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Recruitment analysis: Early season scouting

The use of data in football recruitment is incredibly important. Data is something that I use extensively in order to cut through the noise presented by the sheer volume of players that there are in the world today.

As a part of the consultancy side of Total Football Analysis we work with clubs, players and agents from around the globe and as such we need to maintain a knowledge of a number of strategic markets from around the world. In order to manage this, the use of data is integral. One of the fundamental rules of using data in any setting, however, is that sample size is important, really important.

Typically, when I am using data I will ideally wait for at least ten matchdays to have passed in order to ensure that the sample size of data is big enough to provide a consistent picture. That does not mean though that you cannot use data with a small sample size in order to gain insights early in the season, it just means that you have to acknowledge the fact that the sample size is small and understand that it does not provide a full picture of the player.

In the main, I use data as a means to find players that are interesting. This may be because they specifically match the KPI’s that our clients have in their player profiles or it might be that they are impressing in terms of metrics that I keep that tend to be an indicator of players that will develop.

For the purposes of this article, I have identified five players that have had interesting starts to the season in slightly less well-known leagues (well other than one striker who is based in Belgium) with players based in Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia as well as Belgium. In the interests of balance, the five players that I have included in the article all play in different positions. There is one German central defender, based in Slovenia, a Portuguese left-back who plays in Poland, a Polish central midfielder from the Polish top-flight, a Nigerian winger based in Slovakia and a Belgian striker playing in the top-flight of his home country.

I should probably make it clear at this point that I am in no way saying that these players are the next big thing or that they will be in line for a move to a top-5 league in the next transfer window. Instead, each of them are impressing at their current level and would require further monitoring in terms of data checks and video analysis before I had a more full idea of their ability. Given the leagues that the majority of our players are based in, however, it is likely that if they continue their strong performances they will be of interest to clubs that play in leagues that are higher up the coefficient order.

#1 Robert Voloder, 20-years-old, Maribor (on loan from Koln) and Germany

Robert Voloder is a 20-year-old German defender who is currently contracted to Maribor, in the Slovenian top-flight, on loan from Koln. The young German is predominantly left-footed and has had experience already of playing on the left-side of a back three although Maribor display a preference to play with a back four and Voloder has also shown that he is comfortable as part of a two-man central defensive partnership. He is listed at 185cm | 6’2″ and he has a powerful and athletic build.

On the international stage, Voloder was initially part of the setup for Bosnia and Herzegovina but he has since declared himself for the German national team. In the international break just past the young defender was a part of the German U20 squad and he played 95 minutes in their 1-1 draw with Norway.

Above you can see the data profile for Voloder so far this season as he has played 674 minutes in the Slovenian top-flight, a good sample size, and we begin to see his playing style come out in the data. To the left of the profile visualisation, we have a percentile chart that compares Voroder to all central defenders in the Slovenian top-flight who have played at least 180 minutes so far this season. The longer the bar the better. To the right of that, you see his raw per 90 data and to the right of that, you can see his heatmap.

Voloder’s strengths as a player are immediately evident in his passing metrics although it is worth pointing out that Maribor do tend to be possession dominant domestically. What stood out for me, however, was not only his volume of passing with an average of 72.37 passes per 90 but the fact that he is very vertical in his approach with 13.22 progressive passes per 90 and 9.48 passes to the final third per 90. He is capable of switching the point of the attack through diagonal passes or playing vertical passes that break the lines of the opposition. He can also carry the ball forward himself in order to provoke the opposition into pressing the ball and he averages 1.47 progressive carries per 90, high for a central defender.

Defensively Voloder also impresses with 6.01 defensive duels per 90 with a success rate of 71.11% and 3,87 aerial duels per 90 with a success rate of 37.93%.

Voloder has impressed so far this season and although he may not make an immediate impact at Koln when he returns from his loan spell it is likely that there are other clubs in Bundesliga 1 or 2 who may become interested.

#2 Luis Mata, 24-years-old, Pogon Szczecin and Portugal

Luis Mata is a 24-year-old Portuguese fullback who is currently contracted to Pogon Szczecin in the Polish top-flight. Mata is a product of the youth system of FC Porto and he had loan spells with Portiminense in Portugal and FC Cartagena in Spain before he moved on a free transfer to join Pogon Szczecin in 2020. Now, in his second season in Poland, he is going from strength to strength. He is an excellent fullback with a balanced approach in terms of his ball progression. Mata is tall for a left-back as he is listed at 180cm | 5’11” and he has an athletic build.

At international level, Mata has played for Portugal up to U19 level but has yet to come close to breaking into one of the senior squads.

