Superscouts and their growing influence on how clubs are run

By Robbie Chalmers

With clubs able to place scouts all over the globe, those individuals with a track record of finding the next world stars are more in demand than ever. The Superscouts and their growing influence mean they may run teams in the future, rendering a manager’s role obsolete.

Don’t pay for the talent. You pay a talent that finds other talent. There’s a quote about teaching a man to fish you will have heard a million times before. As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer would put it, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

A phrase very much in-keeping with the spirit of the beautiful game. The greatest players and managers can conjure moments that transcend the sport and inspire a generation to re-think what’s possible. The quote is also well attributed to another footballing pastime; scouting. Finding the new Mbappe or Dembele before anyone else is more difficult than ever, with video technology covering all corners of the globe. Scouts are located on every continent charged with finding the diamond in the rough. The need to find players like this is becoming more and more important within a football economy that doubled in inflation after Neymar’s move to PSG.

The role of the manager involves coaching, recruiting, scouting, negotiating contracts and dealing with the press among other things. The high demand placed on one person may be too much to bare for some. In years gone by such a model was normal for the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, but now the landscape has changed. Owners and Chairmen of clubs have looked for ways to delegate the role before. In the 90’s in England there was Gianluca Vialli’s so-so stint as part player-manager at Chelsea, while Liverpool had similar results appointing Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans as co-managers. Kenny Dalgleish and John Barnes had a failed spell as co-managers at Celtic at the turn of the millennia.

There are examples of this method being tried abroad as a long term strategy. From there, Directors of Football were appointed to manage between the training ground and the board room. However this proved problematic for some. Harry Redknapp, not the most flexible of coaches it must be said, reportedly quit his as manager of Portsmouth in 2004 after falling out with new Director of Football Velimir Zajec. Even with speed bumps along the road, the vision of a delegated management strategy still gathers pace today.

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Sven Mislintat (left) alongside BVB Sporting Director Michael Zorc (right).

The biggest addition for Arsenal last year was not a player but a Head of Recruitment. Sven Mislintat was brought in by the Gunners having spent eight years at Borussia Dortmund finding some of the finest players to emerge in recent seasons. The German is responsible for bringing the likes of Mats Hummels, Jakub Blaszyczkowski, Neven Subotic, Sven Bender, Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele to the German giants.

Working on a smaller budget in comparison to the rest of Europe’s elite, the Head Scout attracted the interest of domestic rivals Bayern Munich two years ago. Mislintat also came close to leaving Dormund in 2017 after falling out with the former Dortmund head coach, Thomas Tuchel, after a disagreement over a potential signing. The situation got to such a state, that for a while Mislintat stayed away from the club’s training facilities all together. However, Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke saw Tuchel out the door two days after winning the German Cup while Sven remained. It was a strong statement of where the power lied behind the scenes and how highly regarded he was at the Westfalenstadion. His work there was a big factor in how the team managed to stay competitive, despite constant departures to key players.

Another fine example is Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo – better known as Monchi. The son of a joiner in the shipyards of San Francisco in Cadiz, Monchi is a former Sevilla player for the B team and played over 100 times for the first team as well as being a team mate of Diego Maradona. In the summer of 2000 he became Sevilla’s sporting director and things haven’t been the same since.

They had just been relegated at the time and were in great financial difficulty. Prior to Monchi’s arrival, the club had won four trophies and had never won a European title. During his time there they won five Europa Leagues, went through nine managers and three club presidents, yet the Head of Recruitment remained.

It’s Monchi’s eye for untapped potential in their early twenties that makes him stand out. Getting players before they blossom is an achievement but doing so on a budget even more so. Dani Alves was brought in as a winger/playmaker at best but became one of the all-time great full backs and sold for a £25m plus profit. Rakitic was bought for less than £3m and sold for £17m a year later with both players winning the treble at Barcelona. Monchi said both these players were included in his personal Sevilla IX. Palop in goal; Alves, Fazio, Caceres, Adriano at the back; Rakitic, Baptista, Keita and Poulsen in midfield; with Luis Fabiano and Bacca up front. All this talent were bought for £23.5m and were all sold for just over £150m.

It’s this type of sharp eye that saw the Spaniard receive offers from across Europe. It was Roma he rocked up at last summer and his influence was immediately felt. He was asked what players they would look to sign, to explain why Mohamed Salah was allowed to leave with so little fight and what their future transfer strategy was. Questions that are typically aimed at the Manager, were aimed at the Sporting Director. With new manager Di Francesco arriving only last summer too, both men were starting on an even basis. But it was Monchi who was chosen as the transfer guru.

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Monchi upon joining AS Roma

It is a concept that can be seen a lot more in other sports, such as American Football. NFL teams also have a dilution of power with a similar relationship between a general manager and coach. Simply put, no one is indispensable.

Another example of the use of statistics and science as a form of analysis is the Oakland Athletics baseball season in 2002. General Manager Billy Beane and Assistant General Manager Peter Brand, faced with the franchise’s most limited budget for players, built a team of undervalued talent by taking a sophisticated sabermetric approach towards scouting and analysing players, instead of the opinions of experienced baseball men from the recruitment team. Beane faced strong objections from both the Head Coach and the recruitment team but eventually inspired one of the most historic seasons in baseball history. Football is beginning to follow suit.

Arsene Wenger is a great theorist of the game and mirrors this opinion. Just as a company’s grows in size they feel a stronger need to guarantee results. So oversite is a must. Not just in sports but in all forms of business.

Arsene Wenger said: “I am convinced that in ten to 15 years it will not necessarily be a football specialist who will be the manager of the club. He will have so many scientist around him who bring out the team to play on Saturday. It will be more a management specialist, than a football specialist because the football decisions will be made by technological analysers.”

Football clubs are less willing to hand one man all the power simply because, were he to depart, the upheaval causes the whole mechanism to slow down. Football clubs don’t want mass changes after the coach leaves which is why we see more and more clubs hiring their own scouts and analysts. And it’s a view shared by Wenger when it comes to the future of football.

The manager of the future will not even need a football background, because his or her decisions will be based on science and technology. The manager will no longer be the all-powerful leader, but instead one of many cogs in a well-oiled machine. The desire for superscouts as the go-to guys for bringing in talent will only grow with time, especially by clubs owners who want more control over how their team is run.

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