Liverpool, scouting

Liverpool scouting secrets and how FSG’s big problem became envy of rivals – Liverpool Echo



June 3, 2020
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“I’m not a genius. I need other people to get the perfect information.”

With one succinct phrase, Jurgen Klopp discarded the millstone that had hung heavy around his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers.

Liverpool’s then infamous ‘transfer committee’ was the topic of discussion as the new Reds manager sat in front of the gathered media for the first time in October 2015.

Asked about how he intended to work with the people already employed to get recruitment right at the club, Klopp, as he so often does, struck the perfect tone with clarity.

“It was not a problem for 10 seconds,” he said. “Yes we talked about [the committee] of course, but I am not an idiot. For me, it is enough that I have the first and the last word.

“And in the middle of these two words, we can discuss about everything. We only want to discuss about very good players, Discussions about players on the highest level and that is what we have to do.”

For Rodgers, it was his uneasy relationship with the same people that led to a disjointed and muddled transfer strategy the previous summer.

Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino arrived for around £30million each and both were flailing in the early going. Supporters were never quite sure which incoming player was at the behest of the manager and which were scouted by the likes of Michael Edwards, Barry Hunter and Dave Fallows.

Owners Fenway Sports Group were not getting bang for their buck and Rodgers was relieved of his duties.

With largely the same people in the same roles,Liverpool’s recruitmentis now the envy of world football.

As many as eight players whostarted last season’s Champions League finalwere brought to Anfield on Klopp’s watch after detailed consultation with Edwards and his team.Liverpoolrarely hiccup in the transfer market these days.

Everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet and the results are evident.

Edwards was appointed as the club’s first-ever sporting director in November 2016 but Fallows and Hunter remain in place as head of recruitment and chief scout, respectively.

Edwards, whose reputation has reached mythical proportions among the Reds’ fanbase, sits directly oppositeKloppin their Melwood offices to ensure the lines of communication are always open and accessible.

For Fallows and Hunter, it was they who were the driving forces behind the arrival of Sepp van den Berg last summer as Liverpool fought off strong interest from Bayern Munich to land the teenager.

The duo had also combined for to bring James Milner from their previous club Man City on a free transfer just months before Klopp arrived at Anfield, a player who has been a key driving force in Liverpool’s success.

More pertinently, however, it is their work in identifying Mohamed Salah as Anfield’s next superstar which they can really hang their hats on during the Klopp era.

“The scouting department was really behind me, and wanted to do it even earlier so that nobody could jump in!” Klopp said in 2017.

“We were sure he can help us. Michael Edwards, Dave Fallows and Barry, they were really in my ear and were on it: ‘Come on, come on, Mo Salah, he’s the solution!’

“When you have 20 players on the table, different players, it’s difficult to make an early decision, but we all were convinced about it so could make the early decision so we could really get him.”

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Beyond the now fabled ‘transfer committee’, though, Liverpool are at the forefront of a scouting revolution across the game.

For years, clubs have clung to the traditional model of identifying players, dispatching scouts to watch players live in action before listening to the assessments in their feedback.

But with the game starting to embrace a new-age, the Reds are helping to pioneer digital techniques that are being used to unearth ability in never-ending recruitment searches.

The naked eye of an experienced talent-spotter will perhaps never be beaten when it comes to gathering information on potential players, but with the game so vast – and more competitive than ever – whittling down potential targets has become a tough task.

Liverpool’s scouting network is a sprawling, global operation, but back at base in West Derby, director of research Ian Graham and his team are helping Klopp and Edwards shine a light on lesser-known players with potential.

“We get data on every ball touch that every player makes in a game, where it was on the pitch, and what happened next,” Graham explains. “We can see where all of the players are, at 25 frames per second. It’s done with optical tracking. The same technology that is used for missile-tracking.

“The thing that I’m really obsessed about is the risk-reward payoff of passes. So, some of the best passers in the game have some of the lowest pass-completion percentages in the game. And that’s because the risk-reward payoff is very, very skewed in soccer or football.

“And the passes I really love are the passes that go in behind the opposition defence, that take four or five defenders out of the game. Those passes are really hard to make. But someone who gets those passes correct half the time would be a world-class attacking midfielder.

