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How Data Analytics can lead to better choices in player recruitment

Monday, 8 October 2018


According to legendary entrepreneur Bill Gates, a successful team ‘acts with unity of purpose and focus’. The most successful sports teams invariably display a single-minded focus on performance and an ability to execute the manager or head coach’s game plan on the field.

It makes sense then, when poor recruitment choices are made, that team harmonies can be disrupted, leading to below-par performances. Recruitment in sport, like any big corporate business, can have significant consequences that will both, directly and indirectly, impact revenue.

A prime example of this is Championship team Stoke City, who reportedly spent over £50m on the likes of Giannelli Imbula, Saido Berahino and Kevin Wimmer in recent seasons. With Imbula spending last term on loan at Toulouse, the trio have struggled to live up to their sizeable transfer fees and Stoke’s ten-year spell in the Premier League ended in relegation in May.

Why getting the big signing doesn’t always pay off

Often teams buy talented players and assume, because of their previous performances, they will adapt quickly to the playing style or culture of their new club – yet this is not always the case. Take Liverpool’s £32.5m purchase of Christian Benteke in 2015 and his sale just a year later for £27m to Crystal Palace. Did the Belgium international simply under-perform for Liverpool, or was he overvalued? The likelihood is a combination of both when you consider the playing style of Liverpool AND the tactical and physical traits of the forward.

Consider team playing style

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but data available at the time suggested this may not be a match made in heaven. For example, the more direct playing style of Benteke’s former team Aston Villa, compared to Liverpool’s possession-based game, needed to be taken into consideration. During Benteke’s first season at Anfield, Liverpool made 519 passes per game while his previous employers averaged 403. Liverpool averaged over 730 touches each match; Villa averaged 611. Villa, however, was more dominant in the air.

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