Did you watch that player?

Fans, if they disagree with FBM stats, often ask me: “Did you actually watch this player?” The short answer is: “No!” That is not my job. My job is to make an assessment of how likely it is that a player is going to contribute to the team. Yet, if you are not a good pro-scout chances are that while you think you watch a player, in reality you fall into one or more of the following pitfalls:

  • You see potential, whereas a good pro-scout sees progress and extrapolates that progress. “Potential” just means that there is a possibility of this or that. Everything you can think of can happen potentially. Even I could, potentially, be the next superstar striker of the Dutch national team. The probability of that happening is extremely low, but there is a chance. Progress is something that you can actually see. An extrapolation of progress in the form of a concrete prediction can be measured in terms of whether the prediction was correct or not. Seeing potential is meaningless.
  • Confirmation bias. The world contains much more data than we take in through the senses. This is called the bottleneck problem. The most likely solution is that for the most part we see what we expect to see. Most people see what they expect to see when they look at a player. This goes for you and me, but also for top executives of some of the biggest clubs I worked for in my experience.
  • You see a great pass. But did you see what kind of pass that was. Did you see whether that pass was the right decision? Was the decision made in time? Was the decision made with less space and time? If you see a player under pressure, you are not looking at the player as a good pro-scout. Are you at the same time capable of seeing that player make the same decision, execute the decision and get the same result, in a different team with different team mates?
  • Are you looking through the good to see the bad when the player plays really well? Are you looking through the bad to see the good when the player plays really badly?
  • Can you see whether the mistakes a player makes are due to a lack of technique or a lack of game intelligence?
  • Do you look at how the player drinks his water bottle during injury time?
  • Do you know that a video scout watches quite differently than a live scout?

To sum up, no I don’t watch players, but chances are neither are you. Unless you are a good pro-scout. That is the reason why we teach the Football Behavior Management course with the participation of live and video scouts.

Always combine live, video and data scouting

Having said that, I am all in favor of always using every available source to determine how probable it is whether a player is going to be a success at the club. In fact I have developed a risk management model that measures the predictions of every scout and executive to see who is the best at predicting success. After one season this model uses the results to weigh the opinion of each source, so that the overall conclusion is more and more influenced by the best predictors.

Often that is data, but not always. I have met and worked with some amazing pro-scouts who were able to predict the careers of players and see them be a success at a different club playing in a different role. It’s wonderful to watch that process in action. Yet, I have also seen many pro-scouts who did not meet this level of mastery. At the same time, I also see some amazing work being done by fans on Twitter. Yet, the chance of seeing a master at work on Twitter is a lot smaller than within a club. And in a club that is already quite rare.

So no, I didn’t watch this player you are upset about. I would not know what to watch for. In all probability: neither do you unless you are a good pro-scout. In that case I am happy to learn from you. My job is to make sure that unintelligent football statistics is turned into a prediction that is on par with the kind of predictions good pro-scouts make unconsciously: is this player going to be a success or not.