, psychology, soft tissue therapists”), Data Analytics, Talent Identification (scouting) and Talent Acquisition (recruitment).

“Our job will be to organise and align the thinking in these areas and to enhance it with some really good analytics,” Bobat says.

In addition, Sporting Intelligence will “support and inform the two football environments”, which are Paul Warne’s First Team and Matt Hale’s Academy operation.

Between them, Bobat and Smith will spend a combined 200 days at the East Midlands club. Bobat has another significant role, as Director of Cricket for Royal Challengers Bengaluru in the IPL, which he has held since last September, but says this will still offer scope for other meaningful work.

”I’m loving the role I’m doing in the IPL with RCB, but the nature of the season is that it’s quite short, because the competition is pretty much done within three months,” he explains. "There is obviously still work to do outside of that, but it has afforded me the space to have a crack at something in football.”

Bobat is a lifelong football fan and did the Masters in Sporting Directorship at Manchester Metropolitan University from 2017 to 2019 alongside several staff from the sport.

At the ECB, he garnered a reputation as an analytical thinker and effective decision-maker and these are themes he comes back to again and again during our interview.

“The club are putting a premium on decision-making and that is the overarching aim of the Sporting Intelligence unit," he says. "Football seems obsessed with data, but data alone isn’t the answer - decision making is the answer.

“Data is just one way you arrive at your decisions. How you utilise it is the key. Having data that is predictive rather than descriptive is likely to give you more informed decision making.”

This is why Bobat and Smith have brought in a company called Palantir in to help drive the analytics capabilities at Derby.

EVENT: Mo Bobat will be presenting at TGG Live 2024 at St George's Park in September.

To find out more about our industry-leading event and to buy tickets, please click below.


“We’ve partnered with Palantir, who are an organisation with world-leading analytics, AI and machine learning capability,” he explains. “They’ve done a lot of work with the Ministry of Defence and NHS, among others, and we're applying this software in sport. They work with organisations, offer up their software and provide some engineering, helping organisations to solve problems they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

"I think the partnership offers a real opportunity for us. Palantir have a number of different software platforms, including their Artificial Intelligence Platform (AIP), which is pretty sophisticated. It can help us move to solutions far quicker than standard analytics would be able to.

“We are working with them on a few projects over time and are hoping we can arrive at some really useful insights and do some cool predictive stuff. We want them to work with myself and Ed to set Derby up as one of the best-in-class from an analytics perspective.”

There has already been one big appointee within the Sporting Intelligence unit: the new Sports Science and Medicine Lead, Rob Price, who previously worked at Leeds United for six years.

“We’re really excited by his appointment,” Bobat admits. “Rob has a strong pedigree and calibre and will add real value to Sporting Intelligence and to the club more widely.”

Derby are also currently advertising on TGG for a Data and Analytics Lead to help "align all of our analytics capabilities in-house”, in Bobat's words, while also managing the partnership with Palantir.

“We currently have recruitment, first team and Academy analytics, as well as Talent ID, and want to bring all of these under one central technical leadership,” Bobat explains. “Having one person to lead that group of people is really exciting and will move us towards some standard processes."

Setting up a best-in-class analytics function won’t be easy and will involve building "data infrastructure, all the data engineering you have to do, the data science capabilities to build platforms and also getting the right culture going.”

Palantir will be a big part of this.

“Their approach is to consult and to leave people set-up and fit for process, but we don’t want to have a reliance on them forever. We want to benefit from their software and systems and initially their expertise.”

Again, Bobat emphasises that data alone will not be enough and that a new culture must mean “making sure we’re asking really good questions, getting really good answers and iterating the answers.”

Generally, Smith will focus more on managing upwards and delivering Sporting Intelligence insights to the CEO and Board, while Bobat will have a more hands-on involvement with the department.

The duo are big believers in “a hybrid between the data and human elements,” which is the overarching theme of Smith’s book Making Decisions.

This is why it has been so important to forge a relationship with manager Warne and his coaching staff and to utilise their football knowledge and expertise.

“Ed and I have been hugely impressed by the quality of the people who are already at the club,” Bobat says. “Paul and his coaching team did a brilliant job in getting the team promoted last season and we enjoyed getting to know them after coming in in November.

“It’s important to have football expertise always adding context. We are not going to arrive at any smart answers if we don’t have engagement from the football experts alongside our data analytics. That’s the bit around connecting the human to the data, where I think we can really make a difference.

"I’ve got to know Paul reasonably well since November and he’s been very welcoming, open-minded, curious and extremely humble. I’ve been really impressed with his approach. He’ll always say, 'I’m open to anything that can help us.'

“It’s important that myself and Ed position Palantir alongside Paul Warne and his coaching team. We are not going to arrive at any smart answers if we don’t have engagement from the football experts alongside our data analytics. It’s nice when you have a manager who is that open-minded and trusting. It’s been the same with the rest of his coaching team and you just want to reciprocate that."

Football has traditionally had a reputation for being suspicious of outsiders, but Bobat insists some themes are transferable between different sports and beyond. One of these is alignment, which is what he insists there is at Derby.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with England Cricket for a number of years and we were able to win two World Cups,” he says. “One of the reasons that we achieved things in white-ball cricket was a strong sense of alignment from the Managing Director to the coach and captain and players.

“This influenced the types of players we were looking for and the way we approached tactics and player development. If there is a central thread, then you have a good chance of making sure everyone is going in the same direction.”

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