For a club with a lower budget than those at the top end of the Belgian Pro League, it’s important to have a solid scouting system in place to uncover talented players where others may not be looking. 

We spoke to K.V. Mechelen Data Scout Nathan De Ridder about how he identifies transfer targets, contextualizes data, and which technology he uses to optimize his professional scouting role.

As a Data Scout, De Ridder’s core role is to identify transfer targets through the use of data. 

“My purpose is to facilitate the scouting process using modern data methods, to make the identification process go smoothly,” he said. “Obviously you’ve got the old school way of scouting where you're reliant on agents, but I think in any industry it's necessary to move with the trends of the world of football. So that's what we're trying to do now, innovate more and try to be a step ahead of the arrivals in our league.”

Having the intention to use data for scouting purposes is one thing, but actually making a plan and defining a club-specific approach to data scouting is the next step of implementation. 

“With data scouting, what you want is to identify players who suit the specific needs of your club, and the certain mentality we need from our players,” said De Ridder. “Our club mentality is that you work hard and make your shirt wet with sweat, so if we find a player is without a willingness to fight for the club, then we don't think the player is suited for our games. 

When we analyze the data on a potential target, we make sure that on certain KPIs the player's score is high, so that we know that he can integrate well into our way of working.”

K.V. Mechelen uses Wyscout API to optimize their scouting performance through a more automated and integrated workflow. 

How exactly does the Wyscout API work? Wyscout’s powerful platform database and stats are integrated with apps and external websites. Wyscout sends data feed through a standard API format, ensuring complete compatibility with any digital platform. 

This allows clubs to create their own database, choosing the output format that’s suitable for their needs and taking the analysis beyond what is traditionally available. In other words, clubs can use data intelligence to further their understanding of performance.

Wyscout APIs are available in different packs that suit different levels of needs and workflows. 

Before implementing Wyscout API, Mechelen was operating an effective, but more limited scouting function.

“Beforehand we could extract data, but it was only up to 500 players and one league,” explained De Ridder. “Also it was a more manual process, so some data would eventually become outdated, but now with the API we always have up-to-date data. 

We set up an R Script with Hudl Pro Services where we created a data pipeline from the script to our database, where we always have our updated data housed, and where we are able to each week get updates on about 15 to 50 leagues. It's quite a difference, as we went from a maximum of 500 players worth of data, to around 5,000 a week.

From the thousands of players that come onto Mechelen’s scouting radar every week, there needs to be a way to filter the players that meet the internal criteria and KPIs that the club desires. This is another solution offered by the API system.

“Each week we get information on thousands of players and not every player is relevant for us, so we identify the interesting players and move them onto a short list or long list,” said De Ridder. 

“But because we have this whole huge pile of data on an extremely big pile of players, it gives the club a lot of freedom to approach data, because if you don't have the API, you're dependent on the offers the platform gives you, while if you have the raw data, you can approach it in a much more specific way, in a much more detailed way.

Using data is storytelling. I might know what a certain number on a certain KPI means, but that doesn't mean the Director of Sports or the Head of Scouting knows exactly what that number means. Nathan De Ridder - K.V. Mechelen Data Scout

With the API, you have a much wider offering of KPIs, which are the parameters to evaluate your targets on. Having the API gives you a lot more freedom to approach a specific way of working that you want to achieve.”

Sorting through a massive amount of raw data can be executed in line with internal measurements and KPIs, but what do those KPIs mean to each different persona within a club? This is where data contextualization is important.

“Using data is storytelling. I might know what a certain number on a certain KPI means, but that doesn't mean the Director of Sports or the Head of Scouting knows exactly what that number means,” said De Ridder. “When you receive an Excel sheet containing 30,000 rows, which are all just numbers on top of each other, it is not very easy to interpret it. 

So we use Tableau dashboards, where my main purpose is actually to tell a story with the data, making it easy to interpret it for someone who doesn't really know much about the numbers. Because of the visualization, they are able to understand what I'm trying to say, why I think a player could be interesting, or not.”

Example of data visualisation on Tableau

When asked about what the future of data and football could look like in the future, the Mechelen Data Scout had some potential innovations to suggest.

“I think in the future,  a lot more people will have an understanding of what data is, how they can use it, how they have to interpret it, and how it can support them,” said De Ridder. 

“The world is very innovative, and when you see new things coming onto the market, you always find it interesting. But in the beginning, when I saw data being introduced in football, so many people of the older generation remained distant from it, not really believing in it. 

Furthermore, a lot of people thought data was going to replace video. That is certainly not the case, and I don't think it ever will be the case, as I think video will always be something that will always go hand-in-hand with scouting.”

Learn more about Wyscout API here.
Request a demo here.