Strategic player marketing manager Matt Jackson features in the third episode of Ask Wolves series two as he provides answers on finding loan deals that work for both players and clubs, caring for players while away from Wolves and the impact of new loan rules.
Johnny Phillips: Matt, it’s a fascinating role you have here at the club, certainly the first one of its kind. Can you explain what the strategic player marketing manager does?
Matt Jackson: Basically, I have a lot of responsibilities for players leaving the club and since Seyi [Olofinjana] went off to Grasshoppers very soon after I joined, I’ve had full responsibility for the loans group as well, so I look after all of the loans players and then have some input into players leaving, either through the Academy from the release procedures or from players being sold out of the first-team or under-23 squad.
JP: So how often do you go out and actually watch the players who are on loan?
MJ: A lot! Whenever there’s a fixture, I’ll be out, so maybe 20 games a month, something like that, on average across the course of the season and that’s the hard part. Trying to juggle seeing everybody is difficult, so I have to manage that process, but it’s fine, it works really well. I enjoy the travelling, obviously domestically a lot of games on, heavy fixture schedule, and then for the lads we’ve got out internationally, I see them whenever I can do.
JP: We’ve had a lot of questions about this and is it a case of just getting players clubs so they can move on loan, or do you take a lot of interest in the player care, the facilities they have? Is it a question of finding a really good fit, or can you not be that choosy?
MJ: It depends. Very often, first loans you might only have a choice of two clubs, you might only have a choice of one club. I’m very much a believer that you can’t have a bad experience on a loan, especially for the young players going out, they learn so much just from being in a first-team environment, understanding the pressure of results, understanding the flow of training from match to match to match, the heavy workload that they have to become used to, so that’s certainly a big part of it. We have a lot of back-up, I have great support from a technical perspective, a physical perspective, the well-being side of it’s really taken care of, so we try to give them an independence, but the players know that they’ve got a full support here as well at any given time.
JP: When you talk about there being no bad loan, do you really see that when you get a player back that they’ve developed in some way even if they’ve not played a lot?
MJ: Absolutely. People obviously look and say game time is of paramount importance; it is an important factor, but we might have players going out for a first loan from the under-23 system where they’ve only played maybe 25 games across the course of a season and then suddenly we’re committing them to a 50-game season in league football and that’s tough, that’s a really tough transition, so just the learning of being around that group is something that they have to come to terms with.
JP: And will the limit on players going out on loan next season have a big effect on what happens here?
MJ: Not a big effect. We have to take into account, for sure, three players going out to any one club obviously restricts some things we can do, particularly with our relationship with Grasshoppers, so we have to manage that carefully. We can only have eight non-free loans, so we have to make sure we prioritise, but it won’t affect us greatly.
JP: And in terms of players going to a club where there’s a certain style of play, certain strategy, certain tactics, do you take that into account?
MJ: Yes, there’s a brilliant statistician in the club who looks at literally every club in the world and their relationship with us in terms of playing style and all of these factors, so maybe not quality-wise, but we have a gauge of where they fit into that system. But it’s such a personal situation for each player, in terms of their position, their age and the number of loans they’ve had, what our projection for them within the club is, where they might end up – we take all of these factors into account when placing them.
JP: And realistically are the players under your watch unlikely to have a first-team future at Wolves because we have seen relatively few progress?
MJ: No, not at all, no. The projection for some of them is very much to first-team level. It becomes tougher once we’re at the top of the Premier League because their standards have to be better, but we all have to be better, the support we give them, the training we give them in preparation for going out, the care that we give them while they’re out, and certainly the relationship and liaison with the clubs who are loaning them is really important because we need that positive feedback to work out where they’re going next and how they can best be planned for the future.
JP: It hasn’t happened historically before your time here, so what makes you convinced that could happen?
MJ: Well, I think we’ve got a coaching structure that’s set up now for developing young players; certainly, Bruno’s given players a chance and he can continue to do so. The Academy facilities and the structure that we have around them now for developing those elite players is fantastic as well, but it’s tough, nobody’s making out that it’s easy, otherwise everyone would do it and the demands on players to be top, top Premier League players is really, really demanding.
JP: How is the affiliation with Grasshoppers working and what benefits have you seen from it?
MJ: Great benefits, liaison back and forward in terms of giving players a different perspective, a different outlook at times. We’ve got a very close working relationship. As I mentioned earlier, Seyi Olofinjana went over there to be sporting director, so we’ve got really close links. We’ve got a domestic scout who’s British as well in Kevin Cruikshank, so he does a lot of the work back and forward. Certainly, for our young players, it gives them a brilliant first-team exposure, pressure that they don’t necessarily have, a really good working environment over there, so it’s been very positive.
JP: We’ve had another question in. Are you looking at any other clubs around the world for affiliations?
MJ: That is above my pay grade! We look always to develop our players anywhere, those experiences can be great, and as you’ll see from what we’ve got from our roster now, we’ve got players in North America now playing in the MLS, we’ve got players throughout Europe, players in the Far East and players from all different origins as well, so it’s truly international, but we are always looking for the best development models for them.
JP: Yeah, and your role is truly international, you say you’ve just got back from Portugal before we did this interview. Are you really enjoying that part of the job, there’s a lot of travelling and a lot of hours you seem to have to put in?
MJ: Yeah, there is, but it’s not coal mining as I often say. Going out to watch games, I love the fact that travelling is sometimes the downside the delays or bits of legislation. Certainly, in COVID it was more complicated obviously, but going out and seeing the players develop is really rewarding.
JP: And you obviously see the progress, is it quite easy to see even on a month-by-month basis?
MJ: Yes, you see a huge difference and I think there’s a massive difference from first loan to second loan as well. You see a maturity, we’ve now got players significantly affecting the Championship for example with the way that Morgan’s [Gibbs-White] played, Dion Sanderson, Ryan Giles has been excellent as well throughout the season, so these players are affecting a really high level and if we were trying to buy those players from that level we’d be getting quoted an awful lot of money for transfer fees.
JP: And how much of it is about the relationships you can foster with other clubs as well? I guess once you’ve built up a level of trust it makes your job slightly easier?
MJ: Yeah huge, really good worldwide network. Between myself and Scott [Sellars] and the recruitment department, there’s not too many people in football that we don’t know and that we haven’t seen. People trust us as well with our opinions. For us, it’s a nice perspective because there’s no point recommending a player to a club that we don’t believe is the right fit for them. So once people trust your opinion, they’re happy to come and look at your players, and actually our under-23s, particularly our under-18s, have performed really well this year and the players are coveted by many clubs.
All 11 instalments of Ask Wolves series two are now live in video, written and audio format and can be found by clicking on the links below: