I spoke with football blogger Davide this week to answer a few questions on football, the website, and player analysis. You can find Davide on Twitter
How did your first opportunity in football come about?
I have had a deep love of the game since I was tiny. Back then it was more about the magical inexplicables than it was about the game itself. The excitement, the passion, the songs, the calibre of world class players around at the time made it easy to fall in love with the expressive, almost fictional side of the game – Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Okocha to name a few.
Maturing and generally growing older led to realisations about the game in terms of its patterns and more tangible aspects. I found myself watching a game and being able to simplify and understand every minor, seemingly insignificant action, and piece them together to find a deeper, though less magical understanding of football. This led to the creation of the website. I wanted a way to express those ideas through an accessible, more permanent medium.
What attracted you to scouting/analytics? What’s more intriguing now names or numbers?
Generally speaking, I think for the majority of football fans the names will always be the biggest attraction. Numbers are slowly seeping more into common discussion, and aren’t seen half as ‘nerdy’ as they were a few years ago, but the biggest names making the biggest moves is still what captures best the imaginations, I feel. Regarding analytics you need to essentially get over the idea of judging the player on reputation, historical impact, and fame. To use data within football in any really useful way is to stop considering who it is you’re judging and instead focus only on what that player is currently doing. Many modern scouting assignments happen on a game by game basis, and reputation really ought to play a very small part in that. Of course the biggest names tend to be the best players, and the best players tend to post the best numbers, but that isn’t always the way it works.
In the modern game we’re seeing a marriage between the data and the typical, traditional aspects of judging a player – technical ability, mental attributes, behavioural aspects etc. This will only increase as the accessibility of the, currently expensive, technology does. It’s an exciting time.
Who/what is the first player/concept you “found”? What caught your eye?
I can’t claim to have found a player, I haven’t worked as a scout. I personally find scouting best left to the professionals, especially with the tools that professional clubs have available that the regular fan – or website owner in my case – simply doesn’t. That’s not to say that a fan isn’t capable of scouting a player in front of the telly in their living room, but it is a very difficult task to accomplish with any accuracy. An interest in the game as a whole, the way a team works together, is far more interesting to me than any individual player.
Who/what is the player/concept you “missed” on? What did you learn from it?
Again, I cannot claim much by way of professional scouting – I simply don’t perform those tasks. But to expand, on something of a tangent perhaps, I can say that one aspect of I’ve improved on during my many hours of observing the game as more than a passing interest, is the fact that we cannot ignore the human aspect. Psychology plays as much a part in the make-up of a skilful player’s success than their talent or technical ability do. Athletes need to be as strong in their heads as they are in their bodies to make it in the increasingly, unforgivably competitive arena of professional club football.
If you could start over what skill would you build on first?
We’re still very new in relative terms, and I am personally always learning about so much away from the game due to the work through the site, but if I had to prepare better it would be to work on establishing a network of contacts within the game prior to launching the site. ‘Who you know’ is as important in football as it is anywhere else.
Do you see player development as more of an art or a science? Is development on the club or the player? Why?
Both. As I mentioned, the understanding and encouragement of further understanding of the human elements of a player are of huge interest to me. We’ve seen many ultra talented young players not make it in the game, and even more (apparently) lesser talented players go on to have tremendous careers at the very top. This is due to a number of factors, but a big one, I feel, is the belief in oneself, the drive to push further and the steel to not allow pressure, ego or financial security overcome your energy. A club can help a young player along this path – especially with the sports science and technology side of things – but parents must instil those ideals, and the player must continue to grow and cement them. It must become a habit, especially as a ‘one club man’ is becoming less and less common today. A club is under no obligation to help a player on their journey once they leave.
What is your favourite sports moment? Why?
There are a number of different momentous occasions which stick out in my mind – Michael Owen’s solo goal against Argentina in 1998, Zidane’s volleyed winner in the 2002 Champions League final, Dudek’s wobbly legged save from Andriy Shevchenko in 2005. Magic moments. The biggest draw, I suppose, would be the sudden outpouring of emotion channelled through one swing of a boot, one save, one dribble of the ball. It’s what football is all about at its core.
What coach/player/team inspires you? Why?
Jurgen Klopp. His Dortmund team were the originals, and we’re seeing him reach the very top with Liverpool in quite a similar way. I love the kind of manager Jurgen is. He mixes the tactical, footballing side of the game with those inexplicables I discussed. The mentalities of those players, that attitude, the ability to win and keep winning, to never say die. The comebacks, the way they can shake off disappointment and come back stronger, it is all very cerebral. He is a very cerebral man. I love that.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into media/analytics?
First and foremost, believe in what you’re saying. Confidence, as within most walks of life, is key. Also stick to your guns with what you want to do. A media degree will likely open doors for you, but nothing can open a door like your own hard work. Stay true to yourself, be patient, don’t compromise your own moral values for a short cut, and network, network, network. This applies to media at least.
What is your favourite app/tool to use (for fun!)?
I don’t use any pro tools for player analysis. There are plenty of great free databases for basic player data, and I would always recommend the likes of whoscored, infogol, understat and sofascore for these needs. I have used Tactical Pad in the past, and it’s good fun to use, and a great tool for practising coaches. It depends on your ambitions and intentions.
What other sport/hobby/discipline do you feel improves your work as an analyst? Why?
Reading is the best. Not just for writing ability, but just for peace of mind. I think people don’t read enough these days. It’s also good to watch football without worrying about making a point, proving a theory or judging a player. Every so often try to just relax and enjoy the game in the way it’s intended.
This Q&A was originally published HERE
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