How can Brighton spot an "immense bargain" in the transfer window this season? The signing of Pascal Gross can help us understand
A look into how Brighton's recruitment department operate
With the end of the season approaching, the transfer window coming up and one of Brighton s "immense bargains" still putting in decent numbers let's take a look at the story of Pascal Gross and how a signing of this nature could be emulated.
In Christoph Biermann's book Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution the German writer explains how some clubs' transfers, specifically Brighton's, point to an affinity with data.
Here's the story of Pascal Gross as told by the author.
Biermann writes: "When Brighton and Hove Albion were promoted to the Premier League for the first time in 2017, the Seagulls bought a player from the Bundesliga: Pascal Gross. Few people would have heard of the midfielder in England before, and even in Germany there hadn't exactly been a queue of suitors.
"Gross had played for Ingolstadt, an unfashionable club founded by the merger of two even smaller teams in 2004, based in the city of car-maker Audi. In their second season in the top flight, they had been relegated again without anyone paying too much attention.
"But Pascal Gross had been the player who had provided the most assists for shots on goal - not just for Ingolstadt, but in the whole of the Bundesliga. Only four of the 98 attempts he had lined up for his team-mates had found the net but that was chiefly down to the quality of the Ingolstadt strikers: his expected assists were nearly twice as high as the goals scored."
Expected assists (xA) measures the likelihood that a given pass will become a goal assist. Gross is also currently in the top 5% for shot-creating actions this Premier League season.
Bierman continues: "Gross attracted the attention of a few clubs whose scouting was predominately data-based. Brighton, too, had become aware of his numbers, their recruitment analyst Elliott Williams told me at an analytics conference.
"Williams, who moved to RB Leipzig in 2018, politely declined to share more information on the process, citing confidentiality.
"But in an interview with 11FREUNDE magazine, Gross recalled his astonishment at the technical report Brighton had compiled on him.
"Gross said: 'During negotiations about the transfer, Brighton's scout suddenly put a 50-page dossier on the table. What I can do, what I can't do... they knew everything about me. I was impressed'.
"Brighton also didn't mind that supporters were likely to be underwhelmed by the signing of an unknown German player from an unknown relegated team in Germany. As a newly promoted Premier League side, they would have been able to spend much more on transfers.
"Making smart, inexpensive deals saves money that is better spent on wages. As we have seen, that's a more profitable allocation of your resources. Gross bought for a mere £2.7 million, turned out to be an immense bargain. He immediately became a regular on the south coast. He played in all 38 league games, scored seven goals and made eight assists.
"Brighton and Hove Albion making this kind of left-field deal was not a coincidence. The club, remember, is owned by professional gambler Tony Bloom, who's likely to have the same numbers-driven approach to transfers that his old rival Matthew Benham follows at Brentford."
This is a slight insight into the workings of the Brighton transfer process. The underlying numbers, which can be found online at fbref.com, can help fans spot hidden gems in the big leagues across Europe.
In this instance, Gross had a high expected assist rate and was good at setting up shots. But because his strikers at Ingolstadt weren't scoring the chances he was creating, it was only down to the underlying numbers that Brighton managed to spot a bargain.
Brighton should be looking for a good value for money striker this transfer window if they want to kick on while sticking to their business model. This bargain may be found using the Expected Goals data among other metrics.