Sevilla director of football Monchi talks us through scouting profiles for potential transfer targets and also the impact of data on scouting processes.
In 2000, after Sevilla were relegated from La Liga, Monchi was appointed director of football for the ‘Rojiblancos’. He was given two objectives by the board: develop the club’s youth system and implement a vast scouting policy inside and outside of Spain.
Monchi’s first strategic move was to professionalise the academy and focus more on player development, rather than purely on results. “When you work with younger teams, there’s always this dichotomy, this division between result and development,” said Monchi. I’ve always been firm on this. I’ve always been very consistent in showing people that the most important thing was player development. The results come later, because the more the player improves, the better the results will be.“
During his time with Sevilla, Monchi discovered future international Spanish stars such as Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas and Jose Antonio Reyes, while also finding a number of profitable bargains in the form of Adriano, Julio Baptista, Ivan Rakitic and Seydou Keita.
The concentric circles theory
But how does Monchi execute his scouting strategy? One key factor is his ‘concentric circles theory’. “In terms of the scouting department, I’ve always had an obsession,” said Monchi. “I always thought that the more times we were able to watch a player, the easier it would've been to make decisions. So we worked and realized what I call the ‘concentric circles theory’. Concentric circles, from the smaller one to the bigger and then the bigger. Basically, we were building a framework that allowed us to dominate a certain range.”
"I’ve always been very consistent in showing people that the most important thing was player development. The results come later, because the more the player improves, the better the results will be.“Monchi, Sevilla Director of Football
Applying the concentric circles theory to the setting up of Sevilla’s scouting department, Monchi started with a small sector of countries to cover, before expanding out further. “If there were three of us the first year, why would we cover the whole world when it was impossible?” explains Monchi. “We tried to be strong in a certain sector. For example, in Spain, Portugal and France to begin with. When there were five of us, we tried to add Italy, England and Belgium. We did that, growing to what we are today, dominating around 30-35 major leagues in an exhaustive way. We always tried covering and knowing what we were able to, in order to have good knowledge. Knowledge is the basis for all scouting work.”
Where can signings go wrong?
“When do signings go wrong? When you’re not able to understand what the manager wants, things start to go bad and the performance is not good,” said Monchi. “There’s something fundamental to me - I’ve always been a ‘locker room’ Sporting Director, very close to the players, to the people. But sometimes we forget they’re people.
Footballers are people and you have to be very close to them and try to help them, know them, and give them what they need. All of this is part of my way of working: work hard, have good coordination with the manager and stay close to the players.”
Data in scouting
“Data is key, right? It’s fundamental,” said Monchi. “We always had data, before it was small data and today is big data. In the year 2000, when I started, there was only one form of data. It was a Word document where the scout used to put ‘It’s a good player, etc’, and that was the data. Nowadays, thanks to platforms like Wyscout, we have platforms where we can manage our data.”
Monchi has now introduced an R&D department to Sevilla, with mathematicians, physicists, specialized engineers and analysts employed at the Andalusian club. “This was unthinkable until five years ago, inconceivable,” said Monchi. “But this is the future. That is, the data analysis and the implementation of this analysis in the decision-making process is key.”
Commitment to using digital platforms for video and data analysis in sport is now seen as vital to gaining a competitive advantage, Monchi and Sevilla strongly agree in the power of video and data in football. “Those who turn their back to data will lag behind,” explains Monchi. “In the future, clubs will sign players, managers, mathematicians and physicists, engineers and analysts. We’re already doing it. In this department, we’re working to create our own platform to analyse data. There are people that don’t know about football, but they know about data.”
Implementation of video and data
But how does data generated from Sevilla’s R&D department translate to actual tactical insights? To understand this, one must understand the difference between objective and subjective data.
“What we’re trying to do is to match them up, to combine two types of analysis,” said Monchi. “On one side, the objective data, and on the other side, the subjective analysis of video. We’re trying to work with both tools, trying to achieve perfection, that would be the subjective analysis to fully match the objective analysis. To do this, we’re training our scouts. What are we trying to do? We’re trying to characterise, typify all positions on the pitch in order to then measure them, possibly with the measure used by video analysts being the same used by data analysts.”
“Those who turn their back to data will lag behind. In the future, clubs will sign players, managers, mathematicians and physicists, engineers and analysts."Monchi, Sevilla Director of Football
A quick comparison between fruit allows us to understand the next level of objectifying video and data analysis. “The important thing is to measure apples here and apples there,” said Monchi. “If we measure bananas on one side and apples on the other, things will get complicated. We’re objectifying video analysis, that is the most subjective one. Ultimately, data is 100% objective, it only looks at percentages. So, we’re doing a good job. We’re still in an intermediate phase, but I think that we will manage to have a platform that will give us a lot, it will save us time, save us money, and reduce risks.”
Long term vs short term
Using data analysis correctly can provide insights and metrics that are very helpful in scouting players and identifying transfer targets. Sevilla have a great track record of buying and developing talent at a bargain price, Monchi goes on to explain the power of a long term strategy such as this.
“The long term allows you to dominate the short term,” said Monchi. “Let me explain. When you work globally, you work with all positions and with all profiles, as we work. Our work is not ‘What do we need this year?’ A right-wing, a defensive midfielder and a striker. Let’s work on these three positions.” No, we work on all eleven positions on the pitch and each of them with different profiles.
“On one side, the objective data, and on the other side, the subjective analysis of video. We’re trying to work with both tools, trying to achieve perfection, that would be the subjective analysis to fully match the objective analysis.”Monchi, Sevilla Director of Football
Right-wing, left-wing, more offensive, more defensive. So, this base knowledge, this information, allows you to react in the short term. Why? Imagine that next summer we don’t think we’ll need to buy a centre-back, ok? Because we have Diego Carlos, we have Koundé, we have Sergi Gómez, Gnagnon will be back, we have Kjaer. We won’t need to sign centre-backs, ok? But all of a sudden, somebody comes and pay Koundé’s release clause. Of course, if you didn’t work globally you may find yourself without scouted centre-backs. The long term work allows you to act in the short term.”
Monchi cites two key examples to solidify Sevilla’s long term scouting strategy. “Julien Escudé, we signed him back in 2005, when we signed him he wasn’t playing, he was out of the team, but we knew him already,” explains Monchi. “Kanouté, when we signed him, he wasn’t playing at Tottenham, he was Mido’s reserve, he wasn’t playing, but we knew him from his previous clubs. So, the ability to react in the short term is given by your long term work.”