Soccerissue Interview: Scout7

Bradford Griffiths, Scout7 Operations Director: ""The football industry took a lot of time to find the real value in data. Their still looking for it"

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Every kid can “find” the next Leo Messi thanks to “Football Manager”. The football management simulation game and its great search engine allows players to scout small leagues and look for diamonds in the rough from all over the world. All you need is to find the desired parameters (Determination minimum 15 is a must, right?) and discover the right footballer you can sign and develop. He will then lead you to Champions League glory.

Well, it might be just a game but it’s pretty much how clubs work today. Thanks to companies such as Birmingham based Scout7, football industry’s leading provider of scouting, recruitment & squad management solutions (Just take a look at the clubs they are working with) , clubs can look for players pretty much like Football Manager fanatics do. How well are they doing? Well, Most surprising Premier League champions Leicester City used Scout7 software to find gems such as Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté in the French lower leagues.

“What Leicester have done was amazing because they have built a championship winning side under everyone’s radar”‘ says Bradford Griffiths, Scout7 Operations Director. “They were assisted by Scout7, which helped them find the right players in the lower leagues. The players were then developed together and formed a formidable side. It’s a great team which was cheap to assemble and I think everyone in the Premier League should stop and study what Leicester did. I think the exposure to players such as Kanté and Mahrez  was not possible up until a few years ago but today we can find players from almost every league in the world. It is possible with the right technological expertise and data”.

Scout7 is offering clubs an online database of player information collected by a team of researchers, from the public domain and third party providers like Opta and video content from around the world. And thanks to Scout7 clubs have access to 3,000,000 minutes of footage each year and more than 135,000 player records.

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Video content was added in 2009, with broadcast feeds taken from around the world. This means a team can not only see stats about a potential transfer target, but see how he plays. Scout7 enlists the help of Intel to work well.

“The primary thing was really about the amount of video we were processing and the length of time it was taking to process that video,” explains Griffiths. “Intel QuickSync technology has changed the landscape of what we can do and how quickly we can do it.”

Andy Cooper, PR and Project Manager, further explains Scout7 work: “At the very basis of our work, what we do is not very different from what clubs have been doing for years. Someone mentions a name of a footballer and then scouts go and look at this player to see if he fits the club. Once upon a time, you could only have looked at players from around your club’s area, but today, thanks to Scout7, you can say a name and then have a first look at the player’s videos. You can look at his profile and check out his statistics”.

According to Cooper: “We can bring information about a 16 year old from Albania. For example, you can understand if he’s punching above his weight if he plays with 18 year oldד and his stats are looking good. We can bring to the table all the objective information about him and then it’s up to the club to decide if it wants to send scouts and watch him more closely”.

It sounds a lot like “Football Manager”.

Griffiths: “We have a system that might remind you of Football Manager and yes, what we do and what Football Manager are doing is quite similar”.

Is Football Manager imitating life or life imitating football manager?

Griffiths: “I’d say both influence each other. In Football Manager they look for parameters, check out the statistics, make shortlists, look at player profiles etc. Our development guys are playing Football Manager so for sure there are some similarities and I’m sure the Football Manager guys are using some of our ideas in their game.”

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What kind of parameters and stats are clubs looking for?

Griffiths: “Well, it depends on the position and what the club is looking for. Almost every club has someone who is analyzing the huge amounts of data available and finds out what’s more important. Each club will have criteria and a lot depends on what they look for in each position. Let’s say a club is looking for a forward who will plays on the left side, so we’d look for a player who has good interactions with left sided midfielders and full backs. Also, a lot depends on how much money you have. If you have a budget of £100,000, you won’t be able to look for players in the Premier League, you will look for potential talent in the lower leagues.”

How does the process of scouting look like?

Cooper: “Every club has a few scouts and a head of scouting department. What will happen is that the club management will tell the head of scouting department or sporting director, they need a player at a certain position. Then we come into the picture. The scouts will then tell us what parameters they are looking for in a player. We will then crate a list of players who fit their requests. The team will get from us all the objective information – statistical history, player profiles, other stats and so on. Then their work starts. They will look through the list and pick which footballer they are going to take a closer loot at. They will also start investigate and ask about the player’s personality and try to figure out how is he as a teammate. Some clubs let the scouts look at players for themselves and then the sporting director will cross all the information he has before he chooses the right player for the club. This is a very comprehensive due diligence. Some clubs invest a lot of money in the transfer market  - they want to know everything there is to know about a player before they buy him”.

How do you measure player’s ability to work in a team. How can you know the invisible rope that holds the team together won’t get hurt when a certain player comes into the the team? Do we have special statistics that can measure ones ability to work in a team?

Griffiths: “That’s the question everyone are trying to answer right now in football. They are trying to understand how a player plays within a team. The technical issues are easier to understand but we now see a lot more teams investing a lot of time and money in building social profile for a footballer they want. They’ll try to understand how the footballer is as a person and if he fits the type of group of men they are trying to assemble. So they’ll look into his family life, his social life, his circle of friends and how he did mix with his former teammates. This kind thinking is a lot more dominant today. Nowadays, teams think a lot about how the player is as a person. Only a few years ago it was just an afterthought. Today it will decide if they’ll make the transfer or not”.

It sounds like an awful lot of work. It seems like it’s impossible for one man to do it on his own. Even if he’s a great manager, the decision is so complicated.

Griffiths: “If you have a sporting director he will work on transfers. He will have the responsibility. He will be the one that will analyse all the stats and process all the information. That will definitely help the coach concentrate on his day to day work with the squad and on the training field”.

Could it be that the Premier League teams are less successful in Europe  because they usually don’t have a dominant sporting director who makes the decisions in the transfer market? Are they throwing money at their problems instead of fixing them?

Griffiths: “Money can solve a lot of troubles. You can bring high quality players with a lot of money. However, that creates a lot of other problems. The player you bring for a lot of money might be more complete and he will have his own thoughts and ideas about the game, not to mention larger ego. The more expensive players might even find it hard to play in a new team that they haven’t been developed into. It’s a challenge. In Spain it’s different. With less money, you might have more time to bring up youngsters from the academy and bring in younger players from all over the world. The younger players who haven’t fully developed yet can merge better with the youngsters and create strong team spirit”.

Throughout your time in the industry, what did you learn?

Griffiths: “The football industry took a lot of time to find the real value in data. Their still looking for it. I think it’s all about asking the right questions. For example, up until a few years ago people looked at how many kilometers a player ran during a game. However, we now know it’s not that important. If a player covers a lot of ground it could be because he is a striker who just happened to defend a lot of corners so he ran a lot. So it is always important to find value in each stat”.

Cooper: “It sounds like a cliché but there is now secret sauce made up of statistics. We are not even looking for stats that will solve all your problems. We bring information to the table but at the end what’s important is what you do with the data, what you take from it. That’s the most important thing”.

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