Xavi is a prime example of the intelligence required to be a world-class footballer.
The Barcelona legend might well be the greatest male player in history when it comes to the ability to read the game, picturing moves unfolding in his mind three or four passes before they even transpired.
You could just see the way in which the eagle-eyed midfielder marauded around the pitch that he was treating football like a chess match, always plotting multiple steps ahead of his opponents.
The intelligence of pro players
Now, as fans, it’s an aspect of the sport that we understand to a certain degree and often label it as ‘football IQ’ or ‘footballing brain’ in reference to players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Andrea Pirlo in particular.
However, it’s one thing to have a rough idea about how elite footballers master the game and another thing entirely to look under the bonnet to see how they actually achieve it.
The simple fact of the matter is that professional football is much, much harder than we think a lot of the time and the ability to have that forward-thinking intelligence on the pitch is as vital as it is difficult.
‘Scanning’ in football
But thanks to the fabulous work of football psychology researcher Geir Jordet, we can come one step closer to understanding the genius behind pro players by looking at the world of ‘scanning’.
Jordet produced a fascinating Twitter thread in October 2021 that documented his research into scanning, which is essentially the visual analysis that players conduct mid-game on matters other than the ball.
In other words, looking around to collect vital details such as the position of the opposition and the runs of teammates in order to plan ahead and adapt as the move progresses or if they’re given the ball.
Researcher’s viral Twitter thread
It’s a concept that, frankly, feels alien to mere mortals like me and you who no doubt play football with our eyes stapled to the ball itself – but it’s absolutely critical at the highest level of the sport.
However, we couldn’t possibly break it down in a manner anywhere close to the lucidity and passion of Jordet’s original thread covering 25 years of study into what makes players like Xavi so very, very special.
So, be sure to step into the shoes of elite footballers by learning more about ‘scanning’ because trust us when you say that you’ll never look at the pros the same way again – check out the thread below:
The best football players have great awareness of their surroundings, even before receiving the ball. I started studying SCANNING in 1997. Since then, we have filmed & analyzed more than 250 professional players and 200 elite youth players. What have we learned? Thread 1/15. pic.twitter.com/sO3AugCmP9— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) October 14, 2021
A player scans when temporarily directing face/eyes away from the ball, to prepare actions with the ball. High scan frequency (scans per second) is linked with higher pass completion and more progressive passes. Result holds across match situations. https://t.co/6v64KmFnmR 3/15 pic.twitter.com/rtG8FbbljE— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) October 14, 2021
Scanning is as important for defending. In a student project, we found that premier league defenders guarding the box against crosses adopted a more open body orientation and scanned more frequently than reserve league/academy defenders. https://t.co/NYoHFcIQx8 @NylandN 7/15 pic.twitter.com/6xv3RmsH5t— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) October 14, 2021
The football match is so dynamic, fast-paced, and complex it challenges the limits of the eyes. Our eye tracking studies show elite players’ scans are quick (90% lasts less than 0.7 sec) and rarely involves fixation of the eye (less than 3% of scans). https://t.co/dcI8oNDElI 9/15 pic.twitter.com/2XKPZiv0z7— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) October 14, 2021
Game-based activities where players are required to pick up game-specific information are essential to develop scanning. To get many relevant repetitions, supplement with exercises where scanning is necessary for successful task solution. Video: SC Heerenveen first team. 13/15 pic.twitter.com/SoCR8OkVd8— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) October 14, 2021
Technology can accelerate the development of scanning. The best tools make you scan with optimal frequency and timing, perceive realistic and game-specific information, and act out your decisions. Here, Brighton/Stoke City’s Leo Østigård. https://t.co/uZ4TKQFBo2 @leoskirio 14/15 pic.twitter.com/zJbpAvcqqH— Geir Jordet (@GeirJordet) October 14, 2021
So, so fascinating. Take a bow, Geir.
Take a bow, pro players
The level of detail required from top players in pretty much every second of every game is simply staggering and frankly, sounds exhausting.
To think that world-beating players like Xavi are constantly keeping tabs on every little movement across the pitch between individual touches from their teammates is enough to blow anyone’s minds.
Marry that to the point-of-view footage showing just how swiftly and attentively players are looking here, there and everywhere to appreciate the dizzying intelligence required to succeed in the sport.
Mane To LEAVE Liverpool? Dean Jones Liverpool Update (Football Terrace)
And in a world where footballers are so often lazily branded as unintelligent individuals, remember just how much skills like ‘scanning’ show how high their IQs need to be within the sport that they love.