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Recruitment Analysis: Finding Chennaiyin’s next Nerijus Valskis

Nerijus Valskis, the Lithuanian international who played an integral role in Chennaiyin’s rollercoaster season in the Indian Super League 2019/20, made a shocking move to Jamshedpur leaving fans disappointed and shocked. He had a great impact and influence on the team’s overall performance which was irreplaceable. But transfers are all part of football and hence in this article, we will perform a recruitment analysis for Chennaiyin to try and find a new striker for the upcoming season.

Since it’s going to be a new head coach and the fact that we aren’t aware of the tactics they’ll adapt to, we will not look at the best strikers in this recruitment, but as the title suggests, we will search for the next Valskis.

So in order to begin with this analysis, first we will first perform an initial retrospective analysis to analyse Chennaiyin’s transfer strategy.

Retrospective analysis

We will now look and try to analyse the signings made by Chennaiyin in the previous three seasons. We only take into account the signings we know the complete data of and disclosed transfer fee signings were omitted. 

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Looking at the above bar chart, this gives us an idea about the number of signings made in each season, the amount spent and their average age. Something that we can easily say by looking at this data is that Chennaiyin looks to sign free agents. Across the past three seasons, we can see that most of the players have arrived for free. Looking at the average age of players signed, it’s more likely to understand they have gone for players who are at their peak pace with a lot of experience. 

Moving on, we will now examine where they have signed players from, we will now look at the geographical locations of leagues that the players were signed from.

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Upon looking at the world map above, we really can’t identify any clear trend that Chennaiyin follow. Most of their signings are from India which would be pretty obvious, but their overseas signings have been erratic and follow no real trend.

We weren’t able to pick up a pattern in their overseas signings from the previous analysis’, but one thing that we can confirm is that they tend to sign free agents the most with the players being in the peak phase and well experienced.

Moving on, in the next section of this recruitment analysis, we will use visualisations to find out similar players to Valskis from all the leagues that Chennaiyin have signed players from in the past three seasons. 

Shortlisting of players

Taking into account all the above-observed trends, we will next look at all the free agents from the aforementioned leagues that Chennaiyin have signed in the previous three seasons. We will also be looking at free agents who are aged between 26-33 as these are the kind of players most preferred by the two-time champions.

The below visualisation consists of players after filtering the players with the above criteria. Their percentiles were then calculated with respect to their league. They were then segregated based on their style of play on whether they are a false nine, poacher or a target man using key metrics corresponding to each of these roles.

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Upon evaluating the players’ performance using the key metrics, their playing style is categorised as above. From the above visualisation, we can now look at players who are similar to Valskis and they all are highlighted in yellow dots, while Valskis is in red. After running a proper background check we have shortlisted six strikers who are statistically similar to our target profile. They are Pedro Júnior, Maksym Marusych, Massimo Coda, Riccardo Maniero, Nigel Hasselbaink and Mason Robertson, but we will be only analysing Maniero, Hasselbaink and Robertson as the other have already been signed by other clubs. 

The players were shortlisted after running a background check and a complete analysis of their play style using match footages in different match situations. As we’ve already mentioned, we will not look for the best striker to replace Valskis, but similar strikers to fill in his shoes at Chennaiyin. In the next section, I will perform data analysis and look at how they have been performing statistically and how they could add value to Chennaiyin upfront. Throughout our analysis, Valskis will be represented by a red circle, while the remaining shortlisted players will be in yellow circles.

Data analysis

We will perform a data analysis only to look at their statistics and not compare the players as each of our shortlisted players play in different leagues and countries. The leagues’ style of play and nature would have a huge influence on their statistics. We will examine how they have performed in their league in the later sections but for now, we perform this data analysis just to study and analyse their per 90 statistics. 

