Technical scouting is the name given to the use of data to assess the ability of football players.
Traditional scouting relied on the expertise of the scout watching the game. This expertise is subjective and is affected by biases and other limitations in the scout’s understanding of football. Sometimes their judgement came down to a hunch that a player will make it or not. “The ‘old-school scouts’ have an intuitive approach to football,’ Michael Calvin, who wrote a book about scouting called The Nowhere Men, told the BBC. “They see or just sense something. It might be the weight of a pass or a particular pass that a player makes.”
Technical scouting aims to be much more objective. It’s scientific rather than intuitive.
Data is more thorough than the human eye, which can only take in a limited amount of information at any one time. Video cameras and GPS vests can record every single movement on and off the ball that happens on the football pitch. There’s no risk of something important being missed because the scout looked down to check his phone or turned to speak to the person next to them.
Having precise statistics that cover everything which happens on the pitch allows for a more accurate and precise picture of a player’s ability. The data isn’t dazzled by one or two moments of brilliance, but can see the bigger picture, allowing the scout to see how well a player has performed in every game they’ve played. They may have made one great pass, but the data will also show the exact amount of times they gave away possession.
The data makes it easier to compare players and identify who is performing above average and who is below average. Using graphs and other visualisations help technical scouts to quickly see the aspects of the game that players are doing well in and where they are struggling.
When looking for a new player, a technical scout will build a player profile, listing the particular stats the player needs to excel in. Part of this work will involve creating a benchmark for each relevant statistic, so that the scout can tell whether the player is performing at the level they are looking for.
Data also makes it easier to evaluate players from a wider variety of divisions and countries. Whereas traditional scouts were limited to particular regions and countries, technical scouts can look at data from all over the world. This is particularly useful for smaller clubs who don’t have a big budget for sending scouts out to other countries. It also means that clubs can hire scouts based anywhere. When you only need access to the data and video footage, rather than attending matches, you can work from anywhere.
“Everyone knows it’s been changing for years, from the stories of Brentford and Liverpool, but even at a lower level now there’s so much tactical writing, scouting reports, graphs. It’s just taken off on a whole new level,” Jay Socik, recruitment analyst at Luton Town told The Guardian.
Data hasn’t completely replaced watching players, but it’s now a crucial part of the recruitment process, allowing scouts to more quickly and efficiently identify and evaluate potential transfer targets. It started off at the big clubs, but now more and more clubs up and down the football ladder are embracing it.
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