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Data Analysis: Scouting the Eerste Divisie

We are creeping ever closer to the point in which people within football can approach recruitment questions in the 2021/22 season without worrying about sample size. My own personal preference for sample size when using data is for there to have been ten matches played already in any given competition. That does not mean, however, that we cannot use data in the recruitment process before that magical ten-match point. Instead, we have to apply our own lens to the data and appreciate that what we are seeing will have to be verified as the season progresses. Indeed, using data at this early point in the season to get an early look at which players are performing well can be an efficient way to inform the ongoing longlisting and shortlisting process as clubs start to plan for upcoming transfer windows.

When I am using data in this manner my process now remains relatively static. I use Wyscout as the data source, the best option from a cost/quality/depth perspective and Tableau as the tool for visualising and interpreting the data. Using these simple tools I am able to gain insights into the performances of players and indeed clubs from across the football world. I have my own combinations of metrics that are used to identify players that are well but these are also combined with metrics that meet the specific requirements and style that the client club prefers. Having assessed player performances I then move on to the longlisting process using custom-built dashboards within Tableau. These will be shown below and allow me to quickly assess player performance across a number of key metrics depending on the position of the player in question.

This will be the first in a series of league specific data analysis pieces that I will be writing for the site. In these articles, the idea is to choose specific leagues before assessing player performance within that league and picking out the players that have impressed at this early stage of the season. At this point, I should stress that I am not suggesting that I would instantly recommend any of these players for recruitment. Rather that I would enter them into the process that would see them watched on video or in-person and then assessed again through their data at a later point in the season. I am not in any way an advocate for the use of data as the sole driver in the recruitment process but I do fully appreciate that it has its uses. A smart club will combine data analysis processes with more traditional scouting and recruitment techniques.

The first league that we will be looking at is the second tier of Dutch football, the Eerste Divisie.

#1 Damon Mirani, 25-years-old, Central Defender, Volendam and the Netherlands

I should start at this point by saying that Volendam are one of my favourite teams to watch in Europe. Under the coaching of the former international midfielder Wim Jonk they play in a style that you would normally associate with Ajax or Barcelona with positional play at the heart of their methodology and game model. This summer saw the club have to sell their talented 20-year-old central defender Micky van de Ven when Marseille made a bid reported to be in the region of £3.15M for his services. Volendam planned for the sale well and the recruitment of Damon Mirani from Almere City appears to have filled the hole extremely well.

Mirani is a product of the Volendam academy but he left the club as a teenager having been recruited heavily by Ajax. He eventually left Ajax for first-team football in 2016 when he joined Almere City and this summer he completed the circle with a free transfer back to Volendam.

He is a right-footed central defender who is listed at 183cm | 6’1″ and he has the versatility to play as either the right-sided or left-sided central defender and in a back four or a back three. Mirani has settled very quickly in Jonk’s system with his ability in possession of the ball being especially impressive. On the profile above the percentile ranks show the performance of the player compared to all other players in the same league and same position who have played at least 180 minutes this season. To the right of that, we see his raw per 90 metrics and to the right of that, you see the players heatmap.

The passing section of Mirani’s profile is especially impressive as he is averaging 73.34 passes per 90 with 15.42 progressive passes per 90 and 15.10 passes into the final third per 90. These show a central defender who has become a key component in the build-up phase and ball progression for his new side. He has the ability to take possession and find the line breaking passes that move his team forward or to switch the point of attack through diagonal passes that access all areas of the field. Mirani also, however, impresses with his defensive outputs as he is averaging 7.63 defensive duels per 90 with a success rate of 69.39% and 7.01 aerial duels per 90 with a success rate of 62.22%. This is combined with an impressive 9.59 possession adjusted interceptions.

If this early season form continues then I would not be surprised to see Mirani become a target for other clubs towards the end of the season.

#2 Victor van den Bogert, 22-years-old, Central Defender, Den Bosch and the Netherlands

Den Bosch is in itself an interesting club having been recently bought by Pacific Media Group, the group that owns Barnsley, in England and Oostende, in Belgium. This ownership group has a clear way of working in that they look to lower the average age of their squads while introducing a style of play that incorporates high energy pressing out of possession and vertical passing in possession. They will have been delighted to have secured the deal with the 22-year-old Van den Bogert part of the first-team squad. The young central defender was initially in the Willem II academy system and he spent time on loan at De Graafschap before he moved to join Den Bosch in July of this year on a free transfer. It is far to say that he has made an extremely strong start to his time at the club.

Van den Bogert is predominantly right-footed and plays most confidently as a right-sided central defender. Similar to Mirani he profiles as a central defender who can play as part of a back four or a back three.

