Originally published in The Independent and The Telegraph by Sam Dean, May 2020
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Antoine Griezmann was five months away from becoming a Barcelona player when he was asked, in February last year, to name the most difficult opponent he had faced in his career. “I would say Frenkie de Jong,” said Griezmann, to general surprise. “I tried to pressure him, but I never succeeded.”
In English football parlance, it would be said that De Jong “plays with wing mirrors”. This has long been a way of describing a player’s seemingly supernatural awareness on the pitch, but that ability had never been quantified or examined. We know players like De Jong — or the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Zinedine Zidane and Frank Lampard — would operate with apparent “eyes in the back of their head”, but what did that really mean? And how did they do it?
The answer, in a word, is scanning.