What is a player recruitment analyst? How does it differ from a scout? And how realistic does Football Manager currently present the role in the game?
Those are the questions we are asking today and who better to ask, than a current player recruitment analyst for Barnsley FC and a Football Manager fan. We were lucky enough to be able to ask Matt Trevillion a couple of questions recently to give us an insight into the role of a player recruitment analyst.
Could you give us a little insight into your job role, please?
Not often are job titles so succinct but here is a rare occasion. A basic description would be “the identification of playing talent for the first team squad using both data and video”. But equally a lot of the job is decision-making, staying rational and not getting caught up in emotional responses and short-termism.
How did you end up becoming a player recruitment analyst?
I had a fairly unconventional route into the industry, by sharing work and networking over social media, a route we are seeing becoming more common. I have a strong background in mathematics and statistics, so it was really just learning how to apply this in a football context. What’s important? Why do we care about this? Does this tell us anything useful?
I taught myself the basics of how to code (R and python) with respect to cleaning and interpreting large datasets, as well as how to create efficient data visualisations that allow the reader to fully understand the information presented. The footballing side is more difficult to describe. I wouldn’t say I’m much better than the average avid fan in terms of analysing games. However, I feel I get a great understanding of contextualising the data alongside the footage and am able to be objective about what is actually happening on the pitch.
In terms of actually getting the job itself, mainly timing of the opportunity – and luck! The post came up and I applied. The backlog of work I had posted online certainly did me no harm during the application process.
Do you have an idea of budget/player values before analysing players for recruitment?
I can only speak from personal experience here. The budget is ever-changing and reacts to other variables at the club. It’s never really constant. It’s also player dependent, the money might be there if everyone believes they will definitely enhance the current squad. It’s not there to be spent for the sake of it.
I think the update to player values in FM22 is very representative of the real-life situation. Naturally, there is no single value, they don’t exist. A player is valued by the selling club and the buying club – often with a lot of disparity. Clicking “Agent Availability” is essentially what we have to do to find a rough estimation and even then this is often lower than the “actual” value to keep you interested.
How do you recruit players to make them future-proof in case of a change in management?
This is an interesting question. The general answer is having an overarching philosophy and way of playing such that any change in management would continue to fit the current players. Don’t switch from Mauricio Pochettino to Jose Mourinho. Ensuring the player is well-suited to the style of play and shape will make any transition to the succeeding manager a lot easier.
Unfortunately, there are still limitations to this, especially at lower-league clubs. There are only X amount of attainable coaches that play similar styles, and when you are unable to get any of them you are forced to make adjustments.
In Football Manager, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between a scout and a player recruitment analyst. I guess what I’m asking here is how the raw data you use differ from that of a scout.
From my experience, scouts don’t tend to use too much data but I’m aware that’s not reflective of the role as a whole. I would imagine it would filter down from my role, providing the scout with additional information that can assist in their own analysis. For the most part, scouts are best utilised going to games where there is limited data available, like U21s and the lower divisions in the English pyramid.
What are the major differences, especially in the way you identify players?
I feel like as a recruitment analyst, you filter out any noise and can get a much more objective idea of a player. The data really helps to reduce variance within performances. A scout could watch a player play enough to get a reasonable sample size but still miss out on how they performed over the course of an entire season.
Technically, there could also be a big difference. Often from football-ing backgrounds and within the industry, how they analyse and think about the game is different. There could be built-in bias from being exposed to that environment, and a tendency to overvalue things that might not be that important with respect to on-field performance.
Does Football Manager do a good representation of how you do things like you mentioned above, or could it be presented/executed in a much better way?
I think they do scouts well. There just doesn’t seem to be much distinction between the two roles. As a recruitment analyst, you can get through more players in a set time frame. I’m not 100% clued up on how the role works in-game but I feel like it takes too long to get an analyst’s report back. I think they need to incorporate the data hub and scouting together. To be able to look up a player and see exactly how they compare to other players in the same position across similar level leagues.
I know social media isn’t a good reference point for this, but it still seems to be behind the times and in some parts, still sees analyst work as taboo. Have you experienced this?
I wouldn’t say I’ve personally experienced this. I think the main issue with social media is we are all stuck in our own echo chambers. My timeline is curated in a way that just displays people who are either in the industry or have a strong interest. I’m sure there are still a lot of people who are sceptical, but any criticism I do see is perhaps misdirected. Usually, it could be more towards how the work is presented by a particular user, with some slight arrogance or self-righteousness that their analysis is definitely correct.
I don’t mean you personally here, but have you heard any stories of managers not being receptive to working with someone in your field or other analysts in general? As for Football Manager, there is nothing like this either, and it had me wondering if this was a true reflection of reality or not.
