You Can’t Know What You Need Until You Know What You’ve Got – Jack Dodd

Toronto FC’s BMO Stadium – photo taken by Worrawat Engchuan

I should start this by crediting Mike Rigg, the Sporting Director of Burnley Football Club for the quote used in the title. This was a line he challenged me with in a conversation years ago, that really stuck with me.

Whenever scouting and recruitment in soccer are discussed, whether it’s publicly or within the four walls of a club environment, the focus is often on how a club identifies players to fill their needs.

Far less frequently do we hear about how a club identifies the actual need in the first place.

Identify & Understand The Need

A previous post on this site asked “How much more can we learn about ourselves?” and as someone working in player scouting, this has a direct correlation to how successful we can then be at improving our playing staff with effective recruitment.

For example, if a team isn’t scoring many goals, the desire is often to bring in a proven goal scorer to fix that problem. However, there are a series of questions that need to be asked first, for example;

What if the team is creating fewer scoring chances than others and what are the causes of that?

Is it a failing of the individual players or the attacking principles of the team? Should the philosophy be changed?

If so, does the club have the personnel to carry out a different approach?

If not, how can they improve their current approach to create more chances?

If it is a personell issue, what type of players in which positions are needed to bring about that improvement and affect change?

If the issue is poor finishing, then what type of chances are they creating?

What type of striker will be the most effective in converting the types chances a team is manufacturing?

And so on.

There is no guarantee that a goal scorer from another team, often in another league, will seamlessly transition and produce the same results in a different environment.

Answers From Within

The answer as to why there is a lack of goals has to come from within. Once the cause is identified then a solution to the problem can be determined and put into action.

Introspection and video analysis can provide the answers to these questions. It will inform in detail the required changes a club needs to make. This often results in additions made to the playing squad, but those additions must be based on an educated understanding of what the club needs first.

Whether it’s through a club’s own scouts, its use of video and data as an identification tool, or through a network of trusted agents, providing enough detail on the required playing profiles that the club needs, allows for the most suitable options to be presented.

But, for the most effective decisions to be made it must also be based on a clear understanding of the playing assets that the club has at its disposal already, relative to its principles of play and the individual positional requirements that are born from those principles.

This context, that frames the internal video and data analysis of a clubs own players, is key.

When scouting and recruiting players in a salary-capped league like MLS where there is a hard ceiling on spending, typically clubs are only working with the cap-space that they’ve been able to create.

Decisions on the retention and release of players are therefore important in determining the financial capability to improve a squad.

So is identifying players who may be pushed to other teams as trade options. Are there players that offer greater value in what they may return in a trade, than what they can provide to their current club in on-field quality, for example?

And based on the qualities of these players and knowledge of other clubs in the league, can we play match-maker to find the clubs that may be the best fit for each player?

Evidence-Based Decision Making

Evidence based video and data analysis, relative to the clubs identity can again provides these answers.

In turn, this same evidence-based approach should reveal who can be promoted internally from the club’s academy or development pathway. A further consideration we discuss when we look to recruit external players to our team.

Assessments of these players may be the determining factor in a team-mate being released or traded, as well as considered in filling the gaps created by outgoing players, often at less cost, allowing for salary-cap funds to be diverted to other identified areas of required depth or quality within the squad.

The internal review process is ongoing and dynamic. The state of play of a group of 30 players is in constant flux. Things change, often!

Only by having the best possible grip on the strengths and weaknesses of their current talent pool, can clubs be at their most efficient in identifying the profiles that they need to look to external markets for, in order to bring the best fits to the club (as well as knowing any allowances they can make, if working with limited funds).

Those profiles will include the desired attributes to look for that can be found in the video, live, and data scouting. Player profiles also need to address desired character traits for an organisation.

There are general things that any club wants new players to exhibit; competitiveness in training, willingness to learn and take on new ideas, professionalism off the field, popularity in the locker room.

An important consideration for many international signings in MLS is; what is their motivation for coming to the league, and the club?

Character references from former coaches and teammates will provide valuable insight, as will getting to know the player and their family or significant other before they set foot through the doors of the club.

Armed with all the assessment and knowledge that the club has gained during the recruitment process, the work then begins on maximising investment and the review cycle goes again.

Successful recruitment directly improves a club’s chances of success, in whichever way they define it. Scouting is the filler in between the internal analysis that goes into identifying the need and then optimising the outcome.

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