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In Profile: Lee Congerton

Sunderland have confirmed Lee Congerton as their new Sporting Director but who is he and what can we expect?

With Roberto De Fanti leaving his role as Director of Football in January and the Italian scouting staff slowly leaving the club, as Valentino Angeloni exit was confirmed on Wednesday and Massimo Mirabelli looks set to join Inter Milan at the end of the season, the backroom staff clear out has made room for Sunderland's new Sporting Director, Lee Congerton.

Congerton, who is the son of former Rhyl player Dave Congerton, followed in his father's footsteps at Rhyl but also had spells at Wrexham, Colwyn Bay and Weymouth but it was during an injury hit spell at Crewe Alexandra that Congerton realised he wasn't going to make it as a player;

I'd been at Crewe, but I had a lot of injuries and I was never going to be the top player I wanted to be.

As a player he played youth football internationally for Wales but while he was playing as a semi-professional he realised he preferred the coaching side of the game;

Wrexham offered me something - that's where I met Brian Flynn, but I figured out I could earn more money from semi-professional football so I did that and went to uni.

I played for Wales at all different age groups, I played for Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Weymouth. I enjoyed my football, but I realised I enjoyed coaching more.

While he was at Wrexham he made his way through the coaching ranks until his final role at the Welsh club as Academy Director and the 40-year-old credits that spell at Wrexham as the foundation of the career he has today;

Wrexham was fantastic in terms of my education - from driving the bus to making sure the pitches were okay to coaching all the age groups from the under-eights to the youth team, covering all aspects of player development.

It was a great apprenticeship - I was very fortunate to have that experience at such a young age, and that allowed me to kick on from there and get to where I am today.

After helping bring through the likes of Welsh international Craig Morgan at Wrexham, Liverpool spotted the Welshman and took him to Anfield as a coach. After a three year spell with Liverpool he left his boyhood club to move to Chelsea as a coach in the London club's Academy, but it wasn't long before he again progressed through the ranks until finally the then Sporting Director Frank Arnesen was impressed enough with Congerton to make him head of recruitment.

Whilst at Chelsea, Congerton worked alongside the likes of Brendan Rodgers, Neil Bath, Jose Mourinho, Andre Villas-Boas and Carlo Ancelotti, with Mourinho in particular making an impression on the Welshman;

I'd see Jose and he'd give me a high-five.

He made you float in the air - his presence and his way around you made you feel great.

I spent a bit of time in his company recently when Hamburg hosted a friendly between Brazil and Denmark, and he asked me how my German was. It was nice to know he hadn't forgotten me.

His spell as Academy coach and head of recruitment coincided with Chelsea showing an increased focus on the purchase and development of youth players, with the likes of Scott Sinclair, Jack Cork, Michael Mancienne, Miroslav Stoch, Gael Kakuta, Nemanja Matic, Daniel Sturridge and Sunderland's own Billy Knott, Fabio Borini and Liam Bridcutt all being overseen by Congerton.

When Arnesen left Chelsea to take up the reigns as Sporting Director at German side Hamburg, Congerton soon followed as Technical Director, a role he described as being the 'eyes and ears' of Arnesen;

I am the eyes and ears of Frank [Arnesen].

We collect every scrap of information on a player, it's placed into the database developed by [Steven] Houston and we always have the option to search according to specific attributes if necessary.

I'm like the personalized search engine for Frank.

Unfortunately after being promised money to spend on big names at the Bundesliga side, there was a boardroom re-shuffle which left Arnesen and Congerton to reassess their transfer targets;

We had received assurances when we came here that there was money to spend, but there was a change in the board and there wasn't as much money as we had thought.

But we made the best of it - our priority was to survive and we did that.

With the budget tight at the Imtech Arena, Congerton was thankful to Roman Abramovich for allowing him to raid Chelsea for young talent;

Once we knew the financial constraints, our priority from day one changed completely and it was very much 'wir müssen in der Bundesliga bleiben' [we have to stay in the Bundesliga].

