Now in their fifth season as a Premier League club, Swansea City have successfully developed a reputation for being astute in their player recruitment, both domestically and internationally, as they look to strengthen their first-team playing squad during each transfer window.
Since their return to the top-flight after a twenty-eight year absence, the Welsh club have steadily grown their scouting operation under Chairman Huw Jenkins and Head of Recruitment Dave Leadbeater. This has included the appointment of two additional Heads of Department: Head of Technical Player Scouting Tim Henderson and George Foster, their European Head Scout.
Together, they run an extremely efficient organisation, employing ten scouts who monitor all senior football in the UK, four scouts operating regionally in Europe and two office-based technical scouts, who work with Henderson to analyse player targets using a combination of video and detailed statistics to compliment the traditional methodologies adopted by the scouts who attend games.
For approaching ten years the club has used Scout7 platforms to assist with the management of its private recruitment data. Two years ago, they made the decision to implement Scout7’s latest platform, the Intelligent Sports Framework (ISF), alongside VideoHub, an advanced video analysis solution developed jointly by Scout7 and its data partners OptaPro.
The decision to first implement Scout7 technology was made at Board level when Swansea, then in League One, decided to adopt a clear philosophy with regards to how they wanted their first-team to play, something which remains in place to this day.
Jenkins believes that this philosophy has helped the club identify players who fit their key criteria and through good recruitment, has helped them firmly establish themselves as a Premier League club.
“Going back a period of 10 or 12 years, our idea was to help with our recruitment in some way,” explains Jenkins, who received an OBE for services to Welsh sport last year.
“Over that time, we have developed an ideal system which different managers have taken on board and added to, and I think the aim was to do that to make it a little bit easier when we go through the big process of finding the right players for us.
“Without the right player recruitment, not only to suit the management, but the systems we put in place and the club itself, I think we would have never moved forward as quickly as we have.
“I think the task we have got continually is to make sure we stick to that process and I remain confident that those ideas we had then, are fundamental in going forward as well.”
Along with ISF, VideoHub is being used proactively at Swansea to analyse players
As the club has grown, new players have been recruited from a number of different countries including Spain, France, Holland, Portugal, Mexico and Italy.
When key decisions on signings have to be made, the club can refer back to an extensive archive of information which they have collected on each target, stored in their own private online Scout7 database, where all scouting reports, video analysis and player due diligence is consolidated into one central environment.
In addition to overseeing all day-to-day activity of the scouting department, this audit trail also allows the club’s senior management to justify key decisions relating to players, including significant financial investments on new acquisitions, whilst at the same time ensuring they are taking all necessary steps to minimalize risk, as Jenkins explains:
“With the ways things are in this day and age with various scouts, full-time and part-time, out and about watching different games and seeing different things, it is important that our staff can bring all this information together in one system. I think over the period of the last few years that has no doubt worked well for us.
“The Scout7 system has changed and improved over the years and I think all our scouting staff would be saying the same thing that we have all been very pleased at how effective it has been for us.
“With the cost of transfer fees and various fees connected with buying and selling players and with that the salaries and the commitment you have got to have to bring these players to the club, it is very important that you minimise the risk as much as we can.
“You cannot always get every decision right, but I think our challenge is to minimise that risk to give our budget a better chance and a fighting chance going forward.”
In his role heading up the club’s Technical Player Scouting, the ISF and VideoHub now play an integral part in Henderson’s working day as he goes about analysing different players around the world.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say that we all live by the platforms every day, accessing them from first thing in the morning to last thing at night,” says Henderson, who has now worked at the Liberty Stadium for four years.
“Scout7 has helped us to monitor the flow of information which comes into the club, which is quite considerable. We have the player reports which the scouts put in, we also have our opposition reports which come in as well and basically I will pull all of that together using the numerous functions which it offers, including our player recommendation lists.”
In addition to extensive biographical information on hundreds of thousands of elite players around the world and HD match video, the Scout7 applications also incorporate integrated events from every game played in over 75 competitions around the world, supplied by OptaPro.
This enables scouts and analysts to search for key events on video, such as set pieces, shots on goal, assists, passes, tackles and interceptions involving specific players across multiple games.
According to Henderson, this has played a significant role in how the club monitor and identify prospects in each key recruitment market, as it enables them to be more proactive in defining which players meet their very specific criteria.
He says: “In days gone by, an agent would have sent you a DVD of all of his player’s best clips, making him look a world-beater. But now as we have access to all this footage and the tools for analysis, we have the means to make a rounded evaluation of a player.
“I can analyse players in the infancy. It can be quite a complex operation to start off with, with so many players in each market, so you have to try and break it down and identify which players fit your recruitment criteria.
“The data we receive from Scout7 and OptaPro helps us set-up and define a very effective filtering process. Depending on the positions we are looking at and the criteria we have set, we can look at all the different stats and footage to build a full picture of a player.
“You may have ten criteria that you are looking at and if a player ticks most boxes you can, if it’s appropriate, take your analysis to the next stage by sending George Foster or one of our senior scouts out to look at the player and compile an eyeball assessment in the stadium.
“We will continue monitoring their performance week-to-week, both on video and through our scouts, and if the reports we get back continue to be positive I will arrange to watch the player live myself alongside our Head of Recruitment.
“Then if everyone is in agreement that we want to recommend a player, I will prepare a full PowerPoint presentation, incorporating all the research and data we have compiled, to present to the Manager, Chairman and the Board.”
One specific recruitment strand which the club have successfully utilised in recent transfer windows has been the market for players approaching the end of their contract.
Following the closure of each transfer window, Scout7 publish an extensive out-of-contract directory for the exclusive use of client clubs, listing players attached to teams in over twenty leagues worldwide who have less than a year remaining on their contract.
For Henderson, this is a key aid to support his player evaluation.
“When you look at some of the players we have brought to the football club, one or two of those have been out-of-contract for whatever reason,” he says.
“We would like to think that they have been good acquisitions for the club, players such as Andre Ayew and Jack Cork, and it is something which I work on closely with Scout7.
“I’m always wanting that out-of-contract list as soon as possible!”
Andre Ayew's transfer was one of last summer's stand-out Bosman transfers
Reflecting on the club’s recent achievements, which in addition to successive Premier League campaigns has seen the club lift major domestic silverware and participate in the UEFA Europa League, Jenkins believes that the endeavours of the players who have been brought into the club have helped them establish a strong legacy in South Wales.
This is a legacy which has resulted in Swansea becoming a highly desirable destination for some of the best emerging talent.
“The fact that we have adopted a system of play and different managers have taken that on board, Swansea City have built up quite a good identity, around not only the UK but in Europe, that has certainly helped us to attract players,” says Jenkins.
“I think that has shown with players joining our club, as they quickly get established and get up to the standards we require.
“I feel that we do that better than most clubs and I think that our system and the way we try to identify talent to suit that system really helps and has worked really well for us in attracting those players.”
With a clear strategy in place, devised in the Boardroom and executed across the club’s backroom departments, Swansea City have the strong foundations in place to ensure they can maintain their recent successes.
And as they look to continue to evolve their scouting processes, Scout7 will be on-hand to support them as they look to achieve their short, medium and long-term recruitment goals.