Tim Sherwood believes clubs should trust traditional scouts more than data analysts, who are baffling them ‘with figures, statistics and pie charts’.
Sherwood, out of work since he was sacked as Aston Villa manager in October, was asked in an exclusive interview with the Daily Telegraph why clubs are seemingly so averse to signings players from the lower leagues.
“Because clubs are not sending scouts out as much to these lower leagues,” Sherwood said. “Years ago they found Ian Wright, Les Ferdinand and Stuart Pearce in non-league. You hear people say now they will never be found again. Vardy is proving they can. In the Football League, Callum Wilson has proved they can. John Stones has proved they can. A lot of clubs are just not looking because it is not sexy to sign a player from the lower leagues or non-league.
“Everton are a great example of doing it the right way. Look at Seamus Coleman [signed from Sligo Rovers], Mason Holgate [Barnsley], Brendan Galloway [MK Dons] and Stones [Barnsley]. They have got it right. So have Spurs. Those are two good managers, Mauricio Pochettino and Roberto Martínez who are willing to give young and developing players an opportunity.
“They also recognise that if you have a lot of academy kids coming through or from lower league it opens up the purse strings and you can spend the budget on the one or two outstanding make-the-difference players.
“You are always better off going for quality rather than quantity,” added Sherwood, whose Villa signed 12 players in the summer.
‘Expected goals’ data – what a load of nonsense
Sherwood believes there are too few traditional scouts working in the game these days and has accused clubs of relying too much on data analysis, some of which he describes as “absolute nonsense”.
“These modern guys don’t want to be called scouts, they want to be called anything but,” Sherwood said. “The old guard – the foot soldiers – are still known as scouts. They are out there trailing around parks watching kids’ football. The new guys don’t want to go Fleetwood Town. They might not even get a cup of tea. When they go to Manchester United or the top leagues in Europe they get looked after. They get the blankets over their knees, and a nice cappuccino.
“Some of the best scouts haven’t been players, but they have to have a relationship with the manager. They have to be a second pair of eyes for him, especially the head scout. Paul Mitchell is trusted by Mauricio (Pochettino) to be his eyes and when he flags one up I bet he is never far out. Mitch is working closely with (Tottenham chairman) Daniel Levy. At the moment they have got it spot on. Not only do they have an identity on the pitch of how they want to play, they have it right in the background. That’s why they will continue to be stable.
“There are far too few of the scouts. All that data analysis can be used for something, but it can’t be used to pick your players. Some of the data is not about goals, or assists, it’s about ‘expected goals’ when a player got himself in position to score but didn’t. What a load of nonsense. Trust your eyes. You can’t get a feel for them on the screen. Any player can be made to look good on a showreel. It’s far sexier to go to the top European leagues and find these players. It’s easier to sell it to your fans.
“Are they any more effective than a League One player? One thing a talented young League One player has got going for them is that they are mostly English, settled in the country, they haven’t got a language problem, they are not coming in on big money and they are hungry for success. Some of these non-league kids are playing for the love of the game and 200 quid a week.
“You have people getting into the ear of the clubs and telling them it’s a little bit more sophisticated, that there’s more science to it. They are baffling them with figures, statistics and pie charts! These guys might do a good presentation, but where is the substance? Does it work? How many games have they actually been to? How long have they been in the game? Do they know what they are looking at?”
Villa to stay up
On Villa, Sherwood added: “I wish them well. It’s difficult when you lose your three best players and you finished 17th in the Premier League the previous season. It was always going to be a tough task. The club is always going to be bigger than any individual. I respect their decision.
“I believe they will stay up this season. There were some good times in a very short period. I was very proud to have them kept them in the league – it looked very precarious when I took over with 12 games left. It was a great day to lead the team out at Wembley in an FA Cup final, the first time the club had been in the final in 15 years. The final itself was one to forget but there are a lot of teams that would have liked to have been there. It was us on that day. I thought Arsenal were world class.”