We were unable to go for the big players that we had been talking to because the salaries were coming down and we had no money to spend, so we had to go for players that we knew and whom Frank could convince to come here. And, ultimately, the owner at Chelsea was very supportive and prepared to help.

As Mancienne, Jeffrey Bruma, Slobodan Rajkovic, Gokhan Tore and Jacopo Sala all joining from Chelsea, Hamburg were able to secure safety by finishing 15th and that allowed the club to spend more heavily ahead of the 2012-13 season, with Rafael van der Vaart, Rene Adler and Artjoms Rudnevs all joining the club.

Rudnevs in particular highlighted how Congerton researches possible transfers in conjunction with a huge worldwide database of players developed by Steve Houston, who used his experience of 'plus-minus' in American sport with the New England Patriots and the Boston Celtics to develop a new way of scouting potential new signings.

The Latvian international Rudnevs was signed from Lech Poznan after his numbers in the database were shown to be 'exceptionally high', Congerton then views the player on video and if he likes what he sees sends a scout to assess the player in a wide range of categories, ranging from language skills to alcohol consumption, Congerton then went to Poland to watch the player in action before speaking with then then manager Thorsten Fink to discuss the pros and cons of signing the player.

Congerton does admit that this system will not always be successful, as was eventually shown at Hamburg with Rudnevs who recently signed for Hannover on loan, but does believe it will lessen the risk inherient with all transfers;

We can not guarantee that we will always find the right people - but we can minimize the risks.

His main aim at Hamburgwas to look after the long-term future of the German club, with Congerton adamant that his role was purely to help the manager;

One of my responsibilities is for the long-term future of the club - if a manager goes you need someone there who can carry on that long-term stability,

Day-to-day the job involves running the academy, scouting, match analysis. I'm involved with Thorsten and Frank in talking about incomings and outgoings. I'm there to help, not hinder the manager.

At Hamburg he spoke to each scout (around 25 in total were employed by Hamburg during Congerton's time at the club) at the end of each month to discuss their findings and to compare the players they have been scouting with the global database.

Once that has been done the process of adding the updated findings to the database begins. With each player they rate him in five different categories (tactical awareness, physique, mentality, health and way of life) and give them a final grade of A, B or C. C meaning the player has potential but would not succeed at Hamburg, B means the player is good enough but for varying reasons (price, age, form) should not be a priority signing and A means that the player should be signed immediately.

Frank Arnesen is such a big fan of Congerton that he admitted that he would always look to bring the Welshman with him in the future;

If I'm doing something new somewhere, I would like him here. Everyone knows that. We are working already for eight years together and he is my left and my right hand.

However with Arnesen recently appointed Sporting Director at Metalist Kharkiv, Congerton has decided it's time to go it alone with Sunderland, something he always intended to do;

Of course I like Frank, but I'm not dependent on him, I can work independently, as I have done in the past.

And he went on to explain how he wished to join a big club in England and be an inspiration to other clubs to show that the role can work over here;

The dream in years to come would be to help a manager be successful at a big Premier League club and put some footprints in the sand for the role to grow for others.

Congerton is highly rated within the game and this shows through with how highly most speak of Sunderland's new Sporting Director. With the only dissenting voice coming from Hamburg's former reserve team coach Richard Golz, who was disappointed with Congerton's regular absence from the Bundesliga side's Academy;

I never saw him there. I correct myself: once he was present at a meeting. Once.

Hopefully Golz's opinion is one that will not prove to be prophetic as one thing we are desperately looking for at the moment is stability and after the high turnover of scouts and coaches in the last 18 months, we need Gus Poyet and those around him to be in place for the foreseeable future.

Personally I believe the set-up we have now is the best way for Sunderland to succeed in the future, with getting the right men in charge crucial for it to be successful, and with most fans certain that Poyet is the right man to take us forward, if Congerton can improve us in the transfer market as much as the Uruguayan has on the pitch, then we can hopefully look forward to the dawn of a successful era for Sunderland.

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