To begin with, we will look at the expected goal contribution for each of the shortlisted players with Valskis being our benchmark in all the visualisations. Valskis’ contribution in front of the goal last season was the sole reason for Chennaiyin’s success. He alone was directly involved in 21 goals last season by scoring 15 and assisting six. Which is why analysing the players expected goal contribution becomes the most important criteria in our search to find the next Valskis.

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Valskis has an impressive xG value of 0.42 while his xA per 90 holds a value of 0.13. All our shortlists are scattered around Valskis with a slight variation. Starting with Robertson who plays for Real Kashmir as a striker, falls a bit short of Valskis’ values by having an xG per 90 value of 0.36  and also an xA per 90 value of 0.10.

Hasselbaink, the 29-year-old striker who last played in Israel has an xG per 90 value(0.35) which is comparatively lesser than Robertson but stands out with an xA per 90 value of 0.17. Maniero holds an xA per 90 value 0.06 while his xG per 90 is highest with a value of 0.44.

Moving on we will now look at how they have performed inside the opponent’s penalty area and how often they shoot. We will have touches in the box per 90 in the y-axis and shots per 90 in the x-axis while the size of each circle indicates their shot on target percentage.

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Valskis situated in the middle of the other yellow dots takes as much as 3.63 touches inside the box per 90 on an average and has shots per 90 value of 2.66 with a good on-target percentage of 48.08%. Robertson is the closest player to Valskis in this scatter plot and takes 3.04 touches inside the penalty box per 90 and takes 2.84 shots per 90 with an above-average on-target percentage of 32.56%.

Maniero seems to be taking the lowest number of touches inside the penalty box per 90 (2.77) and has the lowest shot per 90 (1.65) value among our shortlists but with a comparatively higher on-target percentage of 50%. Hasselbaink takes 2.01 shots per 90 and also takes 4.07 touches in the penalty box per 90. His shot on target percentage is pretty good with a percentage of 42.86%.

If Chennaiyin adapts to a similar 4-2-3-1 formation like the previous season, then the positioning and the threat causing ability of the striker becomes an important criterion to assess which we did in the previous scatter plot. But apart from these, we also need a striker who not only causes threat by scoring but also by supporting and combining with the rest of the players. 

In the below scatter plot we would now look at the impact of the passes that each of these players makes while the radius of the circle indicates the passes to penalty area per 90.

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Valskis has 5.16 forward passes per 90 with 2.18 passes being into the final third and 1.53 into the penalty area per 90. Maniero is found to make 4.57 number of forward passes and 2.33 number of final third passes per 90 but has the lowest number of passes into the penalty area per 90(0.83). Hasselbaink who is situated next to Maniero makes 4.01 forward passes per 90 and 2.23 final third passes per 90 and has the highest passes into the penalty area per 90 among our shortlists with a value of 3.15. Robertson has the highest number of final third passes per 90 with a value of 3.44 and also with an impressive number of forward passes per 90 of 6.41. He also tends to make 2.06 passes into the penalty box per 90. 

After analysing the players’ attacking abilities and their value of passes, it’s also important to take note of their defending abilities. In this below scatter plot, we will analyse their success in both aerial and defensive duels while the radius of each circle will indicate the number of aerial and defensive duels the player has involved themselves in.

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Valskis is quite sound in defensive duels with a success percentage of 57.14% while his aerial duels stand at a success percentage of 38.95%. He involves himself in as much as 9.86 duels per 90 which are pretty good. 

Hasselbaink is found on the top with the highest success in defensive duels with a success rate of 63.38% and isn’t really an aerial threat as he wins only 25.93% of his aerial duels and involves him in as much as just 5.62 duels per 90. Maniero has good numbers in aerial duels success as his percentage stands at 41.94%, while his success reputation in defensive duels stands at 42.31% It’s also to be noted that Maniero in 11.57 number of duels per 90.

Robertson looks to be the best in aerial duels as he stands out with a success rate of 60.11% and also has a very good success rate in defensive duels with a percentage of 51.61%. He also involves himself in 16.20 duels per 90 which is a really good sign which indicates his defending abilities.

