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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Meet Monchi: The master strategist behind Sevilla’s continued success in Europe

Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, more popularly known as Monchi, has revolutionised what it means to be a sporting director ever since he swapped his goalkeeping kit for a suit two decades ago.

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee |
Updated: March 2, 2021 7:54:35 am
Monchi has helped Sevilla win ten trophies during his time as the club's sporting director.

In a world where each and every passage of play gets decoded into small bits of numerical information, scoping the lay of the land as a scout has become overly reliant on data. Or at least, that’s what a football scouting mastermind thinks.

Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, more popularly known as Monchi, has revolutionised what it means to be a sporting director ever since he swapped his kit for a suit two decades ago. Through his reinvented approach of securing cost-effective deals, Monchi has built a system that has become an obligatory blueprint for most clubs.

Before his arrival in 2000, Sevilla hadn’t won a major trophy since 1948. Following his involvement, the red-and-whites now have ten — six UEFA Europa League crowns in 2006, 2007, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2020, one UEFA Super Cup in 2006, two Copa del Rey trophies in 2007 and 2010, and lastly, one Supercopa de España in 2007. Apart from the silverware, Sevilla have also made it to ten other finals.

So, how does Monchi ensure the continued success of the club?

“At Sevilla, we work with a specific combination — the subjective and the objective. The scouting process gives us a subjective report of the players and in parallel, we procure the objective data through things like Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. If you don’t take data into account, it’s really not a good thing,” the 52-year-old told indianexpress.com in a recent online interaction.

“Statistics and data are increasingly getting more important. But not just expected goals or expected assists; accurate passes, duels won, successful one-on-ones; everything is a measure now. A singular match generates eight million data points and our job is to identify the exact numbers for our player profile,” he continued.

Through his process of assessing relatively unknown players and then buying them on the cheap, Monchi has continuously strengthened the foundations of the club. Over the course of his two spells as the sporting director, he has brought players like Dani Alves, Seydou Keita, Ivan Rakitic and Jules Kounde to Andalusia on low-risk deals and, unsurprisingly, all of them have helped Sevilla reach newer heights.

Monchi did leave Sevilla once back in 2017 when he packed his bags for Italy. He lasted less than two years at AS Roma, but upon returning to his hometown club, he was once again amidst silverware. Along with new head coach Julen Lopetegui, he started another “transformation process”; one that saw the arrivals of Lucas Ocampos, Luuk de Jong, Youssef En-Nesyri and Diego Carlos. Since then, Sevilla have won a UEFA Europa League, qualified for UEFA Champions League, and are now on course to a Copa del Rey final and consecutive top-four finishes in La Liga.

“The obligation to win the domestic league title each year belongs to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, but we’re quite close to them. Although we have played one more, we are still just seven points behind from the top,” said Monchi. “Sevilla as a club aims to close the gap with them and that’s why we brought in experienced players like Rakitic and Papu Gomez from Barcelona and Atalanta respectively this season. We are certainly going to compete more in the future.”

Monchi, a former goalkeeper, played 126 matches for Sevilla until his retirement in 1999.

“Achieving regular UEFA Champions League qualification is essential for us because that generates more income. Then and only then, we can build an even more competitive squad. But obviously, the transfer market still needs to go back to normal, back to the days before the pandemic and that’s going to take some time.”

Although the virus outbreak temporarily threw a wrench in the works last year, Monchi and his team didn’t have the opportunity to take a rest bite. Because of the lockdown, his team of 12 full-time scouts had to rely on thousands of video footages to keep an eye on the different leagues in France, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Portugal, Croatia etc. On the other hand, the data-driven research department consists of just nine people. “Mostly mathematicians, engineers and statisticians,” he added.

The “Monchi Method” involves four steps — firstly, the scouts from all around the globe provide their detailed player files, then the information gets filtered for each different position. After making a comprehensive list, the reports are given to the data department for final scrutiny. Lastly, the scouting team sits down with the head coach to pinpoint the exact profile and then the signing process starts.

When asked about his favourite signing during his time at the club, Monchi beamed, saying, “The player who I am proudest of? Dani Alves. He fulfilled all the steps: young and unknown, successful with the club, and also sold for profit.”

From managing club transfers to keeping an eye on the squad development and the youth academy setup to even selecting new coaches, Monchi does it all. “A sporting director now has the most responsibility in a club. If we are talking about his functions, it’s his job to bring in new players and handle the budget. This position is increasingly gaining importance and now it has a lot more training,” he said.

“I am really happy in Spain and especially in Sevilla. I have been with the club for 32 years. To work for Sevilla is a true privilege. I don’t see any other future because I have absolutely everything; trust, freedom, relations. Plus, I am a Sevilla supporter,” he concluded answering a question about his future.

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