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­Monchi – The philosophy of the „Transfer wizard“ -Scouting & squad planning at FC Sevilla

  1. Introduction – The „Transfer wizard“
  2. The keystones of success
  3. The scouting
  4. The player selection
  5. Big data and artificial intelligence
  6. Conclusion

1. The “Transfer wizard”

Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, known as Monchi, has earned many nicknames in the football industry over the past few years. National and international newspapers named him “Transfer Wizard” or called him the “Messi of the Offices”. From 2000 to 2017 and again since April 2019, Monchi discovered players like Dani Alves, Clement Lenglet or Ivan Rakitic for Sevilla FC and sold them to top tier clubs with an immense increase in value. Current examples are Wissam Ben Yedder (AS Monaco), Quincy Promes (Ajax Amsterdam) or Pablo Sarabia (PSG), who helped to gain more than 100 Mio. € revenue in just a single transfer period – for the first time in the clubs history.

But how does a sports director manage to achieve such a status, that already evolved into a myth? We took a close look at the 51-year-old’s philosophy and analyzed what makes his approach so special!

2. The keystones of success

The main reasons of Seville‘s and Monchis success sound very simple: hard work and maintaining contacts! According to the phrase “Success is only ahead of work in the dictionary”, his main tasks are first and foremost supporting the players and the coach in winning as many games as possible and of course concentrating on a successful transfer market. The Andalusian philosophy is based on three columns:

1. One Direction: All departments of the club work together for the sportive success

2. Organization: Always be prepared, do not allow improvisation and define clear goals.

3. Teamwork: The group leader is worthless without his team members.

It is interesting to see how Monchi, as a manager, deals with the results of his and the work of his team. If the results are bad, he blames just himself. If the results are mediocre, the group is jointly responsible and if the results are good, he openly communicates that the others were responsible. This creates trust and encourages his employees to take initiative.

3. The scouting

Monchi divides scouting into two parts: so-called „gross scouting“ takes place from around July to December and „net scouting“ from January to May / June. Basically, the motto here is that the sports director and the scouting department work completely independently without coordinating their work with the head coach. The coaching staff should fully concentrate on working with the team and winning games.

The former goalkeeper is especially known for his big know-how on the French market. In recent years he and his scouts have been able to identify some talented, but quite unknown players there and were able to sell them with great profit after successful years in Seville. Clement Lenglet was signed from second league AS Nancy for € 5.4 million in 2017 and transferred to FC Barcelona just one year later for € 35.9 million. Grzegorz Krychowiak came from Stade Reims in 2014 (€ 5.5 million transfer fee) and two years later moved to Paris St. Germain for € 27.5 million.

Last summer, the central defenders Jules Koundé (Stade Rennes) and Diego Carlos (FC Nantes), as well as offensive  starlet Lucas Ocampos (Olympique Marseille) where all signed from the French Ligue 1 and already become absolute regulars in their first season through strong performances.

„Gross Scouting“:

Every scout watches as many games as possible in his country / area without having a specific goal. Monchi pursues the strategy to scout all positions, as he has often had to deal with unexpected departures of first eleven players in the past, which he could not adequately replace due to a lack of preparation. This approach is intended to avoid these cases.

Each month, each scout creates his own individual Top11 with a selection of the best players for each position. It is important to note that the Top11 must be realistic (e.g. the players should fit into the budget). At the beginning of the gross scouting as many players as possible are analyzed (Jul.-Sep.), later approx. 4-5 players per match in order to take a more detailled look (Oct.-Dec.). Monchi divides the leagues as follows:

  • A: National leagues with the highest priority (e.g. Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A) à monthly Top11 for each league
  • B: Other national leagues (e.g. Ekstraklasa, MLS, Liga MX) à monthly top 11 of all leagues
  • C: International tournaments (WM / EM, Gold Cup, Africa Cup) à Top11 for each tournament

An exciting approach is to evaluate the category B leagues not through the national leagues, but through the scouting of the national teams – from the 1st team to the U18 of the respective country. The sports director of the Sevillistas is convinced that the respective national coaches do the best possible job, so he just uses their know-how in his workflow.

„Net scouting“:

In net scouting, the players who were selected by gross scouting are scouted intensively. Monchi attaches great importance to two aspects. Firstly, the scouting should take place in as many different situations as possible to create a complete picture of the player: Home and away games, against strong and weak opponents as well as international duties play an important role. Secondly, the scouting should be done by different scouts. As a result, a scout may no longer values the same players during net scouting that he has already dealt with in gross scouting. This should result in a large number of different opinions, all of them are put together in a big evaluation about every scouted player. In total, each potential signing is scouted six to seven times.

As mentioned above, Monchi is particularly active in France – he has transferred most of the players from the leagues shown here (exclusive loans and free transfer players):

La Liga: 27 transfers – average fee 5.16 million euros
Serie A: 20 transfers – average fee 10.97 million euros
Ligue 1: 17 transfers – average fee 10.20 million euros
Eredivisie: 8 transfers – average fee 10.10 million euros
Premier League: 8 transfers – average fee 6.54 million euros

Noticeable: especially within Spain, the Andalusian Monchi has rarely signed expensive players, mostly they were just players for a bigger squad depth. It is surprising, that the most expensive La Liga player was Steven N’Zonzi, whom he bought during his 2 years at AS Roma.

