Norwich City pulled off a ‘phenomenal’ deal to capture headline summer signing Jose Cordoba.

Leading sports intelligence company, Twenty First Group, are at the forefront of the data revolution driving the professional game.

City’s sporting director Ben Knapper has put data at the heart of the club’s strategy since his arrival last season, and the 23-year-old centre back’s reported €3.5m move from Bulgarian club Levski Sofia is ranked as one of the best early deals of the transfer window.

The Canaries’ astute scouting in one of Europe’s less fashionable leagues saw them head off interest from the likes of Rangers and Brondby for a signing the London-based data insight group actually value at €7.2m, with the potential to be a Premier League player within two seasons.

“Some players will really explode, and others will fall off a cliff. Ultimately, we're talking about humans here, we're not talking about robots,” said Omar Chaudhuri, Twenty First Group’s chief intelligence officer. “But based on an average projection of a player of his profile we believe to reach Premier League level in two to three years time seems pretty likely.

"Which, again, acquiring a Premier League player for the price reported is a phenomenal deal.

“Typically when you get into the Premier League, you'd expect to spend £10m to £20m on a starting centre back for a bottom half team. So this seems like a really sensible bit of business from Norwich, and I'd say a reflection of their analytical approach to recruitment as well.

“If you're going out into the market to buy a player of that quality, and the market is either the EFL or within western European football, you would typically pay a pretty sizable fee in the region of €5m to €7m, given his age as well. But because he's coming from a lesser known market, which has not been scouted as much, you'll tend to pay a lot less.

"And that's ultimately where smart recruitment is, because, suddenly, now you've freed up millions in your budget that you can then go and target either the same markets everyone else is looking at, or try and find undervalued talent elsewhere in Europe, or even globally.”

The club’s sporting director spoke last week how his first six months in the role had felt like a whirlwind, after he was tossed into a turbulent Championship season.

The appointment of Johannes Hoff Thorup to replace David Wagner as head coach was the first signal of the ‘new direction’ Knapper wants to take the club in.

But the early transfer window signing of the highly-rated Panamanian international centre back cut to the heart of how Knapper plans to operate.

A piece of player trading with data front and centre to inform decision-making, at a price point that has the potential to look a snip.

“Typically, Championship clubs are not looking in Bulgaria for talent. But there might be good players in Bulgaria and we certainly think that's the case with Cordoba,” said Chaudhuri. “We essentially rate Levski as a bottom half Championship level team. If you were to slot them into the Championship tomorrow they'd probably finish somewhere between 14th and 18th.

"But actually, defensively, they're really good, they've got a really good defensive record and Cordoba has obviously been at the heart of that defence for them so that points to him being a key player, and therefore a player able to potentially play at Championship level.

“When you factor in all the other areas of his attributes, his strength, his athleticism, his technical ability on the ball you think, ‘Okay, this player can really be a good fit in the Championship, and for Norwich’.

“Ultimately, market forces dictate a lot of the prices that clubs pay for players. Clearly better players will go for bigger fees. But if a lot of clubs are looking in the same market, maybe they're all looking in the Netherlands, or looking in France, that will create bidding wars that will drive up the prices of players.”

Twenty First Group, who work with clubs, competitions, investors, brands and media across a range of sports, project Cordoba will add 2.4 league points to the Canaries this coming season.

“Now, a lot of the time people think, ‘This player is worth five, 10, 15 points a season to a team’. In reality, most players tend to only be worth two to five points a season above their replacement,” said Chaudhuri. “Which kind of stands to reason if you take a team towards the bottom of the Premier League they will typically get about 35 points, and if you take a team towards the top of the Championship they might be winning it with 85, 90 points, which is a 50 point gap over the course of a season.

"Therefore 11 players, 50 points, you are typically talking about four to five points per player over the course of a season.

“So 2.4 points is actually a fair bit. If you think about it if Norwich improved every single position on the field by 2.4 points per season, you are comfortably pushing for the automatic places, if not comfortably winning the league this coming season. So potentially a really good return on investment there.

"And a player who could also go on to play at Premier League level in the coming years as well. If you look at players historically who have been playing at a similar level, similar age, position and trajectory of their career.”

Norwich City sporting director Ben Knapper arrived from Arsenal with a reputation for innovation (Image: Denise Bradley/Newsquest)

The challenge for Knapper and Norwich City is to remain in the front rank of an innovation race now unfolding across the top end of the professional game.

“We've had some brilliant case studies with the likes of Brighton and Brentford, who’ve obviously got very different ownership models but I guess shine a light on how data can be used in more innovative ways in recruitment,” said Chaudhuri. “So clubs are increasingly thinking about it.

"There have been a lot of hires, most clubs now at Premier League and Championship level will have some data analysis capability. Obviously, some will be really advanced, but I think the biggest challenge clubs have is culturally embedding data into decision-making.

“It's all well and good having the analysts and listening to them when you want to listen to them. But it is a very different thing listening to them when you don't want to listen, or when they say things that you might not expect them to say, and really embracing that as part of recruitment.

"For me, the clubs that really differentiate themselves in this space are not the ones that have the insight to have the capability, it's ones that embed themselves and embed data into their processes.

“It's not just data culture in recruitment, it's across a whole club. And often it comes from ownership, because ultimately, they're the ones who sign the cheques. And the best owners will say, ‘I'm not signing this off unless I've got good evidence that it's predictive of a good outcome’.

"Norwich have obviously brought in additional investment as well (Mark Attanasio and Norfolk Holdings), where all the signs point to that type of thinking within the club, which I would suggest is pretty encouraging.”

For Chaudhuri harnessing the power of data is crucial to give clubs a competitive edge.

"A lot of people talk about data providing objectivity, which it does, you know, it helps you look past some of your biases and really try and quantify some of the things that players are doing," he said. "But I think above all else, data gives the ability to look really far and wide, really quickly. We recognise that it's really important to be able to use data to provide scale.

"Ultimately, you can only watch so many players in a day, but data can look at thousands, millions, whatever it is, within a few seconds. Perhaps not to the same degree as that in terms of accuracy, but at least point you in the right direction.

"The way that we use data is we try and understand players at a global level and understand what level they are playing at. If you are playing week in, week out for Manchester City you're probably one of the better players in the world. And if you are sitting on the bench in the Thai second division, you're probably not one of the better players in the world. And then there's everyone else in between.

"We try and use our models to identify what's the strength of Bulgarian football, Hungarian football, US football, Brazilian football, wherever it is around the world. And then understand within that level what's the variation of players within that.

"So we're able to look through our models and understand the level of Bulgarian football, and specifically Levski Sofia where Jose Cordoba is coming from within that, and then try and understand how that might translate across to English football, based on the relative quality of teams.

"There's all the other stuff that you need to do around player fit, playing style fit, all the background checks and everything else that goes into any recruitment decision. But on first glance, looking at our global database, Jose Cordoba really came out well, based on what we can say about the level he was playing at, and the potential impact he could have in the Championship."