Talent recognition in soccer – Game intelligence


Eric Castien

Onderwerp Blogsport
Gepubliceerd op

19 November 2018

Is Frenkie de Jong worth 80 million?
How emotion drives the price, and data brings the balance

In addition to FC Barcelona, now Manchester United and Real Madrid have also taken place in the fight for Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong. According to the Telegraaf, the Spanish superpower offers a whopping 80 million euros for the 21-year-old Ajax player. Although it is a pleasure for soccer enthusiasts to see Frenkie de Jong on the field, it is special that European clubs are prepared to put so much money on the table for someone who hasn’t even been active for a whole season in the Eredivisie. Is it, based on what Frenkie has shown so far, not a risky investment? Would you not like to have more insights about whether he is able to perform consistently at the highest level?

Comparing track records: Eredivisie transfer record holder and the expected successor
If 80 million euros are paid for Frenkie de Jong, then he becomes the most expensive player ever to depart from the Eredivisie. The Eredivisie transfer record is currently with the 21 year old Davinson Sánchez who exchanged Ajax for 40 million euro for Tottenham Hotspur last season. At the time of departure, Davinson Sánchez had a total of 47 matches for the club from Amsterdam to his name. In total he had:

That comes down to a total of 4142 minutes of play on which Tottenham Hotspur’s decision to purchase could be based.

The track record of Frenkie de Jong was a lot less impressive during the transfer rumors at the beginning of this season. Although he had played in 50 games for Ajax 1 until September, he played considerably less minutes. In total:

In short: Based on the playing hours at the highest Dutch club level, a price twice as high is not justified right away. Since the beginning of September, De Jong has been absolutely manifesting himself in the international matches and the Champions League. However, some caution is in place, given his only 21 calendar years old.

Successor to the ‘ Cruyff of the Balkans ‘?
At Real Madrid, Frenkie de Jong is seen as the possible successor to Luka Modric (33). Luka Modric, who was recently named Player of the Year, and thereby the first in ten years to knock Ronaldo and Messi of the throne, is the current central midfielder of the Royal superpower. Modric who, as the creative brain of Real Madrid performs excellently in both its defensive and offensive tasks, was seen as the ‘Cruijf of the Balkans’ when he had the age of Frenkie. With the same seventies hairstyle, same physique, same walk and same matching qualities on the field, the similarity with the deceased Ajax legend was easily made. When we look at Frenkie, we also see these similarities back in his game. In the minutes he played, there often is little or criticism on his game. However, the towering transfer fee seems mainly motivated by emotion. “But people like to see tomorrow’s stars in emerging talents”. Both supporters and managers at the clubs are  carried away  in daydreaming more than once. Only a handful of new kids is breaking through the Gallery of the Greats years later. The hype surrounding Frenkie de Jong has now passed through the national boundaries. Which launches his market value.

More insight into potential: talent recognition does not stop in the physical, technical and tactical.
Stepping away from emotion: What can data say about the potential of a talent? Based on what the young Ajax player has shown so far, most people will agree that he can play soccer very well. He has an extraordinary set of qualities. He is able to act quickly and skillfully, able to choose his position on the field and can move the game easily and in an extremely clever way from one side to the other. But can he also make this true at the highest level? And is he able to do this for 50 matches in a season? Many people will answer this question with “of course”, but they are not the ones who have to come up with the 80 million. For the scouts of top clubs, it is important to collect as much objective information on performance about a player as Frenkie as possible. Not only match data, but also biometric sizes. Talent recognition does not stop at the physical, technical, and tactical, but there is much more. With such a large investment, you want to take all the currently available information into consideration from such a player, or not?

Take a look under the hood: Discover the “Soccer Brain”
Frenkie de Jong is an excellent example when it comes to soccer intelligence. It is a typical player who does ‘smart’ things on the field. This includes brain processes such as perception, storing the information, information filtering, recognizing patterns, weighing available options, choosing the right action and executing them. And that at a maddening high tempo. Players who can do that and can sustain that are rare. These players make the difference. And therefore are worth gold. Irrespective of whether that should be 80 million euros or not. To be sure that you as a club put your money in the right players, a glimpse into the brain deserves attention. Brain functions largely determine the soccer performance. BrainsFirst has the solution for this. Years of research has yielded results that show, based on an online assessment and an extensive database with the cognitive qualities of top soccer players, it can be predicted whether someone also has the brain to perform at the highest level. Just a final check for every purchase to make sure you bring in (cognitive) quality.

Learn more about the roots of BrainsFirst in soccer?
Click here for our story. Or interested in what effect these types of transfers can have on the future of soccer? Take a look at the documentary about the future of Dutch soccer of the NOS. Or read the triptych about BrainsFirst on Voetbalzone:

Part 1: ‘Ironically enough , they are often portrayed in the media as dumb boys
Part 2: ‘Pirlo had the ability to become air traffic controller with his soccer brain ‘
Part 3: ‘We give clubs the opportunity to look under the hood of players ‘