“So you’ve got the traditional methods of scouting, some newer methods of video scouting, the coaches and the manager have to be on board and enthusiastic about the player. My role is the data-analysis side of analyzing football, which is the newer side.”

Graham’s work was believed to have been integral in helping identify both Naby Keita and Salah as players Klopp should be targeting, while the numbers found in Andy Robertson’s data made his signing something of a no-brainer for a club who needed a left-back in the summer of 2017.


Nearly three years later, Robertson is now the captain of his country and widely thought of as one of the finest full-backs in European football. He has ended an almost generation-long search for a top-class left-back and is a huge part of Liverpool’s future at 26.

John Parkwas the man who helped Celtic identify Virgil van Dijkback in 2013 in Holland and he believes the traditional values of scouting can still flourish in the digital age.

Celtic’s former football development manager tells the ECHO: “As a scout, you use your contacts and other people’s judgement to watch it. The game is about contacts, so you’re asking others to have a look at the game for me and let me know how they get on.

“Because people in the stadium can give you the right note back. Sometimes when a player knows there are scouts there from certain clubs and they list all the clubs, sometimes it gets into players’ minds. It is better to get in unknown.

“It is the best way to do it, to mix the old technology with the new if you like and coming up with the same answer.”

Another key sounding board at Melwood is coach, John Actherberg. The man affectionately described by Klopp as a “goalkeeping maniac” is a respected and trusted authority on shot-stoppers from across the planet.

If the Reds are in the hunt for a new goalkeeper, his opinion is prized more than most.

“You have to look at any you don’t know, but obviously you know most of them all already,” he told the ECHOlast year. “But it if you don’t, you take a look and see how they are moving.

“I have about four of five thousand reports from some keepers you watch 10 or 15 times and then you stay on top of it. If you think they can be OK for us then you have to keep following them and you always have to prepare for a No.1, 2 or 3.

“You try to find out about 14, 15 or 16-year-olds. Do we need one? Can we bring them in? You always look at who is out of contract, who has one year left, so that the transfer fee won’t be too high and then obviously you have the best list ready for whatever needs to happen.

“I give my opinion if Jurgen asks and then obviously the boss decides what way he wants to go. Most of the times, we come in the same kind of line and if it was a difference of opinion, in the end he is in charge, so that is how it is.”

One club known to have openly embraced the use of analytics over the past few years is Brentford. Investing over a reported £90million in the club, chairman Matthew Benham has tried to revamp the culture at Griffin Park.

A general view of the refurbished Melwood Training Ground

As one of the traditionally smaller clubs in London, Brentford’s ability to unearth the brightest talents and keep them at the club is a tall order with so many elite-level teams in the same area.

However, the Bees have been able to bring in around £120million in transfer fees in the last five years while still maintaining one of the most competitive sides in the Championship.

Benham made his fortune from his company Smartodds, which is a team of statisticians tasked with calculating the outcome of football matches to gain an edge over bookmakers. Brentford are able to tap into the same technology for their football operations.

Their use of analytics helps them find what co-director of football, Rasmus Ankersen, described as “whispering talents”. Players that are seen to be under-performing with a high ceiling to flourish.

“We are using the best of both parts,” says head coach Thomas Frank. “It helps we have a massive analyst department in Matthew’s company. We have great access to fantastic data but it is about using the right data and not all of them.

“We always have to compare the right data when you are watching the player on video or watching them live and see if it fits in the specific style of play and ideas you have for that position.

“We go through that, we have a lot of scouts and finally the coaches watch them and I think that is the big thing. We then take the decision together. With the coaching staff with me on top of that, of course, we then make the final decision.

“It works very well and it has been hours over the years to try and find players to maximise [the way of working] and find players who can fit in quite smoothly.

“So one thing is the data, but for me it is also the people. You need to have good people in everything that we do.”

Such a way of working is starting to become more and more prevalent as the game develops. Football is no longer about the all-knowing oracle manager whose genius is both unquestioned and beyond reproach.

The game is simply too big for that to be the case anymore. As Klopp will attest, even the world’s best managers need the right information from others.

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