MADRID (AP) — He's known as Monchi. And his method for evaluating soccer talent has Europe's attention.
Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, who still goes by the nickname from his goalkeeping days, has become one of the most sought-after football directors in European soccer after revolutionizing Spanish club Sevilla with a scouting system that helped rescue the team from the brink of financial collapse and turned it into a perennial contender in the continent's second-tiered competitions.
Monchi is soccer's version of Billy Beane, the baseball general manager whose innovative methods to evaluate players helped revitalize the Oakland A's and whose story later became a book and the movie, "Moneyball," starring Brad Pitt.
No Hollywood blockbuster is in the works about the bald-headed Monchi, but like Beane, he has his own way of doing things and has achieved significant success despite a limited budget compared to the powerhouses of European soccer, including local rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona.
In the last decade, the club based in the southern Spanish region of Andalucia has won eight titles: two Copa del Reys, one Spanish Supercup, one European Supercup, two UEFA Cups and the last two Europa Leagues.
Many label him one of the best soccer directors in the world, and there is widespread talk that Europe's top teams are trying to sign him. In the most recent presidential election at Barcelona, one of the candidates tried to draw voters by promising to hire Monchi if elected. Tottenham and Real Madrid are among the teams that reportedly showed interest in talking to the gritty general manager.
What everybody is after is the so-called "Monchi Method," the scouting system that helped Sevilla discover and profit from players such as Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic, Julio Baptista, Sergio Ramos, Seydou Keita, Jesus Navas and Carlos Bacca.
Monchi is believed to have helped Sevilla earn more than 200 million euros ($225 million) in transfers in the 15 years he has been with the club. Alves, now a regular on Brazil's national team, is seen as one of his most successful signings — being bought for 1 million euros ($1.1 million) from a small Brazilian club and sold to Barcelona for 30 million euros ($33.8 million).
"We are trying to work with a method that helps us find new talent that could benefit us on the field and also generate income," the 47-year-old Monchi said. "The biggest thing is to show our fans that this is something good for the team, that it's not only about making money. Nobody would defend this model anywhere in the world if the team wasn't winning titles."
There are no novel ideas in the Monchi Method, and its goal is quite simple: Find cheap players with potential and re-sell them to bigger teams at a higher price. It's an obvious formula for success, but not easy to achieve with the same efficiency as the always-upbeat Monchi.
So what is his method?
Monchi has put together a network of scouts and soccer specialists to watch games in leagues around the world, focusing on places where he knows his club will have a competitive edge in the transfer market.
"We go looking for unknown players in places where we know the richer teams won't go because they don't think they will find anyone talented enough for them," Monchi said. "We know we can't compete with Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, City, Juventus, Milan ... But we know that we can find these good players. We know our market and we try to take advantage of it."
The first phase of the method begins in August, when Monchi's staff of about 15 comes up with "11 ideal players" in the top European leagues and the lesser-known ones in Asia, South America, Africa and other places across the world.
By December, Monchi has a list of about 150 players selected for each position. He and his analysts start examining players by traveling to specific matches and watching videos.
"It's important to see how each player will react when his team is winning, when it's losing, when it's playing at home, away, in a decisive game. We want to avoid being surprised later on," Monchi said. "There is really no secret. We watch a lot of football, we travel a lot, we work hard."
By March or so, Monchi's staff comes up with a final report, with players graded on a scale from A to E, with A indicating the best options. Monchi meets with coaches and other officials to determine the club's strategy before starting to negotiate, and then he's off to try to snatch the next player who could hopefully boost the team's winning chances and finances.
"We may not have the same economic power as some other teams similar to us in Europe, like Fiorentina, Napoli, Hamburg, Lyon, but we have built something very special in the last few years, and that is our brand," Monchi said. "When we approach players to come to Sevilla, they know that they will be able to compete for titles, and they also immediately think about Rakitic, Alves, Keita, Ramos ... They know that here they may have a future."
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