There’s a new transfer window coming up and football clubs around the world are once again getting ready to spend big. Finding the best talents is important and a lot of clubs have been investing heavily on extensive scouting networks to make sure that they don’t miss out on the next superstar. With the help of technology, statistics and the brilliant minds of sport scientists we have access to a lot more player information today than 15 years ago. But the million dollar question is: Are we making better decisions today compared to 15 years ago?
If you’re Manchester City or Real Madrid you can afford to make mistakes in the transfer market. But if you’re a club where you don’t have the same financial muscles then every decision becomes inevitably important. Every new player you bring in needs to succeed.
How clubs scout players might differ a little bit but generally speaking they’ll work closely with agents and player’s representatives. The scouting department will watch a lot of video on football analysis platforms such as Wyscout or Instat where they try and analyse a player’s technical, tactical and physical qualities. If they find someone they like they’ll go and watch them live as well. The rise of statistics in football helps the scouting department make an even more accurate assessment of a player.
But the part which I feel is sometimes being under-valued these days is the player’s human side. I’m not convinced that clubs are investing the same amount of time and effort on finding out what kind of human being they’re bringing into a team as they do looking at their technical attributes. I think that we might be forgetting about the human element in players and that ‘talent above the shoulder’ skills are not as highly valued as they should be.
A dressing-room doesn’t need to be a place where everybody are friends but I’m sure that we can all agree that it helps having a good dressing-room atmosphere if you want to build a successful team. So everytime you sign new players you need to be sure that they’re team players. You need to be sure that they’ll interact with the others and that they’re able to adapt to new surroundings. You need to feel confident that they’ll still be respectful towards team-mates when they’re not playing. You should never underestimate how important the tension between the individual and the collective is.
In the summer of 2014, a couple of weeks after I signed for FC Midtjylland, I got the chance to take a personality test. In my opinion this is the kind of test that the club should have demanded that I took before I signed. In traditional job interviews it’s not uncommon that they make you take some kind of personality/psychology test during the interview process but in football it’s very rare. I believe that we should put as much focus on trying to assess a person’s personality as we do their physical status to make sure that we know what kind of person we’re signing.
It’s easy to measure the physical side of football. We’ve all done the VO2 max on a treadmill or the agonizing ”beep-test” or the different speed and jump-tests. But I have no clue how you should measure the personality of an individual or what kind of psychological tests that could be relevant. Maybe that’s the issue. Maybe it’s difficult for us to appreciate the value of things that we have a hard time measuring?
But no matter if I was coaching kids or in charge of player acquisitions I’d definitely know what kind of questions I’d want answers to. I’d like to know about their mindset and their levels of mental toughness. I’d want to know if they’re open to feedback and how they deal with setbacks. I want to know how they work in a group and if they take initiative.
Maybe ”good people first, good players second” is a naive thought. But I do believe that this is an area that sometimes gets overlooked and that the people in charge of bying new players might be underestimating its importance. Clubs would greatly benefit from taking the psychology side of football seriously. And I hope that we one day get to hear a manager or Chief Executive announce a new player signing with the words: ”He’s passed his medical AND his personality and psychology test”. Now that would be progress.