For baseball fans the film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt as Billy Bean – the former general manager at MLB side the Oakland As, was an insight into a hidden world of player acquisition.
The film was an adaptation of a book called ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’ – which looked at the Oakland As use of statistics and data to build a competitive team based on players overlooked and undervalued by other sides.
Bean is now a minority owner at League One side Barnsley and elements of the Moneyball approach, the use of so-called ‘sabermetrics’ and in-game activity, to scout players is being employed throughout football.
With data being evermore prevalent in football, it is no surprise to find out that it is also amongst the conditions that Leeds United set when it comes to bringing new players – although it isn’t the sole determiner in bringing in a new player to the club.
In fact, speaking to website SciSports, Leeds United Director of Football Victor Orta rubbishes the ‘Moneyball approach’ and how its use in football. On this he says that the data needs to be interpreted correctly and not just used haphazardly. He says that applying the technique to football wouldn’t work because “it [football]is the least repetitive sport in the world.”
However, he does say that: “data can be of great value in the football industry. A mix of data, and knowledge and expertise of the scouting department is the perfect combination.” In news that will cheer Leeds United fans he adds: “I am happy to say that we are close to reaching that perfect mix at Leeds United.”
In the SciSports article, Orta goes on to say that he doesn’t consider the use of analytical data to be a “hype” but that what fans are seeing is “just a start” and that its use will “continue to grow in the football industry.”
The big thing that Orta stresses is the use of direct scouting, alongside the use of electronic scouting platforms so that a more rounded, honed approach is taken to player recruitment.
Yet, despite all of this, Orta says that there are three over-arching criteria that Leeds United apply when considering the analysis of a player. This trio of ‘levels’ are: the technical level, the psychological level and the transition level.
The first of these is basically how good the player is, followed by the mental level and strength of the player. The last, which Orta says is most important is whether the player being scouted can perform technically and psychologically in a new setting.
Orta himself has come in for some flak since becoming a member of the backroom staff at Elland Road. Some of the player acquisitions have been questioned by fans, quite vociferously at times. There were Twitter hashtags calling for #OrtaOut as Leeds’ 2017/18 Championship fell apart and became mired in disappointment.
Yet, he’s reclaimed a lot of the disgruntled by the integral role that he played in bringing Marcelo Bielsa to Leeds United. Bielsa is also getting the best out of players that Orta brought in, Samu Saiz and Gjanni Alioski being the main two.