In the field

Sander Westerveld: "You cannot just fly around the world and hope that you'll find a new talent"

20/06/18 | SciSports

In this item called ‘In the field’ we share insights from domain experts directly from the football industry. The content is all about user cases and interesting developments from the usage of data analytics in the world of football. This edition is with Sander Westerveld, player agent at World Soccer Consult and former goalkeeper of, among others, Liverpool, Real Sociedad and the Dutch national team.

1. What is your current function within the football industry and what are your most important tasks and responsibilities in this role?
I am a player agent at World Soccer Consult. This is also the agency who represented me all the time during my professional career. After twenty years of professional football I was looking for an opportunity to combine the worklife with more time for my family. That’s also the reason why I didn’t become a club trainer. It satisfies me to bring over my own experiences to the players we represent at World Soccer Consult. Within our company it is my job to work close with the players and support them with their personal development.
During my career I managed to build up a big network with former colleagues and friends who currently work within the industry as a trainer or in a technical position. So my network abroad, especially in Spain, Italy and England, is getting bigger and bigger. That is of course beneficial in my role as a player agent.

2. Do you apply data analytics in your current role? If yes, how does data analytics give you more insight?
I spend most of my time in guiding our players, besides that I work on our social media channels and in the player recruitment process. We have a certain amount of scouts who advice World Soccer Consult and that’s also were SciSports can come in. We receive a lot player names to watch and therefore it is really valuable to cooperate with a company like SciSports. They can support us to filter-out the interesting players. The traditional way of scouting is to watch every single game live or via video footage. That is impossible and inefficient to do. We need companies like SciSports to support us in making this process way more efficient than it currently is. When it comes down to finding new talents, we have the same challenges as football clubs. You cannot just fly around the world and hope that you’ll find a new talent. I strongly believe that data can support you to be more prepared and to support you define what players are worthwhile to watch during a live game. Look at all the costs clubs and agents are making to find the best talents in the world. Therefore I am a big fan off objective player analysis based on data. With the right data-tools clubs and agents can save a lot of money and time.

3. What are the key questions you try (or would like) to answer with data analytics?
Clubs come to us with specific needs on certain positions. They expect us to be well informed about potential signings worldwide. So it is our job to be fully prepared and well informed to support them to find a good signing. As mentioned earlier, we need tools to enrich our knowledge. Furthermore players expect us to advise them as good as possible. In my opinion you cannot only advise them with your gut feeling. Data analytics can support you to get more insights in the quality of teams and individual players. With this insights you can give players an in-depth advise to make sure that their next step is a well thought out decision.

4. How do you experience the developments of data analytics within your working field and do you follow the latest trends and developments actively?
I personally receive a lot of requests to share my knowledge with data analytics companies because of my personal experiences and background in the football industry. At the moment I also work as an ambassador for another company that provides tooling for tactical game analysis. I am happy to see that data analytics companies use football professionals for validation.
From my period at Liverpool I remember that we got information like distances covered, the amount of passes to the right or left and the reach of a goal kick. Back then we didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because we didn’t get the context. Nowadays companies are able to give you new insight by adding context to the raw data. This is a good development for clubs, agents and players. Because for example it doesn’t matter how much distance you cover but how efficient you are doing this. I follow all the latest trends and developments closely, therefore I can say that I am well informed about all kind of developments.

5. Opponents of the use of data in football say: “I don’t need data, my eyes can tell me if a player is a good player, if he played well, and if he is capable of playing for our club.” How important is the use of data analytics to give football professionals direction and confirmation compared to the human judgement of football professionals during the decision making process?
Data in football is only useful if you use it as a supporting tool to give you confirmation or direction. We still need human observation to make the final decision. Therefore I am still a big fan of watching players live in action. No single pass is the same and you want to the analyse all circumstances during the action. A lot of things aren’t covered by data yet so you want to notice them with your eyes as well. To get a very good view on a player's quality you have to watch him a lot of times live. Because there is a possibility that the player you are following unfortunately has a bad sequence of matches. He can still be a good player though. In my opinion you should combine the traditional way of scouting with the new data-developments to create the ideal world.

6. In all sports worldwide the use of data analytics is becoming more popular. Do you believe data analytics has a big role to play in the future of football or do you feel it is just hype?
I am quite sure that it isn’t a hype. There are a lot of data intelligence companies and if you look at the developments they are making in a short period of time you can easily say that they have the future. I remember a coach in my own career who showed us the full first half of our next opponent as a preparation on the next match. Nowadays you get the match preparation in your mail box and everything is much more efficient, detailed and easier to access. If you want to, you can be prepared on almost every single aspect of the coming match. I think this will continue to improve in the future.