How Tifo Scouts for Sensible Transfers
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How Tifo Scouts for Sensible Transfers

In Tifo’s Sensible Transfer series’, we
analyse teams, identify problem areas, and suggest solutions in the form of incoming
transfers. We don’t follow gossip, rumours or conjecture, we don’t have inside information,
and broadly speaking we don’t consider the brand value of players – merely their suitability
to the team in question. Some of our choices might be a touch niche,
and some of them would be unlikely to ever happen – but the game isn’t to make predictions;
it’s to make suggestions. So, how do we come up with these suggestions?
Well, in much the same way that football clubs do. By scouting. Now, Tifo doesn’t have
the budget to send Alex Stewart all around the world, nor does Tifo have enough Alex
Stewarts to send – but we can at least mimic the modern football club’s approach towards
video scouting, and whittle a long list of players down to a short list. Here’s how
that works for a club. And to explain this, we’re going to create a hypothetical club
with a transfer requirement, so we can take you through step by step. First, we’ll have to assume certain things
to make it plausible and interesting – the club is professional but not a dominant side
domestically; it has access to video and data scouting tools, but does not outsource this;
and the manager works alongside, or even under, a Director of Football. Let’s call our team Winchester Wanderers.
The Wanderers are a mid-level Championship club in England and their manager, Craig Davison,
has to work within certain financial constraints that mean he can’t simply scour Europe’s
top five leagues and secure the best talent. Craig works with his Director of Football
Elliott and Head of Recruitment Pete to set transfer priorities and then leaves Pete to
implement a structure and method for this. Craig likes to play 4-2-3-1, retain possession
with a high volume of passing, and likes pace in his players. He’s not afraid to play
directly into the channels and so wants his wide players to be able to run with the ball
and cut inside. This is relevant because Elliott and Craig have identified their long-serving
right winger as the club’s weak link and have ear-marked this position as their priority
for the coming transfer window. Strategically, this makes sense: replacing a weak link is
likely to strengthen a team more than signing an upgrade in a position that’s already
well-stocked. As Director of Football, Elliott briefs Head
of Recruitment Pete on these requirements, and adds in a few of his own. For financial
reasons, the club cannot look at Europe’s top leagues, but wants to sign players from
leagues that are competitive enough that the player will not find the transition too hard. Elliott therefore focusses on several others
– let’s say the four English professional leagues, Bundesliga 2, the Austrian Bundesliga,
the Danish Superliga, and the Swedish Allsvenskan. In addition, Elliott is happy to let Pete
investigate France’s third tier, the National, and the Serbian SuperLiga, as he believes
there is value there. This automatically narrows the field. Pete is well versed in how Craig likes to
play, but Elliott emphasises a few characteristics that both feel are key besides dribbling,
speed, and creativity. He wants a player under 24 years of age, ideally who has played left
wing as well as right, and looks to cross late rather than float the ball in, as Winchester
do not have any tall strikers. If the player speaks English or is home-grown under registration
rules, this is a bonus. At this point, then, Pete has three key pieces
of information that allow him to begin searching: • Winchester’s own style of play, into
which the player must fit • The profile and position of the player
sought • A list of leagues to search, narrowed
by relative quality and likelihood of delivering value The first stage is fairly straightforward
(and is our process for the Sensible Transfers series). Using data from various providers,
for example Opta, Statsbomb, or Wyscout, Pete generates an initial set of prospects. These
players are selected because of their age and position initially, before being further
screened by the data. If Pete is feeling particularly assiduous, he’ll add in wing backs and full
backs, because sometimes these players can play further up the pitch in wide areas. Based on what he’s looking for, Pete will
use the following metrics as his main guide: • xG and xA vs actual goals and actual assists
– these are always worth considering as an overall value for a player’s attacking
contribution and its sustainability • Dribbles per 90 and successful dribbles
as a percentage • Deep completions per 90 – the number
of successfully completed passes that find a teammate 25 yards or less from goal
• Key passes and through passes per 90 • Crossing metrics, with a focus on deep
completed crosses, again per 90 Pete also considers the number of minutes
played – if a youngster is starting and getting regular minutes for a side, that’s
a strong indicator they could be successful providing their other metrics bear this out.
Again, if a player does superbly in their per 90 data but is barely playing, that could
show various things: a manager who doesn’t trust younger players even if they’re talented;
stat-padding against weaker teams who’ve tired; or a player who is excellent but doesn’t
get selected for other reasons, perhaps issues with teammates or discipline. If Pete has
access to any physical data, this will go into the mix, but it’s unlikely, and things
like speed and stamina will have to be judged by eye later in the process. He’s also likely to look at the style of the
team the player plays for. If they’re too far removed from Winchester’s current system
and approach, the player could find it hard to adjust. Having created a list of several hundred possible
from the first set of instructions – position, age, and possibly playing time – Pete now
has a list of 40 or so players who might merit further investigation. At this point, Pete and his team, assuming
he has one (unlike our Alex Stewart), will begin video analysis of the players. The scope
of this will be determined by how many staff Pete has and how near the window is – the
sheer logistics of funnelling this many players and recording data and observations is staggering
and time could be of the essence. Assuming, though, that Winchester are ahead of the curve
and making their plans early, it’s likely that these players will all be watched in
a number of games on video. A tool such as Wyscout can also highlight key actions, but
what a player does without the ball, how they scan the pitch, communicate with others, their
body language, their persistence and so on – all these are qualities that one could
only start to get a handle on by watching full matches. Video scouting just allows this
to happen in a far more pragmatic and time-sensitive way, but the principles of observation are
the same as watching the player in the flesh. The downside, of course, is that camera angles
mean the player is not constantly in view, and this is why video scouting is one element,
but not the sole means of assessing players by eye. By this point, any player that has made it
to this stage has had the following things assessed:
• Age • Position
• Current league and team • Playing time
• Current team’s style and tactics • Data set showing key metrics
• Off-the-ball behaviour, communication, positioning etc (by video) The original set of several hundred possible
players has been filtered in two stages, first by data, and second by video. It’s likely
that at this point, the team will be putting together a short presentation on each player
combining playing history, data, and clips, to show to Director of Football Elliott, before
sending scouts out to watch players in person. Elliott now assigns scouts to watch each of
the ten shortlisted wingers in person. And this is where Tifo parts company, for the
reasons of the aforementioned lack of budget and lack of Alex Stewarts. The club would
go on to whittle the list down from this point, and then make their selections and attempt
a signing. For the purposes of the Sensible Transfer series; you, the viewer, are our
Director of Football. We are merely presenting you with a list of possibilities.


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