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Who Are The Most Promising Young Attackers In The Big European Leagues?

By James Yorke | June 16, 2015 | Analytics

If I were to give you a list with these players names on it...

Felipe Anderson
Nabil Fekir
Raheem Sterling
Hakan Calhanoglu
Harry Kane
Paul Pogba
Romelu Lukaku
Paulo Dybala
Luciano Vietto

...then many of you would recognise it for what it is: established but young super talented players based in the top five European Leagues.  Run the numbers and these guys are the top guns.  One would imagine that many a boardroom has a list of paper with these names and others printed on it but transfers involving these players will not come easily.  Why so?  Well each of these players is either one of two things:

a) based already in the Premier League or
b) attached to a club qualified for next season's Champions League.

These two factors imply further points:

a) they are already likely to be quite well paid and will be expensive
b) only a significant step up in club stature is likely to permit transfer.

By that regard, as we've already seen with the fees and wages theorised around any potential Sterling transfer, and provided that they maintain form going forward, these are players that will only interest the mega-rich clubs; nobody else can afford them.  We can see this already, as Dybala has recently agreed a £23m transfer to Juventus, Kane is thought to have rejected speculative interest from Manchester United and Pogba is high on Real Madrid and Manchester City's wish list despite already playing for Juve.  Also Vietto seems set to join Atletico Madrid and with Memphis Depay already transfered the hipster choice for “transfer to watch” is Felipe Anderson. (A quick aside on Sterling: he's the youngest player on the list yet played the most minutes.)

How have I actually derived these players though?  Well, it's an inevitable trawl through the numbers, specifically, these players have all played a minimum of 1200 minutes in 2014-15 in one of the top five leagues, were 22 or younger on the 1st of January and i've fiddled with a measure that adjusts for a broad expectation of attacking contribution whilst eliminating freakishly high and likely unrepeatable rates.  This gives us players trusted to play and when playing, contributing.  Ted Knutson did something similar here on Statsbomb this time last year, but with wider scope and I suspect greater detail.  What i'm endeavouring to do is create a list of potential, some realised, others on the cusp.  We look for attackers because it's easier and their contributions are far more measurable, indeed things like shots, goals assists and shot assists are measured and recorded.   Sam Gregory even devised a specific metric in a similar vein and later Colin Trainor took it that bit further.

But what of defenders? Well, solving defense is on the list of things to do, indeed it is on everybody's list of things to do, so we'll leave that for now.

“But you've just got a list of all the good players, what's the point of that? It tells us nothing”

This is true. But also conversely it tells us everything: any estimation that generates the better players at the top is a positive.  Looking back at Ted's work from last year and prior, he was identifying around a 70% hit rate for attacking talent.  What i've done is far more of an initial glance and i'm not claiming advanced modelling skills, but maybe we can generate a few names that are of interest.  And if your club should embark on a transfer bid for one of these names, wouldn't it be cool to think that they had got smart, and were at least on some level using the numbers?  I think so.

So here we have, in no specific order three more names that might interest switched on teams, the conditions are sufficient minutes and young but not (yet) playing for an English or Champions League qualified team:


1. Andrea Belotti


In a marvellously neat finale to Palermo's season, in the last moments of a game at Roma, Andrea Belotti stole in at the far post and studded the ball across the line to secure a 2-1 victory.  Despite only securing nine starts in 2014-15, he looks to have a future, given the sale of Dybala to Juventus.  Palermo spent most of the season playing a 3-5-1-1 with Vazquez behind Dybala, leaving Belotti little chance to secure meaningful game time but he scored four non-penalty goals (and two penalties), three of which secured 2-1 victories.

Somewhat of an outright striker, he contributed to a solid 4.3 shots per game, played over 1200 minutes and has represented Italy at multiple levels up to under-21s, in which he has a decent goal record.

Should Palermo entrust him with the starting striker's role next year, he appears equipped to build on a promising first season in Serie A.


2. Diego Rolan


In his third season at Bordeaux, Rolan has broken though quite effectively, so much so that with Luis Suarez suspended for the Copa America, he has become Uruguay's number 9.  Having only scored once in bits and bobs minutes in his first two seasons, 12 non-penalty goals have followed this year, most of which have come from a forward role, but he has also showed versatility and played in a variety of right sided positions.

He's constructed 0.54 goals and assists per 90 minutes played from a 3.8 per 90 shot contribution, a decent ~30% of his teams shots. Bordeaux finished 6th in Ligue 1 this year, and with no European football forthcoming and just two years on his contract, it is quite possible that he will attract suitors.


3. Johannes Geis


That a predominantly defensive midfielder should show up on this list is a testament to the qualities of Johannes Geis.  Two seasons of over four shots per game contribution for a 21 year old is highly impressive and that he has secured a starting spot and performed consistently in the middle of the pitch at such a young age is rare.

Like Belotti he is capped throughout his country's youth system and has been strongly linked with a move away from Mainz with Dortmund suggested as a likely destination.

*Two other possible qualifiers that prospered for smaller clubs were Marcos Lopes (played at Lille, owned by Man City) and Fede Cartabia (Cordoba/Valencia).

So, each of these players performed at a promising level during 2014-15 and could well find the next rung of the ladder coming within reach very shortly.  And I think what i've represented here is that a starting point for potential attacking player analysis can be made using straightforward metrics revolving around shot creation.  None of this is a new procedure but it follows a similar line to some of the work we've seen before on this site and gives us a handful of names to watch out for in the future.

I would also hope that any club with a transfer budget to use this summer had performed, at an absolute bare minimum, similar fundamental analysis of the players within their range on the market.  My analysis was necessarily brief and top-level, I am merely highlighting, but there are many people in the analytics community that would be able to drill down far into the statistics and tailor their analysis for any requested nuance, and that can form part of the process towards recruitment, in hand with traditional techniques.

Pitfalls in transfers will never be eliminated, but the use of statistics and analytical techniques as an aid towards recruitment can certainly contribute towards a minimisation of error.


Thanks for reading




Follow me on Twitter here: @jair1970

Article by James Yorke