A couple weeks back, it was reported on The Athletic that Jaeson Rosenfeld, the head of Arsenal’s internal analytics company, StatDNA (officially known as OH-USA LLC after Arsenal purchased the Company for £2.165m) left the club to join Arsene Wenger at FIFA.
It comes as little surprise he chose to join Wenger, considering Arsene was one of the first managers in the world to embrace data in football way back in the 90’s and took this tool to another level in 2009 by approving the use of Stat DNA at Arsenal.
The Company has a database of players all around the world. To explain StatDNA better, let me use a day to day example. We all love sites such as whoscored, squawka and sofascore. StatDNA, however is on another level. It is a rich man’s version of sofascore. One of sofascore’s disadvantages is that it doesn’t collect data for every youth team player. Not only does the coverage of StatDNA’s database extend to players in various youth levels, the level of analysis is much more deeper.
As per The Guardian, “The workers (of StatDNA) watch footage of matches from around the world, and they code them in the most meticulous fashion. They look beyond a mere assist, for example, and examine whether the pass has enabled the goalscorer to shoot without breaking stride. Did it put the chance on the striker’s favoured foot? Was the goalkeeper properly positioned?”
The attention to detail is incredible. In an excerpt taken from the Football Hackers book, former Arsenal head of recruitment Sven Mislintat had a feature called ‘Similar Players’ in his software app and used this to sign Lucas Torreira after looking up players that are similar to N’golo Kante.
Stat DNA has a similar feature in their software where you can search players of a particular height, with certain attributes – A mere push of a button gives you access to such players.
Prior to Mislintat’s arrival, Arsenal had a team of experts within the club to liaison with Stat DNA, which Sven eventually replaced. We have gone from having Jaeson Rosenfeld and Sven Mislintat – 2 experts on football data on the transfer discussion table to now working ‘more strongly with what they (Raul Sanllehi and Co.) are offered from clubs or agents through their own networks’ as Mislintat, speaking to 11Freunde puts it.
Last summer window, Arsenal did not have a technical director. The window was run through Unai Emery’s input, coupled with expertise from Sanllehi, Cagigao and Rosenfeld. It was Rosenfeld, who reportedly advocated the signing of Nicolas Pepe ahead of Wilfried Zaha.
As per The Athletic, whilst Sanllehi was advocating a new contract for Unai Emery after his first season, Rosenfeld was someone who opposed this move, which again shows his good judgement.
Same can be said about the sound judgement of Sven Mislintat who was reportedly against the signing of Denis Suarez and wanted some of our talented Hale end products to be promoted to the first team instead, whilst Unai Emery was pushing hard for the loan signing of the Spaniard.
However – Using just data to sign players is far from full proof. A database can give you some direction, but Arsenal haven’t always used data well. For example, the club spent a combined £70m on players such as Mohamed Elneny, Shokdran Mustafi, Gabriel Paulista and Lucas Perez who put up good stats, but failed to make the difference on the pitch. As cliche as it may sound, Football is played on a pitch and not on a stats sheet.
Arsenal even missed out on players such as Antoine Griezmann, for example due to his overall stats not looking great on paper. Sven Mislintat’s signings haven’t all been perfect either. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Sokratis and Stephan Lichtsteiner have all been quite underwhelming for the club.
Arsenal are now moving to a more agent-based transfer model. The last 3 signings – David Luiz, Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari have all been done through intermediaries known well to Raul Sanllehi. These are 3 signings we have made for a combined £17m which is great value in today’s market, so that would go down as a good use of agent contacts.
Now I am not suggesting that we are taking the easy way out signing players who are simply clients of Kia Joorbachian, Arturo Canales and Jorge Mendes. Couple of things to note here. One, our technical director Edu Gaspar has brought his own team in and that will include analytics personnel. And two, Arteta has great skill in analyzing data and video footage (said to be one of the few on Pep Guardiola’s wavelength) .
And as reported by The Athletic, Arteta has the last say on transfers, evidenced by him watching videos of Pablo Mari and doing his own due diligence before ultimately sanctioning the move.
Raul Sanllehi has re-iterated recently that we first pick the player we want to sign based on our analysis and only after that use the agent contacts. And to be fair to him, we did sign Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Martinelli, Nicolas Pepe and William Saliba – 4 players who aren’t exactly represented by ‘super agents’ as some would like to call it.
The departure of Rosenfeld is a loss for the club, but we are moving in a new direction. We have a technical director now who oversees his own analytics team. Additionally, we have a manager in Arteta whose judgement needs to be trusted. In the grand scheme of things, there isn’t a role we can fit Rosenfeld into in the current structure. At best, he can be someone to provide inputs to Edu’s team.
The club have taken steps to reduce the number of roles for high level football operations. Having different perspectives is important, but having too many people can lead to delays in decision making which can be costly in the competitive market we are in, as well as cause disgruntlement to those who don’t get their way (Like Sven Mislintat).
This summer window is going to be a really interesting one. It is a new era for Arsenal and that would also mean a new way of how we operate in the market. In football, there is always a risk of things going wrong but I am excited and intrigued to see the type of player we bring in. We must embrace this change and back Arteta, Edu and others to get the right players in. Our patience is key. We will be back.