Monchi only brought 5 players from the Bundesliga, the best known are probably Rakitic and Ciro Immobile.

4. The player selection

Only after intensive scouting of the relevant players the start to get the coach involved in April. Monchi clarifies that the trainer orders a list of profiles that, in his expert opinion, he needs to improve the team. Based on the desired profiles, the scouting department selects suitable players who meet the coach’s expectations. From initially more than 500 players (during the gross scouting) a list of approx. 6-8 players per position is created, which is presented to the coach with the help of videos.

In addition to the classic factors (physical, technical and tactical skills) and the psychological profiles of the players, the following criteria are of immense importance for the manager when valuating and selecting suitable players:

• Economic conditions: These include the actual and current player value, possible release clauses and the salary over the term of the contract.

• Acclimatization period: can the player immediatly perform? Can the player deliver his best performances under other conditions (pressure, fans, media)?

• Future increase in value: Here Monchi works according to the 70/30 rule, i.e. 30% of the new signings should perform immediately and at 70% of them the staff has to focus more on development and value enhancement.

Monchi has implemented three keys to help new arrivals adapt quite fast to their new club. They focus more on the person itself than on the football player, trying to shift the full focus on the pitch:

1. Knowledge about club: The new signing is informed about the club philosophy, history, city, rivalries and media

2. Character of the player: The club has to know about the background environment, the family as well as traditions, hobbies and habits of the newcomer.

3. Introduction: The introduction of the player must be flawlessly planned and no big statements may be made that would put the player under unnecessary pressure.

The Top 11 from Monchi’s best transfers in 20 years as a manager is peppered with top players. First and foremost, Ivan Rakitic stands out – Monchi was able to sign the midfield motor in January 2011 for just 2.5 million euros from Schalke 04, well below market value! Even more impressive, however, is Dani Alves’ transfer history. The later world-class right-back was transferred from Brazil for around 1 million euros and, like Rakitic and Clement Lenglet, used the Andalusians as a steppingstone to the top of the world at FC Barcelona. But the remaining eight players in this special Top 11 also had a great career at Sevilla, which was not necessarily foreseeable before their transfer.

Monchi recognizes hidden talents on a regular basis.

5. Big data and artificial intelligence

For years, Monchi has relied on big data and artificial intelligence for management planning and continuous improvement of its scouting strategy. Just like Createfootball, he is convinced that football clubs can only be successful in the future if they deal intensively with new technologies and use the pros of the tools for themselves. In the meantime, Sevilla FC has its own department that works specifically with the collection and analysis of data. The club from southern Spain focuses on three relevant fields:

1. Scouting: Exact parameters are defined. They show the skills a potential new signing should meet in order to exclude all the irrelevant players from the beginning.

2. Injury prevention: data on factors such as sleep, eating, stress and pitch conditions are collected in order to identify patterns of injuries and then avoid them.

3. Transfer market: With the help of artificial intelligence they try to predict the perfect timing to buy or sell a player. Among other things, factors such as the league table, injuries and relationships with teammates or the coach are taken into account.

As a result of the effects of the corona pandemic (limited travel options, few / no fans allowed in the stadiums), Sevilla FC will have to adjust its strategy for the next few months and will probably (have to) rely more on data in the future. Monchi and other sports directors should take the current challenges as an opportunity to establish a sustainable transfer policy. If videos and, above all, data are used for a preselection of interesting players and the live scouting only takes place in the last step, both personnel costs and time-consuming trips can be reduced – without losing quality!

6. Conclusion

Through hard work, a long-term strategy and the use of modern technologies, Monchi has managed to turn a bankrupt second division club into one of the most exciting teams in Europe since 2000. In addition, he has set the record of a total of 5 titles in the Europa League (previously UEFA Cup) and will be in the final of the competition in 2020 with his Sevillistas vs Inter Milan.

But also the „Transfer wizard“ can not turn everything into gold. Especially during his two-year spell at AS Roma, some of his expensive purchases such as Patrick Schick (€ 42 million), Steven N’Zonzi (€ 26.7 million) or Javier Pastore (€ 24.7 million) flopped – the Roma board already fired him after 2 years. In a short time he had turned the entire club, including fans, against him with his own scouting methods and transfer decisions, which is why he moved back home to Seville. But also with the Rojiblancos the summer of 2019 was not really successful. Rony Lopes, Maximilian Wöber, Oliver Torres and Munas Dabbur were huge busts, despite being worth over 60 million euros in transfer fees and with Luuk de Jong they still have a player in the squad who does not fulfill the  technical requirements of Coach Lopetegui. He was hired as head coach at the beginning of July 2019, especially Lopes and Dabbur often did not even get into the squad, both of them already left the club. It remains exciting how Seville’s sports director will manage this transfer summer, especially in combination with the corona crisis!

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