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Adding Science to the Art of International Transfers

International transfers have an added layer of complexity over domestic player movement. A team must assess both the player’s ability and the likelihood he’ll acclimate to a new country. As budgets get restrained in coming months, clubs will increasingly explore how data can supplement the subjective side of international recruitment.

Sorting through how players adjust to new languages, cultures, climates, and perceptions can be a lot for the human brain. Data can help bring clarity. We can look at how certain transfers have fared in the past to add as much science to the art as possible. Major League Soccer provides an interesting test ground, as it casts a wide net on international players. 

Every team will have different thresholds for what they want a signing to achieve; we’ve set the criteria to players signed from 2015 with more than 50% of league minutes in the first season and his team improved (as measured by our World Super League rating) .

We can see some clear – and perhaps surprising, depending on your point of view –  trends.

The patterns provide new data points for the recruitment and planning processes. When we have a final shortlist of players, with most factors equal, we have a better understanding of the role of the departure league. We also have more information on how long it tends to take players from certain leagues to hit his or her full ability, and we can adjust our multi-year planning. It may lead us to think about signing multiple players from the same team or league to ease the transition process.

To get a deeper understanding, often to match our specific targets, we can also layer the data on year-over-year progression to see how players evolve based on starting league, age, and position. Previously, we’ve explored career paths of high-potential talents.

We can’t perfectly replace subjective predictions with numerical insights. But we are more suited to make sense of the complexity of the variables if we understand past trends. Interested in understanding the trends of how players have adapted to your league? Get in touch.


About Bobby Warshaw

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