With the group stages of the UEFA World Cup qualification campaign now complete, nine European nations can start their planning for Brazil 2014 safe in the knowledge that they have already earned their place at next summer’s finals.
For most teams this planning will start with two friendlies during the next round of autumn internationals later on this month.
One of the nations in this position are the Netherlands, who were one of the first teams on the continent to secure their finals place, with two qualifiers still to play. They finished UEFA group D unbeaten, nine points ahead of their nearest rivals Romania. They will now play home friendlies against Japan and Colombia in Genk and Amsterdam on the 16th and 19th of November respectively.
Following the appointment of Louis van Gaal as Head Coach of the national team for a second time following Euro 2012, the KNVB have been taking steps to enhance the way the Federation monitors national team players, based both at home and abroad, through establishing a comprehensive archive of player and team information for the coaching and support staff to reference throughout the domestic season.
To assist with this objective, the Federation have elected to incorporate Scout7’s intelligent Sports Framework (iSF) into the organisation, to assist with the management of key day-to-day operations and workflows around the senior national team.
Launched earlier this year, iSF has been developed to facilitate the management of any type of information managed privately across the football club or national federation, including reports, match event data, player tracking, squad management, video analysis and all administration information managed by office-based staff.
Within the iSF, KNVB staff have the opportunity to watch, assess and edit match footage of every player on the radar of the Head Coach, as well as analyse recent performances of upcoming opponents.
The framework also enables the support team of scouts, analysts, coordinators and administrators to enter regular reports on each player using a personalised customised template and monitor the activity of both the established international players and the emerging players progressing towards a first senior call up.
The decision to incorporate the technology came shortly after the appointment of van Gaal, after several members of his support staff highlighted its benefits during their time working at domestic clubs.
One such advocate of the technology was Performance Analyst Max Reckers, who evaluated several tools on the market following his appointment before recommending Scout7 to the KNVB.
He explains why he felt it necessary to introduce the scouting and analysis tools into the daily working practices of the national team.
“Currently we have national team players operating in about seven or eight different leagues around Europe,” says Reckers.
“We are also in a phase where we are selecting a lot of new players, scouting for new talent and initially we were searching for a platform which could provide us with all the videos for all the players and that could provide us with a database where we could log the performances of the players.
“It had to be a platform which was really flexible in adapting our new innovative way of managing data for the scouting process and in the iSF I think we’ve found that platform.”
With sixteen different users entering information into the KNVB framework on a daily basis, new information is constantly being fed back into the Head Coach relating to the recent performances of all players.
The application incorporates several shortlists and recommended lists, where new players are plotted into a formation display to highlight players performing consistently at a high level that may warrant a future call up to the squad.
Within the same area the staff can also access quick links to all recent reports for all of the players listed, and can also see at a glance the total number of minutes a player has completed for their club at the weekend.
The module plays a key role at a recurring meeting of all the key members of staff, as Reckers explains:
“There is two important days every week for us, the Monday and the Tuesday.
“Every Monday all the scouts come together and we organise all the feedback that needs to go the national team coach. That includes for example all the information about who played, who brought on and taken off and a selection of video clips.
“All the player reports from the weekend are also submitted that day and then the summery goes to the national coach for a meeting on Tuesday.
“That meeting involves the technical staff, who sit with the Scout7 platform open and go through our recommended squad step-by-step we to see if there are changes and if there are new players that have been added to be considered for selection.”
From left to right: Nigel De Jong, Jeremain Lens, Kevin Strootman and Ron Vlaar celebrate during the 8-1 victory over Hungary last month
After a period of familiarising themselves with the functionality, the iSF has now been fully operational at the KNVB for approaching a year and in addition to managing the dozens of performance based reports coming in each week, the framework is also playing a key role in the coordination of the network through calendar based-widgets including a scouting planner and various fixture calendars.
The Federation has also exploited the framework’s capacity to incorporate integrated data from other providers by electing to receive its Opta match event data through one of the iSF’s video platforms, VideoHub.
The VideoHub platform allows their team of analysts to search for various events across Opta’s database, involving a specific team or player, across several domestic seasons and either watch them immediately through the video player or to create playlists which can be saved to an individual player record and referred back to at a later date.
For Reckers, this has been the iSF’s single biggest benefit to the operation so far.
He says: “The biggest thing for us having a web-based platform with the scouting database combined with the videos with the Opta event data.
“For us it’s really important to be able to quickly find instances of players in the match.
“With the Opta and video combination we have that link, so that means we are able to search through for example all the passes or all the key passes, or any highlighted moment which is directly linked through the Video.
“That means that scouts possessing little video knowledge can just drag events they want to merge together to make video highlights of the player.”
A user can monitor all of a player's touches during a game using Opta's event dataset via VideoHub
Although the initial implementation of the iSF has been focused on getting the senior team operation fully integrated, the longer-term objective of the KNVB is to get all of the national age groups full up-and running on the application, so that all information at every level of Dutch football is stored within a single central source.
The first steps in this project occurred this summer, when Reckers introduced the senior operartion’s workflow to the Under 21 staff during the team’s run to the semi-finals at the European Championships.
They are also planning on getting all fixtures, results and line-up information for domestic youth leagues incorporated into the iSF integrated ProScout7 database, which will enable them to monitor the weekly performance of youth team players at their domestic teams throughout the season.
The current ProScout7 database covers the Jong Oranje and A1 divisions.
“We are waiting to be ready to upload all the match data, including information from the non-professional leagues,” outlines Reckers.
“This will mean that we will have a full database for every scout working within the KNVB, no matter whether they are working with the Under 15 squad or the senior squad. We want all players and match data to be in there.
“Of course our first objective was to set up the senior team, so from there we set the example and then we will move it downwards.
“We have implemented the same scouting processes in place for the national team with the U21 team, which means the U21s coaches are also actively using the system and giving all the feedback about the players and upcoming talent for the senior squad.
Whilst the short term objectives of the senior side are fully focused on next year’s World Cup, the Federation are acknowledging that projects such as the implementation of the iSF are also just as important to the long-term development of the next generation of Dutch internationals, so that all performance information can be archived from the moment they are initially called up to one of the various age groups, through to when they may one day wear the orange shirt for the full senior side.
Looking ahead to the future, Reckers is hopeful that once the foundations are laid with player and match information being accessible at all levels of Dutch football, that the Federation will be in a position to integrate video footage from these leagues, which will allow them to take their player analysis to a new level across all the national teams.
“This is an important time for KNVB to make the next step in aligning processes within the Scout7 platform, he stresses.
“This means we are now working on a process for getting all the videos in there for professional leagues and even non-professional leagues. The same goes for all the match data, so we have all the player data for all the leagues.
“I think it’s really important to have one big platform where we have video, data and subjective player reports in there. That gives us the ultimate combination for the scouting process.”
Whilst van Gaal and his squad will be looking to go one better from 2010 and lift the World Cup trophy for the first time, the KNVB will be hoping that its investment in its management infrastructure will guarantee that their knowledge and intelligence of players will ensure each team is fully prepared for challenging for major honours at all levels of international football for many years to come.