A while back there seemed to be some interest in how the scouting works so I thought now is a good time to write a bit about it. First of all, I’m writing from my own experiences and observations so this post has nothing to do with Derby’s jeered recruiting team. Secondly, I’ll only write about one example, in reality, there are about as many strategies and models in use as there are teams. Thirdly, I’d want people to understand that recruiting is maybe the most challenging job in the whole business; if there’s a good player available for one team, he is most likely been touted to at least dozen of other clubs. And we are certainly not at the top of the food chain so that doesn’t help. The term “scout” is quite belittling as the member of recruiting is doing much more nowadays than watching games but I’ll use the term as well as it makes my English more understandable…
So, in the modern model, which used widely around Europe, the recruiting, data and development units are separated even though working closely with each other. The role of the scouts depends on how many scouts/money to spend the team has. Normally their responsibility is shared geographically, but different categories, e.g. age, can be used as well. On the other end of the scale are the top teams who can have specific scouts. For example, defensive midfield players in Italy could be one scout’s job. This kind of special situation usually is based on common history between the scout and the club, one being a former player from Italy and a defensive midfielder.
Also, team strategy can focus the scouting in a very specific manner. Some examples of putting a lot of effort into a single geographical direction instead of spreading it around could be Internazionale and South America & Heerenveen and Scandinavia. Then there is Ajax who mostly signs very young players (but some experienced ones as well) and Monaco who aim to sign those who still young but have shown their ability already. Different approaches, all working well.
The first step in recruiting is based on the strategy the club is following: we seem to copy the so-called Ajax-way, emphasizing strongly to young and potential players and with Rooney coming in, it’s very Ajax like at the moment. Brentford has their way, Real Madrid and Galacticos their own. Reflecting on the club’s strategy, the team’s deep analysis is the starting point. This deeper analysis includes the youngsters, so the planning can go ahead quite a few years. I’d be surprised if our loan midfielders this season were here just to make sure that our potential new players were certainly ready to play in the Championship. If they had not developed like they’ve had, we might still have Dowell and Paterson in and around the team.
The second step is to fill the “ability gaps” the analysis have shown through academy players or players in the same league, who know the league and the demands of it and wouldn’t need time to adapt. In these cases, the club would know what you get at least personality- or ability-wise and how those fit the manager’s view of how football should be played. The demands of the player’s attributes come from the manager and his team, but even so, the recruiting is not that easy. We have lots of bad examples of this in our past, even quite currently. You can argue that our approach with Johnson, Butterfield, and Blackman, etc was based on opportunism, not on the current strategy. Maybe at the time spending big was the strategy though, at least it looked like it. If the player is not found from academy or close-by, the next step is recruiting from abroad which something many on this forum seems to be very much into. It’s the riskiest of the approaches and therefore, less used.
Scouting from abroad is nowadays usually based on data and watching videos. Before the player’s physical attributes are examined, it will take 5-6 people to watch at least 3-5 matches from the player. You might have to go through huge numbers of players to find one, so intelligibly, there are way more cost-effective ways to recruit as in the end, you’ll only know a limited amount about the player and need to go to watch him live and get to know him anyway. Also, worth noting that the levels of leagues differ so much that even though the leagues are categorized in tiers, it still always a risk how players can adapt. To those football managers out there, yes, different kinds of graphs are commonly used. Especially when agents promote their players. An example of this could be Morales, who was I think 19 or 20 when he moved to Rangers. He came from the league two tiers lower but being so young he was still expected to adapt quickly to the Scottish league. His stats in Finland were quite a lot better than at the time best striker (Dembele) in Scotland so the risk was smaller for these two reasons.
If the player(s), who fits the “ability gap” demand and expectations of the manager, is found, usually the manager joins the process at this point. If the recruiting team works in this “strainer” way, the manager can concentrate on coaching and is not disturbed by the bombarding of messages from agents, etc. At this point, there are usually 3-5 players on the table and then starts the inquiries and other formal communication between the clubs and agents and so on. Most likely the press knows a bit as well and if they got 20-25% of the rumours correct, they might be spot on with their knowledge of club’s interests. If everything goes well, the club has got their player staying in the budget.
Also worth mentioning that many transfers don’t go through the scouting process. There is transfer list, players talk about former teammates, managers talk to each other and everyone in the football is talking to each other. So sometimes the names and player's availability are surprises, then it’s all about the decision making and pondering is the opportunist risk worth making. A great example of this was Rafael van der Vaart moving from Madrid to Spurs for peanuts. Or that Morales’ move to Rangers. He wasn’t scouted, he was offered to them by the agent who scouted the player. So yes, you all love agents, and they even can mess up scouting as well. Ask from Raiola if you don’t believe me…
That was the short version of one way to manage the player recruitment. Three "simple" steps with lot's of noise around it. I have to say, I like our current approach as I think seeing young ones to develop is way more intriguing than getting excited about big transfers. Then again, I still watch the game quite often as a manager, not a full-blooded fan.