In this era of eight figure contracts, player recruitment is a high stakes game. Keen global interest and accelerating competitiveness in sport has led to football clubs scouting the world for the best players with the greatest potential. Accurately assessing the potential of young developing players is key to long term success for clubs. The last ten years has seen significant advancements in technology that have enabled scientific operation to impact not only on match results, but on recruiting new talent. Advanced analytics are now being employed to identify rising stars and reveal previously untapped potential in undervalued players.
The development of Artificial Intelligence, analysing historical data to develop models which measures the performance of individual players is invaluable in developing players, enabling them to reflect on their specific actions and contribution to the game, and over time improve their decision making skills. The collection of granular data on every action in a match, mapping the time and location of every pass, shot, tackle and dribble, has now been further developed to incorporate a system for calculating the likelihood of a shot being scored, based on its distance and angle from goal. Ongoing development of a technique called “ghosting” can predict the likely actions players will take in certain situations. Models of players’ actions can be aggregated into playing styles for whole squads, enabling scouts to ensure tactical compatibility when assessing potential players.
The biggest impact of the player level data now available has been on recruitment and retention. Clubs can now shortlist players who match the profile of their ideal signing requirement, reducing the pool of potential signings and thus saving time and money. This smart use of data enables a wider sweep of the market, bringing in previously less obvious but more dynamic choices. The impact of targeted mapping with available data is that clubs sign fewer but more suitable players.
They can identify gaps in team skills and recruit specifically according to the skills required. The data can also be analysed to identify what might be regarded by the man on the Clapham omnibus as “softer” player characteristics, such as behaviour under pressure, team integration and understanding team dynamics, It is crucial to not only look at current performance but to consider what, with the right tools and support, a young player might become.
This involves predicting performance over time, measuring physical, physiological and sociological attributes in addition to technical abilities. Cognitive ability, and visual-perceptual skills, an understanding of tactical play, are equally as important as physical skill in the identification of overall player ability and potential. which are all so crucial to building a successful team. Inside clubs, these new techniques aid and empower scouts and coaches to work better, faster, smarter. There is a new and exciting energy driving these different and more intelligent, with a small “i”, techniques for more successful, dynamic and cost effective recruitment.