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In the months after a World Cup, we tend to adapt our view as to where the world’s talent hotspots are. It was therefore no surprise that after Russia we’ve all been keen to understand what differentiates the production lines of France, Belgium and Croatia. For some clubs, their recent success provides a good justification to scout these countries in even more depth.
The obvious danger with this is that the teams at the World Cup represent only a tiny fraction of the players developed by that country. We have, for example, over 600 Croatian players in our database, so the 23 players in their squad amount to less than 4% of all the players developed in Croatia. Indeed an even smaller fraction had a meaningful impact on their semi-final run. If we are a club that is not shopping at the top end of the market, our perception of Croatian players in general might be skewed by an outstanding minority.
The same applies for Belgium. Using our Player Contribution model, we have ranked countries by the quality of their best to 25th-best player, 26th to 75th-best player, 76th to 200th-best player, and 201st to 400th-best player. Few would argue with Belgium having a superb set of elite players – they rank 8th in the world by our models (and even higher if we look at just the top 10 players from each country) – but our model allows us to look at the strength in depth of any given country. If we look at players in this third group, Belgium’s are 14th-best in the world, and in the final group they are 23rd-best.
Therefore for clubs who aren’t scouting the best talent from any given country, it doesn’t make any sense to use international football as a barometer. Our models suggest that once you reach a certain level, players from for example Denmark or Colombia might even be better bets that players from Belgium or Croatia, despite recent hype.
We know the distortive effects a World Cup can have on the transfer market, and that perceptions about certain nations are sticky. Smart clubs will see this as an opportunity to exploit less-savvy rivals, and target the markets that deliver the best value – not the ones where demand is high and supply may be lower than you think.