Game Theory – The changing landscape of footballing scouting

With the increase in usage of statistics in football, it gives one a feeling that the game is changing day by day.

Its effective utilisation is being seen as a new revolution in a game that has long stayed aloof from statistics.

And one of the things in the game that is likely to be strongly affected by the permeation of statistics-based judgement in football is scouting.

And as the convergence of football with statistics goes on increasing, platforms such as Global Soccer Network (GSN) are looking to influence the game more and more.

I caught up with Dustin Bottger, the GSN CEO and Head of Football intelligence, as we edge towards an era in football that could well be different completely different to anything we have seen before.

Having acquired the experience of a scout himself, Dustin worked for quite a few years for Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim, before going onto come up with the idea of establishing GSN.

He says: “In my days at the clubs, I was shocked to see the subjectivity they had in the player and team reports. Some of these scouting reports laid focus on haircuts and colours of a specific players football boots.

In my opinion, that has nothing to do with serious scouting.”

I always want to evaluate players on objective parameters similar to sports like baseball, basketball and hockey in North America. That’s the main reason I have founded GSN back in 2013.

Now a fully functional football statistics organisation, GSN has become an important source of information on players for many clubs in Europe.

And speaking of what exactly his brainchild operates, Dustin tells that it essentially is a company that analyses and scouts players on the basis of data and statistics.

“We have created different algorithms and data models and we are also using some standard data models like ‘expected goals’ or the ‘Shapley value’,” he says.

“With all this data, we have created our unique player rating system – the GSN Index, which makes it possible to rate and compare over 340,000 players worldwide based on objective data. And we are not only able to measure the performance on the field, we are also able to measure a player’s potential and his footballing skills.”

Today we have clients in all European top leagues and also in other countries like Russia, Switzerland, Portugal, the USA and Brazil.

While, the concept of ‘Shapley value’ isn’t the one that GSN has come up with, it’s unique utilisation is a key aspect of how a player is judged. Dustin elaborates upon what exactly Shapley value refers to.

“Shapley value makes it possible to measure the influence of a specific player in both offence and defence,” he says.

“Originally it was a solution concept in cooperative game theory. We have transformed that system to measure the influence of players on their team.”

These innovations and their application in assessing footballing talent didn’t exist two or three decades ago.

They have allowed scouts the opportunity to see things in dimensions that weren’t visible before statistics came into football. Dustin believes that they help us in understanding football in a better way and provide insights that before were all too random.

Data is able to measure quality of scoring chances, it shows patterns in a team’s style of play. It gives you so many insights, things you are not able to see when you watch a game or a specific player in the ‘classical’ way.

He continues, “One of the major changes and the main advantage, in my opinion, is the possibility to evaluate thousands of players in a short period of time, which was impossible for the ‘classical’ scouting staff a couple of years ago.”

Of course, with all this innovation in such a relatively short period of time, there has been a clash opinion of sorts amongst scouts between those who prefer the traditional ways and those who have adopted the new methods.

Dustin though, is somewhere in the middle and prefers a mix of both, and that is exactly how GSN operates.

“I really think that you need a mix of both,” he says.

“You need these top scouts around the stadiums with their great vision and knowledge about the game. We are also doing that. We have a network of about 350 scouts worldwide.

“These scouts watch games live or on TV and also watch players during practice, where possible.We transform their scouting reports into numbers and use them as the basis for our GSN Index.”

Scouts should be more focused on the footballing skills of players, the data is able to measure the performance on the pitch. That’s how we do it here at GSN. So both ways are effective to judge players. The focus is just different.

Amidst all the new methods that are coming up, the opportunities for young players to get spotted will only increase. Most of the football fans love watching a video compilation of young players on Youtube and that is exactly how data analysis complements scouting.

Dustin tells me, “I think it is easier for young players today to showcase their skills, with all the internet platforms and video portals around. I also know that more and more clubs are scouting youth leagues, amateur or semi professional leagues.

“And data analysis companies like us try to find the right parameters which tell you how youth players could adapt on professional level. So we are on the right way and I would say it is easier for young players getting spotted by scouts today compared to five or ten years ago.”

As digitisation continues to influence our lives every hour of the day, it could be a possibility that scouting ends up becoming all about data and less about the outdoor activity.

But Dustin refuses to believe that it will be the case and the latter is just as important as the former.

“The data and the data models are getting better and better. So I think we will see a more statistical based approach in the future.Which would be great for GSN , by the way.”

But I also think that live scouting is still a very important factor for every club. So if you want to set up a good working scouting department, you need both parts which should work together on a daily basis.

It will be intriguing to see the route that scouting takes in the future, with the influence of the digital methods likely to increase exponentially.

Whether this means a further erosion, and ultimately eradication, of more ‘traditional’ methods of scouting remains to be seen.

But, in an industry where even the slightest advantage can result in multimillion pound windfalls, its clear to see that football clubs are willing to adopt any methods that can improve their scouting range.

Author Details

Kaustubh Pandey

20, Football Writer, CalcioMercato, ThePeoplesPerson, EPLIndex, VAVEL, InsideFutbol. Aspiring Football Journalist. The game's not about life and death, it's something much more than that.

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