At the time of writing, Mata has played 493 minutes in the Polish top-flight. As a left-back Mata is most effective in the attacking phase where his ability to move up and down the left-flank and provide width provides a key aspect of the attacking game model at his club. Mata can carry the ball forward as he averages 3.29 dribbles per 90 and 1.64 progressive runs per 90 but he is also extremely capable when receiving the ball and then finding ways to progress the ball through the thirds and into the opposition penalty area. He averages 53.49 passes per 90 with 10.95 progressive passes per 90 and 4.56 passes to the final third per 90. He also averages 4.56 crosses per 90.

Luis Mata has impressed during his time in Poland. It would not be a surprise to see him move back to a good team in Portugal but the Dutch and Belgian top-flights would also make interesting options for the future.

#3 Bartosz Slisz, 22-years-old, Legia Warsaw and Poland

Bartosz Slisz is a 22-year-old Polish midfielder who is currently contracted to Legia Warsaw in the Polish top-flight. Slisz is actually a product of the youth system at ROW Rybnik and he moved to Zaglebie Lubin in 2017 before being signed by Legia Warsaw for a reported £1.66M in 2020. He is now a full Polish international having been called up for the recent internationals as he played 49 minutes against San Marino. As you can see from his player profile Slisz is much more comfortable as a ‘6’ or a deep sitting ‘8’ and he shows excellent outputs in terms of his passing and defensive metrics. He is listed at 179cm | 5’9″ and he is listed as being right-footed.

So far this season we have seen Slisz play 357 minutes in the Polish top-flight. His passing is a clear stand out quality although he is not purely a volume passer, although he does average 52.94 passes per 90, and instead, he has the capacity to progress the ball forward into the final third for his team. At the time of writing the young midfielder is averaging 7.56 progressive passes per 90 and 12.10 passes to the final third per 90. Defensively the young midfielder is also very good. He is averaging 9.58 defensive duels per 90 with a success rate of 55.26% as well as registering 9.35 possession adjusted interceptions.

A move to the Bundesliga would make sense as a next step for the newly capped Polish international midfielder.

#4 Yusuf Bamidele, 20-years-old, Spartak Trnava and Nigeria

Yusuf Bamidele is a 20-year-old Nigerian winger or attacking midfielder who is currently contracted to Spartak Trnava in the Slovakian top-flight. He moved across to join the Slovakian side from his native Nigeria in 2020 and he has been impressive during his time in Slovakia.  He is predominantly right-footed but he likes to come inside from his regular position on the left-wing in order to attack inside and towards the opposition goal. He is a good size, listed at 180cm | 5’10” and he is extremely quick with fluid movements showing his agility and ability to change direction quickly and with explosive power.

So far this season he has played 384 minutes in the Slovakian top-flight. He is a very balanced attacking player as he is averaging 5.39 dribbles per 90 but also 3.98 passes to the penalty area per 90 and 3.75 crosses per 90. While he is most comfortable on his right foot when coming inside he is capable enough on his left to also have a threat when attacking opposition defenders down the outside. This balance makes him difficult to defend against.

The young winger also carries a creative threat with 0.23 assists per 90.

He is likely to move on from Slovakia at the end of the season at the latest and a move to Belgium would strike me as making a lot of sense.

#5 Dante Vanzeir, 23-years-old, Union Saint Gilloise and Belgium

Dante Vanzeir is a 23-year-old Belgian forward who is currently contracted to Union Saint Gilloise in the Belgian top-flight. He is a striker who is capable of playing on his own or as part of a two but he has also had a relatively long path to the point where he is threatening to have a breakout season. He was initially on the books of Genk and he had loan spells at Beerschot and Mechelen before moving to Union SG in 2020. In his first season, he was a key player in helping the club to get promotion from the second flight and he has impressed in his time so far in the top-flight.

At the time of writing, he is averaging 562 minutes in the Belgian top-flight. His goalscoring threat is there for all to see with an average so far of 0.80 goals per 90 and 0.31 assists per 90. While these are almost certain to fall away over the coming months there is no doubting how impressive his start has been. His attacking metrics are very impressive with 2.88 shots per 90 and 6.41 touches in the opposition area per 90.

If he continues on this goalscoring and creative run then it is very likely that the striker will start to gain significant interest. A move to one of the giants of Belgian football would make sense.

Conclusion

Data scouting with a small sample size can be tricky. It is incredibly important that you remember that small sample sizes can be unreliable and that you do not make any final recruitment decisions based on a small data set. It can still, however, provide a list of different and interesting players that can be added into your recruitment workflows. Feel free to get in touch with us if we can help you.