Translating Spanish to English for Attacking Players

One of the issues we often hear with regard to potential transfers are questions about whether a player from league X can perform in league Y. Fans and media both seem to remember the transfer busts that came from various leagues with much more veracity than they do the successes.

This became especially clear last month when I was discussing the potential move of Gonzalo Higuain to Juventus with a number of Juve supporters. It seems some previous transfers from Spain to Italy made them inherently skeptical of whether La Liga players could score goals in Serie A, even when presented with a player of Higuain’s ability.

This is exactly the sort of information a Director of Football from any country would need to know, and it’s a topic data analysis is readily equipped to handle.

agueroBuy Foreign!
In my mind, Premier League teams are constantly signing players from the other big European countries. In reality, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In the last two seasons, only 7 attacking players were signed from Spain, 9 from Germany, and 5-6 from France.  Unfortunately, this means there isn’t enough data to truly confirm or deny whatever suspicions we might have, but it’s worth looking at to see if there are positive or negative indicators.

These are the attackers who moved from Spain in the last two seasons, plus whatever stats I have been able to gather. Three were considered rising or established stars at the time (Aguero, Mata, Cazorla), the rest were from middle or lower-tier clubs that had performed well in Spain the previous season.

Cazorla Apps G A ShpG KP Drib Disp Trn PS%
EPL 37(1) 12 11 3 2.5 2.3 1.7 1.1 86.8
LaLiga 38 9 5 2.3 2.2 1.3 2.4 1.5 85
Michu Apps G A ShpG KP Drib Disp Trn PS%
EPL 35 18 2 3.1 1 0.2 0.9 1.1 78.7
LaLiga 37 15 3 2.4 1.1 0.3 1.2 1 68.5
Kone Apps G A ShpG KP Drib Disp Trn PS%
EPL 32(2) 11 5 2.7 1.2 1.3 2.6 2.2 84.5
LaLiga 34 15 4 2.3 0.8 1.1 2.4 2.4 75.1
Pablo Hernandez Apps G A ShpG KP Drib Disp Trn PS%
EPL 27(3) 3 6 1.6 1.8 1 0.8 1.3 80.4
LaLiga 19(11) 3 3 1.3 1.1 0.6 1 0.7 78.4
Jonathan de Guzman Apps G A ShpG KP Drib Disp Trn PS%
EPL 33(4) 5 6 1.5 1.6 0.4 1.3 0.8 88.8
LaLiga 11(8) 1.3 0.9 0.5 1.4 0.8 84.5
Mata Apps G A ShpG KP Drib Disp Trn PS%
EPL 29(5) 6 13 1.9 3 0.9 1.7 1.2 87
LaLiga 31(2) 8 12 2.2 NA NA NA NA NA
Aguero Apps G A ShpG KP Drib Disp Trn PS%
EPL 31(3) 23 8 3.8 1.7 1.6 2.8 1.5 86.5
LaLiga 31(1) 20 2 4 NA NA NA NA NA

Seven guys, all of whom performed similar or better than they did in Spain in their first season in England.

Mata, Aguero, and Cazorla went from being some of the best players in Spain to being some of the best players in England. Michu and Kone immediately proved that, if you can score for lower-table clubs in Spain, you can score in England. And Hernandez and de Guzman, two players Michael Laudrup brought over when he transitioned from Spain himself, turned out to be excellent performers in his first season at Swansea.

Obviously it’s only seven guys, but since all showed similarly positive output, I would feel very comfortable buying players from La Liga. It’s a big country with a large talent pool, and there are quite a few good players who still play for teams that are not Barcelona or Real Madrid. In fact, given the monetary issues most teams in Spain are having, if I were a mid-table club in the PL, I’d be scouring the countryside looking for worthwhile additions in both La Liga and the Segunda. Scoring happens at about the same rate as in England, so unlike scouting some place like the Eredivisie or France, the numbers just make sense.

The only way these teams stand a chance of improving is by recruiting better players for less money than they have been paying for Premier League castoffs for years, and Spain looks like a great place to do just that.


2 responses to “Translating Spanish to English for Attacking Players

  1. Really interesting. I wonder if (with a much bigger sample) we could calculate a translation factor for goals and assists between leagues.

  2. Yeah, that’s one of the things I want to look at more. Sadly, I don’t think the sample size for other countries will ever get that meaningful. Might be interesting to do from the Championship to PL for whenever we have data though.

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