Player assessment is a fun topic. Everyone has an opinion.
But a lot of people struggle with providing proper player assessments. We tend to rely on outside sources to provide us with information and form our opinions based on what we’ve gathered. A lot of times this comes in the form of regurgitating whatever we hear from *expert analysts.
This a problem.
In this short episode, we’re going to take this topic head-on and leave you with the best reference for assessing a player.
Gary Kleiban recently published an excellent, and potent series of tweets. Six in total.
First, let’s get two things clear:
1) (Sergino) Dest is a good player. He is not the subject of what follows. The subject(s) are people doing player assessments.
2) What follows just uses his situation to illustrate a point.
Dest’s current situation helps illustrate how dependent most everyone is on external validation for their judgment of players.
That dependence is a function of expertise.
For if Ajax had not been playing him with the 1st team, people would not rate him as they do now.
Even though, and here’s the kicker … even though this is what Dest was capable of BEFORE he debuted with the 1st team.
Of course, no one has a crystal ball.
But it’s important to understand that talent assessment is a skill. One that has levels. One that can take years of deliberate practice between levels.
And quite frankly, there are pitfalls that put ceilings on the level one can reach.
If someone had said after the U20 match vs Ukraine that Dest is capable of being a starter for Ajax in the Champion’s League at the start of this season, and should be called to the #USMNT, they’d be right. But how many of you “analysts” would have laughed?
Now, with the recent external validation(s) regarding Dest, the pendulum swings the other way.
** The amplitude of those swings is inversely proportional to the degree of expertise in player assessment. **
Okay, so what can you do to start improving your own ability to properly assess talent?
This next part is not necessarily related to Gary’s series of tweets. I just wanted to continue with the theme of player assessment and help coaches with one easy thing they can and should be looking for.
So, here we go…
What you see is the result of what you know. What you know is what you consume.
If someone consumes primarily MLS games and American soccer media content, their eyes and their brain are not being conditioned for anything remotely close to the global standard.
The more top-level soccer you consume, the more proper exercise your brain gets.
Watching the top-level is where your time and energy should be spent. Especially if you are still in the infancy stage of developing your eye for things.
(When it comes to soccer media… it’s virtually all trash. You should probably spend your time consuming other forms of media produced by powerful thought leaders in other industries. Here is a shortlist of books.)
Now that you’re watching the right stuff… what should you be looking for?
The easiest, and best, thing you should look for when scouting or assessing any player is how often the player turns the ball over.
As Gary said, you can apply all the context, or nitpicking you want… but this is still the best reference.
No matter the player’s position or role within the team, retaining possession of the ball is the best measurement of the player’s soccer IQ and their ability to make the correct decision that benefits the team in that moment.
While the correct decisions are sometimes governed by the current scoreline, run of play, the opposition, time on the clock, etc., what most people fail to realize is the most fundamental guide. The correct decision, by and far, is the one that retains possession!
Armed with this information, you can now better assess players in your own environment, as well as what you watch in person and on tv. You now have the ultimate measuring stick.
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