Scout (association football)
A football scout attends football matches on the behalf of clubs to collect intelligence. Primarily, there are two types of scouts: player scouts and tactical scouts.
Player scouts or talent scouts evaluate the talent of footballers with a view to signing them on a professional contract for their employers. Some scouts focus on discovering promising young players and future stars, others are employed to run the rule on potential signings. While smaller clubs might only scout within their own country or region, larger, richer clubs can have extensive international scouting networks.
Tactical scouts assess the matches of upcoming opponents of the club and prepare dossiers for their teams' tactical preparations. Instead of identifying talent in these matches, the scout assesses the team and each individual player to identify the relative tactical threats and weaknesses in the opposition. Tactical scouts are typically full-time employees of clubs as their knowledge and findings are considered precious to clubs.
However, relatively few football scouts are employed full-time, even in the largest professional clubs. By and large, their numbers are made up by talent scouts, the vast majority of which work part-time, and a club may hire several hundred - it has been reported, for example, that the Spanish Primera Liga team Sevilla FC has a global scouting network of about 700 player scouts.
Not all scouts are actually employed by football clubs. For example, the makers of the Football Manager computer game have their own international network of scouts, and in 2008 signed an exclusive deal with Premier League side Everton to provide early access to their database of statistics and ratings.
A player scout typically attends as many football games as possible to evaluate targets first hand. Scouts who wish to identify promising young players typically attend lower-league club games, where their talent can be compared to older peers, or under-16, 18 and 21 international tournaments. Scouts may also receive tips from agents, peers and club colleagues.
On the first evaluation, player scouts determine whether a player has the desired technical attributes to succeed at the sport. They then highlight this player to the club management. Some of the desired attributes that scouts look in players include:
- Goalkeepers: good reflexes, communication with defence, one-on-one ability, command of the penalty area and aerial intelligence.
- Centre-backs: good heading and tackling ability, height, bravery in attempting challenges, concentration.
- Full-backs: pace, stamina, anticipation, tackling and marking abilities, work rate and team responsibility.
- Central midfielders: stamina, passing ability, team responsibility, positioning, marking abilities.
- Wingers: pace, technical ability like dribbling and close control, off-the-ball intelligence, creativity.
- Forwards: finishing ability, composure, technical ability, heading ability, pace, off-the-ball intelligence.
Once a player has been recommended to a club, the club may continue to monitor his progress over a period from as little as a few months to as many as a few seasons. Scouts continue to evaluate whether a player has turned in consistent performances, if he has retained his appetite for team responsibilities, and so on.
When the club is satisfied that a player fits the requirements of the club, the club may extend the invitation to the player to attend a trial at the club, where scouts and coaching staff evaluate the player's suitability for the club in terms of his personality and training attitude. Clubs also tend to perform background checks on the player. A trial at the club allows the club to evaluate the standard of the player against players already on its roster. However, in the top leagues, players are typically not allowed to leave training to undertake trials unless they are already out of contract and need to prove their fitness and ability to any clubs interested. Smaller clubs in need of the cash for transfers may also be more amenable to allowing their players to leave on trials.
Tactical scouts watch the games of a club's upcoming opponents to assess their overall ability, as well as their specific threats and weaknesses. Almost every major club side in the world, including Chelsea FC, is known to employ the extensive services of tactical scouts. From these assessments, tactical scouts compile dossiers with recommendations to club coaches and players on their actions on-field.
In major clubs, it is typical for scouts to assemble specific reports and DVDs on specific opponent players. These DVDs and reports are watched, read and reviewed by players a few days before the game. Nearer towards the game, it is typical for coaches to convene meetings to summarise the findings of these reports and the approach recommended to the players.
More specifically, tactical scouts:
- Offer advice on the team's general approach, for example, if the opposition team should be attacked with sustained pressure or to invite them onto the attack and strike on the counter. The scout also assesses the team's general passing pattern and playing tempo.
- Identify the opposition's key threats and ways which they can be dealt with. For instance, a right winger who is very weak with his left foot may be marked in such a manner as to force him infield towards his weaker side.
