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Transfer Dossiers - Kiyotake, Gonzalo Castro, Aaron Hunt

By Ted Knutson | May 22, 2013 | Analytics
The tale of a fateful ship...
The tale of a fateful ship...

Today is day one of my project to use player statistics to project and analyse underappreciated talents in football. I’ve already written about Max Kruse, a player whose Bundesliga stats this season are not dissimilar to Luka Modric and Juan Mata, and who Gladbach bought in April for £2.25M. I’m going to continue looking at talents across Europe most people probably aren’t familiar with, and see if we can find some attacking talents that would make good signings for Premier League or even Champions’ League clubs this summer. Today’s trawling starts in Germany, but first…

One of the things I have found so far in my research on player analysis is that assists don’t lie. It might be a weird concept for a sport that until recently hasn’t cared about tracking this stat at all, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. I’ll write an article to explain this better in the next couple of weeks, but if you are producing elite levels of assists in one of the big leagues (especially 9 or more per season), then it is highly likely you are (or will be) a good or great player. This is especially true if a player produces a high level of assists at a young age.

Because passing takes a special kind of mental and physical calculus – there are tons of moving parts, people trying to stop you from doing things, etc – high levels of assists generally seem to translate well across leagues. If you are creative enough to give your teammates chances at goals on a regular basis in one league, you are probably good enough to do that most anywhere.

Another thing you will notice is that I also quote Key Passes a lot. Key Passes are a bit of a proxy for Assists – they just don’t necessarily end up with a goal scored at the end of it. Again, if you average a lot of key passes per game, you are likely to be in elite company.  There’s a small complication in that most guys with high KP numbers are the ones taking set pieces, but isn’t that what you want? The top 5 KP guys in Spain last season were: Ozil, Messi, Diego, Jesus Navas, and Santi Cazorla. Xavi was 7th. In the English Premier league the top 5 were: Juan Mata, David Silva, Gylfi Siggurdson, Luka Modric, and Carlos Tevez.

Key passes aren’t a guarantee of greatness, but they matter.

Goalscoring, on the other hand, is somewhat sketchy. Better service yields better chances, which in turn yield higher scoring numbers.  This isn’t to say that goalscoring skills don’t transfer, it’s just that the data appears a bit more uncertain about whether or not results are can be consistently replicated. I’ll also have an article about this some time this summer, once I’ve had a bit more time to dig through the data and make proper conclusions.

As I mentioned yesterday, there is a ton of stuff that stats can't tell you, but they can at least narrow down the interesting targets to a manageable degree.

Alright, let’s begin with an older guy…

Jefferson Farfan – Schalke
Position: Attacking Mid (CR), FWD
Age: 28

Years ago, I remember hearing transfer rumors about a young Farfan potentially coming to the Premier League. Arsenal were certainly alleged to be interested, and other big clubs were sniffing around as well. Farfan averaged nearly .5 GpG (an elite number) during his time at PSV, so on paper he was impressive. On the other hand, high profile transfers from the Eredivisie often seem very hit or miss in England, so every team there passed and he ended up at Schalke for 10million Euros. It turns out that was a helluva buy.

The last two seasons, Farfan has been amazing, leading the league in Key Passes per Game in 11-12, and finishing second behind Ribery this year. He’s also produced good goal and assist numbers – 4G/8A in only 19 starts last season, and 6/6 in 25 starts this year.  He dribbles well, has fewer dispossessions or turnovers per game than Ribery, and played well in the Champions’ League to boot. He’s 28 now, but Schalke signed him at 23 and got an absolute gem of a player from PSV at a very good price.

Image from
Image from

Hiroshi Kiyotake - Nurnberg
Position: Attacking Mid (CR)
Age: 23
Potential Fits: Liverpool with Suarez gone. Everton. Manchester United.

A Bundesliga debutante this past season, Kiyotake’s performance at the offensive end has been incredible.

League Apps G A SH Key Pass SucDrib Disp Trn #Pass Pass% Cross
Bundesliga* 30(1)











That is a fantastic return on an investment of less than £900K that Nurnberg paid Osaka for his services. That key pass average is tied for 4th in Germany and 11th in the big five leagues, Passing Success is strong for an attacking wide player (especially in a non-CL team), and he’s only 23. WhoScored fairly suggests that he needs to work on his finishing and defensive contributions, but he’s clearly a very clever attacking player that most bigger teams could use. The only red flag I might throw up here is that a lot of his key passes were the result of being the primary set piece and corner taker for his team. That said, the same is true of most of the bigger names out there as well.

Leverkusen were great with these two this season. Image from
Leverkusen were great with these two this season. Image from

Gonzalo Castro – Bayer Leverkusen
Position:  Mid (CLR), FWD (R), Def (LR)
Age: 25
Potential Fits: Exactly the sort of versatile player David Moyes loves.

Sami Hyypia’s Leverkusen qualified for the Champions’ League this year, and they are loaded with talent. Most people are probably familiar with Bundesliga Golden Boot winner Stefan Kiessling and Chelsea target Andre Schurrle, but how about Lars Bender (brother to Dortmund’s Sven), Daniel Carvajal (almost certainly the best young right back in Europe), or this guy – Gonzalo Castro?

Castro played about half his matches in central midfield and half as a right forward, which is just odd, but he somehow managed to succeed in both areas.

Tournament Apps G A SHpG Key Pass #Passes Pass% Cross Drib Disp Trn
Bundesliga 29(2)











Castro’s passing success rate is only decent for an attacking player, but the dispossession and turnover numbers both this year and last are really good. He finished 6th in the Bundesliga Key Pass average, and the fact that he’s only 25 and has shown improvement the last couple of seasons means there’s a solid chance those numbers will continue to go up. Defensive numbers went down a bit this season, likely because he played a more advanced role, but last year they were good (2 tackles, 2.5 Int per game). Statistically profiling players who play a variety of positions is hard, but these numbers indicate Castro could succeed just about anywhere you need him.

You probably can’t buy him because Leverkusen are aware of what they have and need him for their run in the Champions’ League, but his stats and his versatility make him a valuable and intriguing player just entering the prime of his career.

Bremen's Aaron Hunt. Image from
Bremen's Aaron Hunt. Image from

Aaron Hunt – Werder Bremen
Attacking Mid (CL)
Age: 26
Potential Fits: Swansea, Aston Villa (Benteke central, Weimann right)

A Bremen youth product, Hunt was one of the attacking stars (along with Chelsea loanee Kevin De Bruyne) for a Bremen squad that gave up the second most goals in the Bundesliga.  He put up 9G/6A at age 22, and has had consistent production since then, including 11G/3A this year, finishing 5th in shots per game, and 11th in Key Passes. He also tied Farfan for league lead in KP average last season.

League Apps G A SpG Key Pass Avg. Passes Pass Suc% Cross Drib Disp Trn
Bundesliga 26(2)











My only real issue with him is that someone needs to coach him into taking better shots, as not enough of them get on frame. Thus I wouldn’t really want him as my primary finisher, but his historic passing stats show that he’s excellent at setting up teammates for chances and finishes well enough. At age 26, he’s got a couple more years in his prime, and is stuck playing for a middling Bremen team at best.  He’s clearly a good passer and a solid finisher, and could do some real damage in the Premier League or just about anywhere else for that matter.

Note: The majority of the stats used here are Opta stats found at

Article by Ted Knutson