I heard one story recently, although believable I can’t be sure how true it is. However, I think the majority of coaches/managers are just inquisitive and curious to learn more. They’ve been in the game longer than I’ve been alive. They’ve been brought up to believe X, Y and Z, ingrained in a certain culture and now suddenly some guy with a few graphs on his MacBook tells them differently. This doesn’t necessarily mean either of us is correct, but more that there are different ways to view certain problems and both parties being open to the other helps build a better mutual understanding. Especially with the current set-up at my club, they’re always asking questions and trying to improve their own understanding and vice versa (there’s a lot to learn from them!). I’ve only had positive experiences.
What parameters are put in place before they start looking at players in general? This is one area where Football Manager lets us down currently. We just don’t have the options available to us that you would have.
Initially, a review of the squad and evaluation of the areas we need to improve will take place. This then gives us the first parameter of what position(s) to prioritise in the upcoming window. Then, the players must meet our parameters for age, minutes played, GBE status and some proxy of value (there is no point in us watching players that we believe are unattainable).
For each position/role, there are different sets of skills/attributes we look for as well as how they would fit the overall style of the team. An example might be that we want the centre-forward who presses effectively but also drops in and contributes to build-up. Certain skills are more important than others and this is normally on a case-by-case basis. It’s impossible for a player to meet them all and you have to compromise on certain attributes.
How crazy things are around transfer window times? Like towards deadline day, does the workload ramp up?
As much as every club would love to have their business done by deadline day, it’s often out of their hands. Clubs will tend to leave their outgoings until the end when they have finished their ingoings. As a result, this creates a chain where everyone is just waiting for each other to move. One of the players we signed on deadline day we had been in contact with all summer (and before that) but his parent club only decided to let him go in the last few days.
The actual workload should in fact decrease a fair bit. If you’re still scouting players with a week left something has probably gone wrong. This time should mainly be used for ad-hoc reports if a player suddenly becomes available that was previously unattainable.
What are the dangers of only looking at goals and assists when looking for offensive reinforcements?
What percentage of goals and assists make up the total events a player is involved in? A tiny, tiny amount. There is so much noise around goals and assists. People like to pretend there is no luck in football in order to have control over what occurs, but it’s just untrue. The margins between a shot resulting in a goal or otherwise are so minuscule. I always think about that ESPN video about Messi’s goal in the Copa del Rey final vs. Athletic Bilbao.
Essentially there is so much work that goes into offensive play that looking at only goals and assists is very reductive and doesn’t tell anywhere near the full picture of a player’s quality. They are too susceptible to luck, variance and the skill of teammates.
How should we compare things like CCC, key passes, etc compared to assists?
I’m unsure about the use of CCC. I think they’re quite subjective in reality but on FM I’m assuming it’s done by the xG of a chance being above a certain threshold, which does make it useful.
Key Passes, although quite rudimentary, are always a solid one. We are unable to get any greater context from it, certain Key Passes will be better than others, but over a large enough sample will tell us players that are most consistently creating shooting opportunities for their teammates.
Assists can be alternatively described as Key Passes that result in goals. Reliant on the skill and luck of the recipient rather than the skill (and less luck) of the passer.
The first two are more effective at capturing a player’s ability to create chances rather than create goals.
Which stats do you use that are missing from Football Manager?
Open-Play xG Assisted
Open-Play Passes into Box
Deep Progressions (Passes into Final Third)
Deep Completions (Passes in Final Third)
Making sure everything is done per 90 minutes or possession adjusted also. I think the former is where you just have to navigate too many tabs.
As an avid Football Manager player yourself, you know that we have shortlists and have to scout players again, every so often to refresh the information available. Is this something you have to do in your job and if so, how often is this likely to occur?
This is something that happens. A lot can change within a short amount of time so it’s beneficial to re-scout, especially if the player continues to perform well within the data. It’s only likely to occur two/three times over the course of the season and only if the player is of serious interest. Equally, it’s important to get another perspective and second opinion on the player if you’re taking the risk of signing them.
Is it common that when this happens, you might regrade them?
Due to the re-scout usually being done by another scout/analyst, it is likely they will be graded slightly differently. Although the difference is usually subtle. Maybe there is some bias in not wanting to differ from the crowd (previous report)? Could be an interesting study.
Matt is also in the game himself, this is him inside Football Manager 2022.
It’s interesting that Matt mentioned he’d like to see the data hub and scouting linked. When we asked people on Twitter and Discord what they’d like to see improved for Football Manager 2023, this was a popular suggestion too.
We’d like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer the above questions and wish him well for the future. If you enjoyed what Matt had to say then please, also give him a follow on Twitter @trevillion_