Wyscout Talks: Wolves’ Head of Recruitment, John Marshall
During the last edition of Wyscout Forum, held in the beautiful rooms of the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam, we had the chance to get insights about the world of scouting and recruitment directly from two prominent persons of English football.
After hearing from Leeds United’s Director of Football, Victor Orta, in fact, we were able to take a look at how Wolverhampton Wanderers scouting department works, what are their goals and workflows, and how they always try to anticipate the competition on the transfer market. All of this was possible thanks to the protagonist of Wyscout Talks newest episode: Wolves’ Head of Recruitment, John Marshall.
Head of Recruitment
After digging into the goals and responsibilities of a Director of Football, we first asked Mr Marshall about his role in the club. What does exactly a Head of Recruitment do? “My role at Wolves”, explained Marshall, “is to oversee a team of 20 scouts and video scouts. We watch about 350 games per month, reporting on 2000 players through three different formats. We use a lot of Wyscout footage to boot up reports. We do a lot of live scouting. And we have a data analyst who crunches the numbers for us.”
Being one of the best (and most ambitious) clubs in the Premier League also means facing a lot of challenges, especially in scouting. The competition is fierce and not only limited to the first team. “We have to be ready at the drop of the hat to bring players in of the required standards”, says Marshall. “The main challenge is to be ahead of the opposition to present the manager and the coaching team with the best options for every position on the pitch. So when the manager asks us for the best player in a certain position, we can say ‘There we are. There’s the best three, there’s all the data, the reports, the live footage. That’s why we think he’s ideal for the team.’”
When reporting on thousands of players every month, there have to be certain criteria to define which players are worthy to be followed up and which isn’t. That’s why Wolves’ manager and coaching team have defined specific metrics to allow the scouting department to capitalize on time, money and resources. “We have a very definite style of play – 3-4-3, occasionally 3-5-2 – which we’ve had for over two years”, says Marshall. “So, with regards to the KPIs for the positions and the players, we know that we have in the building and we try to replicate that or to improve with those players that we don’t have. From the recruitment side of things, we are looking to always be ahead of the game.”
In order to do that, video analysis is essential, as it allows Wolves to get access across the globe quickly, reporting on players really quickly. “We have a team of full-time video analysts”, says John Marshall, “who work exclusively with Wyscout.
Their job is to watch games and report on players. We have an age limit in general, under 26. So within a game, the average number of players that we report on is probably six to seven. And it’s the base knowledge that we use originally so that we’re not wasting travel time, airfares, hotels. We can see a lot of good attributes or bad attributes in the players from the Wyscout footage.”
Data are also important – or, as Marshall would say, ‘invaluable’ – especially if you have a precise way to make knowledge out of them. To do that, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ scouting department uses a 100 per cent rating. “So, a 100 percent player would be someone like Lionel Messi. And with the KPIs we have on the data, we match it with other players and see where they fall. Normally, they fall between 60 al 70 percent of his talent. So, anybody above that immediately fires up interest.”
The ways in which technology has changed football over the last decades is always a hot topic when talking with somebody as experienced as John Marshall is. “I first started scouting in 1999,” he recounts, “and there was no video, no footage. It was all live. We didn’t have the base knowledge.”
“When Wyscout first came along, it was a revolution, really. Because we could then look at games, players, territories that we’d never seen before. Now, the more information I can get and present to the management to eradicate potential poor players coming in the building, the better. And I always ask the question to my guys: what’s the next step?”
Apparently, one of the mandatory steps Wolves will have to take is to build a strong squad underneath the first team, meaning the U17s, U18s and U23s. “And the only way we can do that initially is by using video. Get the footage and get the information into our database, because there’s so much competition in those age groups.”
What happens when there’s a youth competition halfway around the world? “Often, to get someone out live would be too expensive. So, we divide up all the games and the scouts watch those games to identify the best talent. At times, you don’t always get the talent straight away because of work permit issues. But it’s critical if there are European teams to work on the wide-scale, highlight those talented players and then follow up with live scouting when they come back to Europe.”
The possibility to scout players through video has also an obvious impact on finances, an aspect that every Head of Recruitment has to deal with. “Video scouting saves precious money from our budget,” confirms John Marshall. “Sending a couple of fo scouts for the length of a tournament in Brazil would mean two return flights accommodation for the duration of the tournament. When we have a team of scouts in the building that can download the game, do the work and get the report in 24 hours.
We haven’t got that cost element of live scouting that can come later when we’ve highlighted the young talented players through the video footage.”