How is data used in scouting
Two of the biggest innovations for scouting have been data and video scouting, combined with globalization and working in the cloud, all data and video databases are accessible to everyone. This has revolutionized scouting and has made it easier for clubs to scout players. It has also made it possible for clubs to scout players from leagues where they usually would never have been able to scout players. For clubs with a smaller budget, this has been a huge opportunity to find players that normally wouldn’t appear on their radar.
Why do clubs use data?
Data is an easy way to scout a lot of players at once. When using the right data points you can scout a specific type of player out of 1000s of players at once. This saves a lot of time. So data can be seen as the first step in the process of scouting a player. The data is also used to visualize and compare the players that are scouted. With this visualization of the data, it’s easier for non-data people to understand what all these numbers are saying. In the data reports the data analysts make sure that the data is presented in a way that the coaching staff and sports director can understand what the data is telling us about the player(s). The most used visualizations of data are bar graphs, radar plots, and bar plots.
How do scouts use data?
The first step is to know which data is important for the playing style of the club and for their position. The second step is to select all data points that are important for each position, and after that step three comes, which is the selection process on the platforms. A scout will look at a whole league and filter which data he wants to have in the league. With his previously established data points, a number of players pop up on this platform. So this will give him a number of players, which he will scout more thoroughly through video data.
But data scouting is also used as a confirmation tool. The eyes can sometimes lie and even though everything looks very good with a player his data can show that maybe it’s more show and not effective. This can also work the other way around, think about a player like Thomas Müller, it doesn’t look the most flashy what he’s doing, but his data is very good.
What data is important for clubs?
Every scout has a number of data points that are pre-selected with the playing style of the club in mind. Think for example about a midfielder of tiki-taka Barcelona, compared to a midfielder for a high pace team like RB Leipzig. Both teams scout on data, but the scouts of both teams identify different data points as more important. Whereas the Barcelona scout will prioritize passing data, the RB Leipzig scout will maybe prioritize interceptions and progressive runs. Other examples could be a team that plays with offensive fullbacks, then you want to include data points like forward passing and overlaps in your data, or a team that plays with long balls to their striker, then you want to include aerial duels in your data. So it’s crucial that you know what playing style your team has and what type of player fits into this and that you want to scout. So for a scout, it’s important to have good communication with the rest of the staff and with the decision-makers within the club, to know what data is important in which position.
An underrated aspect of scouting
The best scouts have an eye for something that the data and the normal video are not showing. Some describe this as ‘soft skills’, also known as character or mentality. But world-famous scout Piet de Visser once said in an interview that he goes to the training grounds, to see how players train at their clubs. He looked at how he does the warming up, how he treats the equipment, how he interacts with the people. All with one goal in mind, and that is to find out if this player fits in the club.
Which clubs use data scouting?
Nowadays almost all clubs in the world use some form of data scouting. Some use it more than others. One of the first clubs that started to use a lot of data was Brentford. Brentford can be seen as the Moneyball football team. For those of you that don’t know Moneyball, Moneyball is a film in which a baseball team relies solely on data scouting. In this film based on true life, this team (with one of the smallest budgets in the league) goes on to almost win the Major Series of Baseball. Brentford has decided to go a similar way and has been very successful the last couple of years. Other teams that are known for being data-driven are Brighton, Rayo Vallecano, Union Berlin, and RC Lens.
Data is a good way to get a good overview of a player, but there are also things that the data is not telling you. That’s why we still have the video scouting. We will talk about this part of scouting in the next blog.