The key to good scouting is: An open mind, observe and do not dismiss players too quickly. No one can see a player clearly off 20 minutes football or even one full game. You can get an idea of a player from 20 minutes or from a game, but through my experiences do not judge too quickly or you may suffer the consequences as the player may have just played well (or poorly) on the one and only time you viewed him. Even If a player doesn’t perform to the best of his ability a trained scout would see certain attributes in his game that are very good. It would be the same the other way around he may play well but his overall game isn’t strong enough for what you are looking for. This is the difference between a professional scout and a fan watching the game.
How to evaluate a player? Which goalie is the most effective? What dangers await football scouts in the future? Who can deny them? On March 28-29, professional course “football scouting” led by Premier League scouts will be held in Gdansk. There will be, among others, Colin Hendry, outstanding representative of Scotland and David Wild one of the coaches of Manchester City (CITC). IPSO director and lecturer, Colin Chambers, a former scout at Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic told us about the upcoming event and about working as a scout.
Is scouting the easiest way to get into professional football almost from the street?
“The easiest way to become a scout is after you’ve had a professional football career, as clubs would expect you to have the knowledge just because you’ve played at a good level. It doesn’t really work like that and even though you’ve played at a high standard doesn’t mean you can see a player any better than someone who’s come from the lower leagues. As a scout you have to look at the bigger picture and the attention to detail in that player. It’s like any other job the more you are into it, the more passion you have for it, the better you will be at it. There is more and more money in football and even lower league clubs in England have good scouting systems. I played football at semi-professional level, but I learned scouting from Ted Davies, who was chief scout at Charlton Athletic, when they played in the Premier League. Ted took me under his wings, and showed what this job is all about. Observing the opposition, assessing specific players … I was very lucky, because Ted Davies is one of the best scouts that’s ever been in the game and I know myself that I have learnt from the best and its Ted’s knowledge I’m passing down and through this course. He worked for England, Northern Ireland, worked along-side Malcom Alison & Joe Mercer (who in their day was the equivalent to Morinio & Alex Ferguson), so he too learnt from the best. He also worked along-side Terry Venables, Glenn Hoddle and many other coaches. I was at Charlton for five years, then seven at Bolton, and then I started doing lectures, attended by, among others, scouts from Manchester United, City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Southampton etc.”
How did you recommended a player to clubs you have worked for?
“In today’s scouting it is not one person who looks for someone. A Premier League club would have approximately 10 scouts spread up and down the country. Seven might say, sign, and three might say forget as we’ve been monitoring a player over the months. At the end the decision is taken by the Manager, often on the basis of a majority vote. But the bottom line is the manager will decide. It used to be different. If you have been such a scout like Ted Davies, recognizable scout and one counted with individual recommendations the manager might go off his recommendation alone. It varies from club to club and their philosophy of how they want to work. Sometimes and especially at the moment statistics comes into it. I watched Januzaj, Sterling and many other young players when they were coming through at Liverpool and Man Utd. We would have reports about them as would every other club in the premier league monitoring their progress or progression in case we could afford them or if they got released”
What is the key to being a good scout?
“Pay attention to detail, be careful, watch closely, keep an open mind and most of all: try to keep your eye on the game. A footballer can play very poorly, but at the crucial moment he may do something you didn’t think he was capable of. He may show nothing for half a year! The best example is Jordan Henderson. As he walked to Liverpool for 20 million pounds, many scouts, including myself, have wondered: ‘Wow, such a mountain of money? It’s too much. The guy is not even close to that value. What were they thinking?’. Liverpool, however, saw something in him, they helped him to develop and Henderson grew into a 20-million player. He didn’t stand out in his first season, then suddenly he clicked (the penny dropped). Instead of discarding someone, you need to have an open mind and monitor the player’s development’. Many players from top European leagues after going to the Premier League take a long time to adapt. Here the game is different.”
Because of these differences some clubs or managers do not want European players.
“Often a technically advanced player has more opportunities in his league but needs time to come to turns with the pace and physical side of the game in England. In his country the match pace may be slower. It may also not be as physical, short passes and more attention of keeping the ball. I have been several times to Poland on scouting missions. I have seen e.g. Robert Lewandowski in Lech Poznan. I have a report on him when he was about 19-20 yrs. He did not play fantastically, but he had something. I said: ‘We need to monitor him.’ His movement on the field, football awareness and intelligence distinguished him from other players. He was moving in the right areas. He didn’t get many opportunities at goal, but he still looked better than all those around him. A player doesn’t have to entertain in order to look good. I remember I once went to look at a player and he hardly touched the ball. So I thought I didn’t have to report on him. Ted asked where the report is. I said he didn’t do anything, Ted said tell me what he didn’t do……..So there is always something to write about a player when you are monitoring him, even without touching the ball you could see his speed, his movement, his anticipation, his positional play and many more attributes you just need to know what to look for.”
It’s different with goalkeepers. Those playing remarkably in Poland, can also be distinguished in a much better league. There are no big differences as in the case of out-field players.
“You always seem to have class goalkeepers in Poland. We know that in England since Tomaszewski. I’ve seen many of your young goalkeepers at lower levels of our football. But the rating, as you say, is actually different. Which goalie is better, the one who defended twenty shots or two? Most will answer that the first, and yet another could effectively conduct the entire defence and communicate better, preventing the opponents attacks earlier before the shot. Those are details and a good scout must pay attention to them.”
Statistics philosophy in scouting.
“These statistics will not show you the nature of the player. It will not tell you anything about his attitude to work, passion. You can’t even see how the player moves on the pitch. It will allow you to find out just how many passes, shots he makes and how often he enters into the area or tackles. This information doesn’t give you a clear answer whether someone is a good player. It can only help. Both methods, statistics and first-hand observations, should be used together, fifty-fifty. Numbers help on the one hand, but often lie. I always say: Not all presidents understand what assessing a player is all about. Unfortunately, they are only interested in numbers at times.”
So, how do you learn to observe footballers? It can be taught in this course?
“I want scouts that train to understand the basics. A players touch and speed should be seen very easily by the untrained scout. These features will be seen by everyone. What matters is the understanding of the game. Game knowledge. Intelligence. Positional play, understanding his role in the team. A Scout must pay attention to detail. If someone does not score a beautiful goal, doesn’t make 20 beautiful passes or doesn’t look fast, it does not mean that he can’t play. It might be worthwhile to appreciate the other parts to a player’s game that are just as or sometimes more important. By looking at the bigger the picture.”