Scouting for Fulham

Tony Khan, the owner’s son and statistical head honcho for the Jacksonville Jaguars, crashed into my world this evening via Twitter.


Well.  Given our current status we’re probably going to have to find players from leagues below our own, so that’s hard, because there’s not much data on League One.  Never mind, I thought, let’s see what we can do.

You will by now be aware of the general perception that football is about goals for and against (I’ve prattled on about goal difference being a good indicator for years, yes?) but also worth noting that shots, and particularly shots on target, tend to be even better.  And obviously there are two sides to this coin, those shots you take and those you allow.  So:


Hehe. So, what we’re looking at here is how the teams in League One do at scoring, not conceding, shooting, not allowing shots, getting good shots, not allowing good shots.  We then compare the teams to the rest of the league and highlight situations where a team is an outlier.  As an example of this, teams only get one shot on target for every three shots they take against Preston, which is sensational and suggests that it’s almost impossible to get off a clean shot against them.  This could be because of their defence or their midfield, but in any case, it’s what we’ll call a lead.  Below we explore some leads.

Bristol C better (outstanding) F/A than indicators suggest = v strong midfield?  Hard to know though, seem to be excellent everywhere so not clear who to spotlight.

Crewe half of their shots are on target, much better than rest of division.  Suggests creating v good opportunities and/or good forward play. So:

Nicky Ajose 23F Didn’t make it at United, but Ferguson sold to his son Darren at Peterborough suggesting Fergie saw something. On emergency loan from Leeds.
Anthony Grant 27M Chelsea youngster, made first team squad in 2005-06, no appearances.  England U16,U17,U19. Last year made available for loan by manager owing to attitude issues.

Jamie Ness (above) 24M – young Rangers prospect who had injury issues and who left when the club went into administration.  Signed for Stoke but didn’t break through. Been loaned out to Orient and now Crewe.

What I’m doing here is scouring the team’s stats for players who play regularly in the positions we’re interested in and who are under 27 years of age.  They might be rubbish but you have to start all this somewhere, right?  I’m delighted with my first three stabs, all three players having significant pedigree in the game.

Fleetwood – their opponents need a lot of chances to get one on target. Fleetwood concede many more shots than they take, but similar end up with similar numbers on target. e.g. they are much more efficient.  Suggests perhaps a good counter-attacking team?  Not sure. In any case, they have two young full-backs who seem interesting:

Josh Morris (above) 23M young left back on loan from Blackburn, where he was well thought of.
Conor McLaughlin 23D young NI international
Antoni Sarcevic 23M Man City youth from 7 to 15, fell away, played non-league, now working his way back up.

Preston have outstanding defence. Almost 3 Standard Deviationss above average for how hard it is to get a shot on target, which is nuts.

Paul Huntington (below) 27D centre-back, former Newcastle player.  I’m going out on a limb here: a centre-back, aged 27, came through with Newcastle, now anchoring one of the toughest defences in League One: I reckon Huntington’s got something going for him.

Tom Clarke 27D defender or midfielder, former England youth
Joe Garner (below) 26F – the thing here is that Preston have these insane defensive stats but Garner’s only gone and scored 20 in 29 games. Prolific all his career but hasn’t really stuck. Often a victim of numbers, e.g. signed for Forest for £1m but stuck behind a number of decent options. Worth a punt.

Bailey Wright (below) 22D Preston young player of the year in 2013. Australian youngster.



Look, I’m not an idiot.  I know that you can’t just pluck names out of thin air, copy a paragraph from wikipedia and proclaim yourself the Billy Beane of football, but there’s method to the madness.

1) we’re finding teams who are outstanding at a particular facet of their game. This is important: it gives us some assurance that we’re finding players who can do a job.  We’re not being blinded by perceptions, we’re finding defenders who are part of teams who are great at defending, for instance.  We can’t know from here why the teams are so good at defending, but by looking at the defenders who have played most often, not been a sub, etc, we can have a fair guess.  It is only a guess, but an educated one.
2) we seem to have stumbled upon a number of players with a decent pedigree.  This is suggestive of talent, which is a big deal.  It’s very easy for footballers to get lost in senior football, there’s so much luck involved in who makes it and who doesn’t (I really believe that).  So there’s little doubt in my mind that there are gems to be found down the leagues (or how do you explain Bournemouth or Brentford?).  I think this is one way to find them.3) clearly the next step would be to get some qualitative feedback.  That’s exactly what I’ll try to do next.

But I wouldn’t be that surprised if taking this kind of iterative approach to building shortlists might not be the way forward.  As I’ve discussed too many times to mention, our eyes are notoriously poor judges of anything, and if players could be effectively judged this way all managers would agree who the best players are and nobody would make mistakes in the transfer market.  This doesn’t happen.  When you break things down to actual achievement then you’re not letting prejudices blind you; you’re finding defenders who have had success defending.  Which is what you want.  Then of course you have to untangle the information you get, but it’s a start, right?

6 thoughts on “Scouting for Fulham

  1. But isn’t the single biggest need a manager who knows how to organise a team and get the best from what he’s got?

    Nothing changes until we find the right man to manage the club.

    Our best three players yesterday, I thought, were the three new loanees. Perhaps they came with good habits – how long will they keep them under this management?

  2. Really good article, and encouraging to hear his son say we need to invest. Agree with your point about the loanees ; until he got tired Guthrie was excellent (although he provided zero defensive cover) and husband was fantastic – MOTM for me. Turner I was less convinced about – didn’t really want to jump and a bit slow, although his long passing and coming out of defence really did remind me of Hangeland. I’d much prefer to see Burn there really. Couple of major problems though: the diamond formation is utterly atrocious. It doesn’t work. The CMs don’t exactly pack the midfield, and they have to work so hard to get out wide and vaguely attempt to track back that they’re getting worn out. The lack of natural width means our attacks are slower and means the full backs have no protection, hence why we were overran for the first two goals. Second problem is in pressing. We don’t. The midfield allow them to walk through far too easily (and then barely track back) and then we back off and back off until they have a pop. That means more chances and more chances means more goals. Their first two goals yesterday revealed that, as we couldn’t / didn’t close their man Dallas down and he took a pop and it went in. I accept they were good pops, but we could have easily prevented him getting the shot off. I’m surprised at this given Kit used to be a handy CB himself, but it’s not good enough. I’m firmly in the Kit Out camp now come the end of the season, and I’d love someone like Warburton, Mcoist or Adkins to come in end of season.

  3. Where to start with all this?!

    Interesting article and maybe some value so not to be discounted. I personally think looking to recuit from the division below shows a lack of ambition and its doubtful they would make it in the premiership.

    As someone else has pointed out, we need to begin by getting the right manager. Look at what Tigana did when he came in – those players that looked pretty average were transformed into players that could compete in the premier league. The signings he made were premier quality – Saha, van der sar, fernandes, Collins etc, we did not buy players that didn’t have the ability to compete at a higher level. Whilst we are still considered a ‘big’ club in this league we should look to exploit that.

    The club as a whole is in a big mess and the right decisions have to be made in the summer to address that. Khan needs to look as though he cares and is more involved. I’m sure he does things behind the scenes but he needs to engage with fans more and at this time of crisis show that we, the fans, can trust him.

    We need to look abroad to sign quality for fair prices and then get a manager with tactical nouse. I look at our team now and I believe in LVC we have only one premier league quality player. Perhaps Ross also. This needs to change!

  4. What are the stats on Tony Khan’s tenure as stats research manager? The Jaguars are dreadful, and now Fulham are following suit.

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