Player profiles

In the above section, we looked at the stats of every individual player, but that is something we cannot use to judge their performance as they play in different leagues. In this section, we will see their overall performance on how they have performed in their respective leagues and also write short profiles on them explaining their play style and how they could benefit the team. They were written after seeing numerous match footages of each player across various match situations.

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

As usual, Valskis will be our benchmark player and the above visualization includes the percentile values of his performance with respect to other strikers in the Indian Super League. The remaining players were in fact chosen as they had performed similarly to Valskis in their respective leagues. The player profiles will be written in the reverse order of our preferences.

Preference #3

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Riccardo Maniero(32-years-old, Without Club) – The Italian player who began his career in the Juventus under 19 team is now a free agent. Maniero is an experienced player who has played in all levels of leagues such as the Serie A, Serie B etc. He is very good at making runs and taking advantage of the gaps in the opponents defensive line. He has a very good shooting ability which is very often on target. He has lost his pace, and hence isn’t very quick but combines very well and creates key chances upfront. When he makes those intelligent runs, he makes sure to drag a centre-back along with him which then leads to gaps in the centre which then the other players try to exploit. 

Maniero isn’t exactly a goal threat but does not miss out chances to score. He’s confident when on the ball and is a skilful player. His ability to combine with the attack is his huge asset and his experience could be a vital role in a team like Chennaiyin. He also positions himself well in the defending phase of the game and makes some intelligent presses and is very sound in the aerial duels. He could offer a perfect balance upfront to Rafael Crivellaro’s dribbling nature and Lallianzuala Chhangte pace. Almost in his final years of football and without a club, he could really be interested to play in India in his final few years.

Preference #2

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Mason Robertson(26-years-old, Real Kashmir) – The Scottish professional who plays in the I-League in India for Real Kashmir had his contract ended in May and is yet to make his next decision. One of the greatest assets Robertson possesses is his versatility. Naturally, he is a centre-back but is a promising finisher. He is a physically imposing player and is very sound in the air. Since he is also a defender, his ability to read the opponents defenders is outstanding and is quick to make recoveries. He’s quite comfortable on both his feet and prefers his right the most.

The tall versatile player is also an aerial threat which is something Chennaiyin lack. Robertson’s link-up play is quite average and prefers to shoot most of the time. But that is something that can definitely be improved upon. Moving from I-League to ISL would be a dream for every player in the I-League. Robertson is entering his peak years and would love to accept this challenge and mature himself has a striker at Chennaiyin alongside several other legends.

Preference #1

Finding Chennaiyin's next Nerijus Valskis-recruitment analysis data

Nigel Hasselbaink(29-years-old, Without Club) – Hasselbaink made his final appearance in the Israeli Premier League and is a free agent since April 23, 2020. Hasselbaink is a complete player and an attacking threat to any team he plays against. Being equally comfortable with both feet, Hasselbaink loves to dribble inside the box and take on defenders. He’s very confident and skilful on the ball which has seen him succeed on many occasions. His link-up play is outstanding which could be his greatest asset. He would definitely offer the balance that Chennaiyin would want upfront and is also a promising finisher.

He plays in line with the defenders and expects through passes and makes decisive runs, but is also capable of dropping back to link up the play. He stands at 170cm tall and doesn’t have the biggest success in aerial duels, but doesn’t shy away from scoring headers. He is just 29 years of age and would want a club to continue his career and Chennaiyin could be the perfect place for him. 


The upcoming days are crucial for Chennaiyin as they still haven’t made a signing to replace Valskis who was their biggest asset last season. All the three shortlists would be able to replace Valskis and could offer a lot more than what Valskis did. But it would also depend upon the new coach and the tactics they adopt too. On the whole, it would be worth waiting to see who Chennaiyin sign and if the striker they recruit can deliver and meet their expectations and help the marina machans lift the trophy for a third time next season.