Smarterscout's suggested Leeds United signings, including familiar names, and how they find and compare them
Recruiting players might still be more art than science, given the myriad factors that go into making a deal happen, but data platform Smarterscout believe their science is helping to narrow the search for potential signings.
By allowing their 10,000-plus users, which include professionals in the game, agents, members of the media and supporters, to compare and contrast players from across the globe, they’re allowing anyone to play director of football.
Data has become big business in the game – a potential lawsuit involving hundreds of players may reveal just how big in the near future – but it has also become the hobby of some and the obsession of others.
And while so much more than data goes into Victor Orta’s scouting of players, platforms like Smarterscout are helping to shape the conversation about recruitment, influencing decisions and potentially even fuelling transfer talk.
Dan Altman, founder of North Yard Analytics and creator of Smarterscout, told the YEP: “The purpose of Smarterscout is two-fold.
“One is to make it easier to identify players with certain characteristics, including their ability to succeed when they switch leagues, and the second is to be able to filter large numbers of players down to a more manageable number so clubs, agents and media can find out which players they want to focus on for their various purposes.”
Altman says clubs in two dozen top-tier leagues are using the platform and footballers themselves have interacted with its content.
At Leeds United, Orta says there are four keys to recruiting successfully – ensuring the player is capable of making the move in terms of psychology, physicality, technical skill and transitional adaptability.
The last one can relate to the style of the team he’s currently with and whether or not he can continue to perform in the Leeds team, but another consideration is the level at which he’s playing.
Altman says Smarterscout has a way of converting a player’s attributes to be relevant to the standard of a different league.
A recent in-house article examined their success in predicting the performance of strikers who had moved to the Premier League.
“We looked at them in terms of what their output would be and how their style would affect performance and I think we did pretty well,” he said.
“We got Nicholas Pepe’s goal and assists almost right on the money, Bruno Fernandes we were very close as well, Mbwana Samatta we were very concerned about and he ended up scoring just once.
“I think we did rather well. It’s not because we have some great intuition or a crystal ball; it’s just because of the rigour in the statistics that we use.”
Altman’s algorithms suggest Leeds United are already ‘pretty strong overall’ when it comes to top-flight standards, but recruitment will still be vital to their survival.
To that end, Altman ran the YEP through a demonstration of his platform and when Smarterscout came up with players who, according to data, could do the jobs Marcelo Bielsa needs doing, some of the names were familiar.
Some have already been linked to Elland Road this summer.
“I’ve followed Bielsa for quite a while and he has very specific roles for players in his squad, he wants them to perform certain roles and achieve certain objectives,” said Altman.
“So a starting point is looking for players who have similar styles of play and do similar actions on the pitch but maybe have a little more effectiveness that would be suitable for the Premier League.
“We have a tool on the site which is called search by similar player, essentially it looks at eight attributes of a player’s style – disrupting opposition plays, recovering moving balls, linking up, passing towards goal, dribbling, receiving in the box, shooting and aerials. These attributes and the ratings we have, on a zero to 99 scale, can be used to match players across our leagues.”
Using Patrick Bamford as the model striker, given Bielsa’s unwavering faith in his number nine last season, Altman adjusted his attributes for Premier League standards and came up with Benfica forward Carlos Vinícius.
“Assuming Bamford did all the things Bielsa wanted him to do, linking the play, receiving in the box and shooting, not really passing towards goal but more of a target, disrupting opposition play, we should look for a player who does those things but has better finishing,” he said.
“Vinícius’ style map is almost identical. He did a little bit less link up passing but did a lot of the same things. His overall attacking output is higher, even by Premier League standards.
“He’s not as good at tackling as Bamford, but if you want a player to fulfil the same role, but with more effectiveness with his final touch, this is a player you’d look at.”
Leeds also need cover and an eventual replacement for Pablo Hernandez.
“Hernandez is an aggressive passer, he takes risks, his attacking output is fantastic and he’s a great finisher too,” said Altman.
“There are a couple of players at Bielsa’s old club Vélez Sarsfield where he won the title in Argentina. One is Lucas Robertone. He’s very similar to Hernandez. His attacking output isn’t quite as high, but he’s a younger player, 23 and could yet develop. If you’re looking for a guy who could make those incisive passes towards goal and be a pretty avid defender, he’s one you could consider. And he also has an Italian passport.
“Another is Thiago Almada, who actually said he wants to play for Bielsa a week or two ago. He’s played a variety of positions. He’s not as much of an incisive passer, he’s more about getting into the box and shooting and dribbling.”
Should Kiko Casilla’s time at Elland Road come to an end, Smarterscout’ suggests Daniel Bentley of Bristol City or Groningen’s Sergio Padt.
“They’re both aggressive, can link up the play from the back with passes and are very good shotstoppers,” said Altman.
The centre-back Leeds would like most this summer is Ben White, but with top-six clubs eyeing him, he might provide nothing more than an ideal profile for a potential replacement.
Smarterscout puts forward Juan Foyth, the Spurs defender already heavily linked to Leeds.
“The styles are almost identical, Foyth is a better tackler than White, more aggressive and a bit more dangerous in attack – he might do everything White did and more,” suggested Altman.
“Another Argentine player, Lucas Martínez Quarta, can play both sides. As a left centre-back he gets forward into the box and shoots more, as a right centre-back the styles are quite similar. He’s also an excellent tackler.”
It’s easy to see the appeal and the usefulness of data at your fingertips in this way.
“Our goal is information,” Orta told the YEP in January.
Apps and platforms can provide that, but it’s what you do with it that counts.
When Leeds sign their 2020-21 squad additions, data will have played a part in finding them.
What the scouts, Orta and Bielsa see will then determine their suitability. The eyes still have it.