- Highlight the opposition's key weaknesses, particularly weaknesses in strength, pace, stamina and concentration that can be exploited by the team's strengths.
- Wingers are assessed according to which parts of the field they cut in towards goal or cut out to stay wide, and their preferred moves.
- Penalty kick takers are assessed according to which sides and corners they prefer aiming their kicks at. Famously, a scribbled scouting report on penalty kick takers aided Jens Lehmann's Germany to a victory over Argentina in a penalty shootout during the World Cup 2006 quarter-final.
- Identify the opposition team's favoured attack set piece movements, as well as their deficiencies when defending set pieces.
Importance of scouting
With the modernisation and globalisation of football and the football club economy, scouting has grown in stature and importance. Competition to search for young talents is extremely keen. Although it is difficult to quantify the prevalence of scouting in modern football, circumstantial evidence of its magnitude is readily available. The former Chelsea FC chief scout Gwyn Williams is reported to have used a database containing up to 77,000 players while working there. It has also been reported that home games of the French second division club Tours FC are attended by an average of 15 to 20 scouts per game.
The importance of scouting offers football clubs with several distinct advantages:
- Global reach. Scouting allows clubs to cast the largest possible net to find players from all around the world.
- Cheap players. Players from lower leagues can be available at cheaper transfer prices, and command smaller wages. In particular, a talented cheap player can help a football club to progress in a league, knockout cup competition, or into continental cup competition, potentially even ahead of other clubs with superior financial clout.
- Specialist tactical advice. Scouting opposition matches allows clubs to build up a knowledge base about opponents that club coaches would otherwise not have the time and resources to research on their own.
- Kay, Oliver (2007-11-03). "Alex Ferguson happy his investment in youth is paying off". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- Holt, Sarah (2006-07-25). "Scouting mission". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-12-12. BBC Sport interview with former Chelsea scout Gwyn Williams
- Lawrence, Amy (2008-10-25). "Ramos was the wrong man from Sevilla". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-12. Passing mention of the scouting team from Juande Ramos' old club Sevilla FC
- "Everton sign deal to scout for world's best players in Football Manager video game". The Daily Record. 2008-11-14. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- Claridge, Steve (2007-05-08). "Scouting report: Colin Doyle, Birmingham City". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-13. Scouting report on the Birmingham City goalkeeper evaluates based on these attributes.
- Claridge, Steve (2008-04-22). "Scouting report: Mark Beevers, Sheffield Wednesday". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-13. Scouting report on the Sheffield Wednesday centre back evaluates based on these attributes.
- Claridge, Steve (2008-10-28). "Scouting report: Kyle Naughton, Sheffield United". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-13. Scouting report on the Sheffield United full back based on these attributes.
- Claridge, Steve (2008-10-07). "Scouting report: Ben Watson, Crystal Palace". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-13. Scouting report on the Crystal Palace central midfielder based on these attributes.
- Claridge, Steve (2007-10-30). "Michael Kightly, Wolverhampton Wanderers". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-13. Scouting report on the Wolverhampton Wanderers winger based on these attributes.
- Claridge, Steve (2007-10-30). "Sam Vokes, Wolves". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-13. Scouting report on the Wolverhampton Wanderers forward based on these attributes.
- Castles, Duncan (2007-12-09). "Mourinho the man for all reasons". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-12. Details José Mourinho's coaching and tactical assessment methods while at Chelsea.
- "Lehmann’s Argentina Penalty Notes up for Auction". Retrieved 2008-12-12. Details Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann's notes on Argentina's spot kick takers. In the event Lehmann saved two penalties to win the shootout.
- "How To Scout An Upcoming Opponent". Retrieved 2008-12-12. Football coach "Matt" explains the general principles of tactical scouting.
- "EXCLUSIVE: THIS IS WHY MOURINHO IS KNOWN AS SPECIAL ONE". Retrieved 2008-12-12. This Mirror article reports on a leaked tactical scouting report by José Mourinho's Chelsea on Newcastle United.
- Hytner, David (2008-12-06). "Wenger had won round Ronaldo's mother before United stepped in". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-12-12. Interview with Arsene Wenger over the scouting of young players