Once again the passing section of his profile is impressive. He has played 480 domestic minutes so far and he is averaging 63.94 passes per 90. Of these 13.69 per 90 are progressive passes and 8.44 per 90 are into the final third. He is confident and capable on the ball and will carry the ball out of defence in order to affect the opposition’s defensive block and to create spaces further forward that teammates can take advantage of.  The young defender also has interesting defensive outputs with 4.31 defensive duels per 90 and a success rate 65.22% as well as 6.75 aerial duels per 90 with a success rate of 50%.

Victor van den Bogert comes in that sweet spot as a central defender who is young, has a relatively low valuation on Transfermarkt and who has a contract that is due to expire in the next two years.

#3 Jari Vlak, 23-years-old, Central Midfielder, Emmen and the Netherlands

Jari Vlak is a 23-year-old central midfielder who is currently contracted to Emmen. He was initially a product of the youth academy at Volendam before moving to join Emmen in January of this year. He is predominantly right-footed and listed at 191cm | 6’3″ which gives him a considerable presence in the centre of midfield.

Vlak profiles very much as an ‘8’ in the centre of the park with the capacity to work from box to box very well. While his goal output and attacking metrics are relatively low for the position his passing and defensive metrics are very good. This season so far he has played 498 minutes in the Dutch second tier and he is averaging 60.86 passes per 90 with 9.04 progressive passes per 90, 7.75 passes to the final third per 90 and 2.21 passes to the penalty area per 90. He is a creative threat in central areas with the ability to break lines and move his team forward into dangerous areas of the pitch.

He also has strong defensive data for a number ‘8’ with 5.53 defensive duels per 90 and a success rate of 63.33% and 4.24 aerial duels per 90 and a success rate of 43.48% along with 6.58 possession adjusted interceptions.

Vlak is another player on our shortlist who has a contract that expires in the next two seasons.

#4 Marouan Azarkan, 19-years-old, Winger, Excelsior (on loan from Feyenoord) and the Netherlands

The next player on our list is the 19-year-old winger Marouan Azarkan who is currently on loan at Excelsior from Feyenoord. Azarkan is an attacking player who prefers to play from the right-hand side. He is predominantly left-footed which suggests that he will tend to cut inside but he is also comfortable on his right with the ability to attack defenders on either side. He is a product of the Feyenoord youth academy and he has already had one loan spell, at NAC Breda.

Azarkan profiles strongly as a ball-carrying wide player but one who carries a significant threat both in terms of creativity and goal scoring when he moves with the ball into central areas. So far this season he has played 359 minutes in the second tier of Dutch football and he is averaging 8.02 dribbles per 90 with a success rate of 53.13% he is also averaging 2.51 shots per 90 and he has scored 0.50 goals per 90 although his xG is only sitting at 0.27 per 90. Interestingly, he is also averaging 3.26 touches in the opposition area per 90, high for a wide player.

In terms of his passing metrics, the young winger is averaging 7.02 progressive passes per 90 4.51 passes to the final third per 90 and an impressive 6.27 passes to the penalty area per 90. He is also averaging 0.25 assists per 90. This takes his goal contributions per 90 numbers up to 0.75 per 90, very impressive outputs.

Part of the reason that I keep a close eye on the Dutch second tier is for talents like this who might not make the impact at first-team level for Feyenoord but who has a high level of potential.

#5 Thijs Dallinga, 21-years-old, Centre Forward, Excelsior and the Netherlands

The final player on my shortlist also plays for Excelsior and is the 21-year-old centre forward Thijs Dallings. He is a product of the youth academy at Emmen but he made the move to Groningen in 2018 before removing back to Excelsior on a free transfer in 2021. He is predominantly right-footed and he is listed at 180cm | 5’10” tall although his upright playing style makes him seem taller on the pitch. This season we have seen Dallings make a strong start as the clubs first-choice striker and he has already played 538 minutes in the second tier this season.

So far he is averaging an incredible 1.17 goals per 90, over a goal a game, although his xG is lower at 0.87 per 90. If his output regresses towards the level of his xG though it would still be an extremely impressive output for such a young forward. While his goal output is extremely good his other underlying attacking metrics are equally impressive. He is averaging 4.01 shots per 90 and 4.18 touches in the opposition area per 90.

If he continues with these attacking outputs then there will be a number of clubs showing interest in the young attacker.

Conclusion

In terms of young talent, the second tier of Dutch football tends to be a gold mine. The mixture of B teams for the biggest clubs domestically and interesting clubs looking to break back into the top flight is coupled with a willingness to play young players from an early age. This is a market that I like to be aware of as the players in question have a good profile in terms of age, value and contract length.