What does a next opponent report analyst look for?

What does a next opponent report analyst look for?

What Does a Next Opponent Report Analyst Look For?

Every scout will have their own opinions, but if I am writing a team report I will see strengths and weaknesses first and foremost. And the question I’ll ask myself is: “are they related to the way the players and teams want to play?”

Whatever you are scouting, whoever you are scouting, the game always starts with the warm-up.

There you can see evidence of concentration, nerves, stupidity, focus, lethargy and the general professionalism of the preparation. Sometimes it tells you everything you need to know as an indication of the character of teams and players.

There’s a famous scouts’ story of Kevin Keegan travelling to Scotland as Newcastle boss to watch a Scottish Under 21 international. He allegedly left before the warm-up was over, having seen enough while watching the player sprint (and the evidence of a lack of athleticism that undermined this young boy’s career as a mature player).

Once the game kicks off. I move to looking at getting a note of both teams’ shape with and without the ball. What they do at attacking and defensive set-pieces, their general team approach, how the defence, midfield and attacking units combine.

I am looking for key men and weak links, a sense of the team’s collective mentality and individual notes on players strengths and weaknesses. I also want to note how they respond tactically to the changing game situation – when goals are scored and conceded, when substitutions are made and also when the clock is ticking down, and at the start and end of each half.

The aim is to provide the manager a plan to defeat these opponents by playing up strengths in his side and exploiting weaknesses in the opponents. And that in a nutshell is the basis of a team report.

Evaluating players

In terms of players, I might notice a specific detail first – speed, size, agility – as you say, and then I’ll be looking to confirm my preconceptions or prejudices about a player if I have seen him before.

If it is a first time view I will want to be able to satisfy myself I can describe who and what he is to my manager.

In one sense everyone can see the effects of height, weight, speed and agility. But the scout hones in on body language in success and adversity, a player’s rapport with his teammates when they score or concede, whether the player plays for himself or the team, whether he is brave in possession or meek. When he fades in games and when he thrives. How the team’s set up helps and hinders him and how he might fare in different circumstances and in a different team.

A lot of the time you are comparing players to archetypes of players and situations you’ve seen over and over again, thousands of times before.

I am usually painting a picture/concocting a plan to help my team beat their team next week rather than looking at individuals as would-be signing targets specifically. Although if someone pops up as a live runner in that respect, I will add a note in my report with a bit of background on the player.

Generally, much of the Next Opponent Report role is about building confidence (“where we are better is…..”).
Some of it is counselling caution (“we’ll lose if we play like this.”).
Much of it is factual reporting.

Some observations are brutal and dismissive because that is the function that’s required. At times reports are very generous to players who are failing.

Another wide player I used to watch faded badly whenever he had home fans on the same side of the pitch as him and only really came into his own when stationed on the opposite side of the field.

I learned to watch games by osmosis through having access to the 1990s archive of the great Leeds scout John Barr for a short time. He had a wonderful economy of style, an ability to sum up a player in a phrase or brilliant observation of a tic no-one else in the stadium would have noticed. Even now, I always think ‘how would John Barr sum this player up?’, as I am thinking about an event that illustrates personality within a game situation.

For instance there’s a player I watch regularly who is a charismatic but toxic character, a midfielder who operates on the principle that his interests are always best served by his private undermining of more selfless teammates in the dressing room and by lots of empty gesturing on the field. And yet he has hoodwinked his last two managers into believing he is a model pro and leader material. But once you know his modus operandi it really is quite amusing to watch. It is an act that is kilometres wide and millimetres thick.

Another wide player I used to watch faded badly whenever he had home fans on the same side of the pitch as him and only really came into his own when stationed on the opposite side of the field.

Viewing in colour

So, in short I’d say that what most fans see in black and white, a decent scout will see in colour. Those with blessed eyes see everything and in high definition too.

As an aside I would say that first impressions are usually correct. Three views will give you a very good sense of a player but there is also a danger that you can watch a player too often within a short span of time, thus creating a mess of largely negative impressions.

Few players improve with repeated viewing in a short time-frame – it is just the case that their flaws become more apparent to the detriment of their strengths. There is a lot to think about and you never know what you are going to see for sure. And that sometimes means that some of the evidence is random or inadmissible when set against the mean of form and performance. Like people no team reveals all its personality on one given encounter. And also both people and teams vary day to day and are extremely likely to behave out of character from time to time.

To this observation I would add: see what you see, not what you want to see or feel you should see. And reflect that in your notes. If you are posed a question and the answer is simple don’t be afraid of a simple answer.

For example: “Why did Barcelona win the match?”

Likely answer: “Because they had the best 2–3 players on the pitch in key areas and a supporting cast that play to their strengths with the fewest weak links.”

The answer to that question will almost certainly not be because of a tactical master-stroke played by Luis Enrique in the second half.

Complexity has its place, but mostly the relationship between cause and effect is deceptively simple. As in life, and I have to disagree with Samuel Johnson here, even in the act of paraphrasing his well-known quote. When it comes to analysing football, the tendency towards obscurantism (rather than to patriotism) is the last vestige of the scoundrel.