Superscouts and their growing influence on how clubs are run

With clubs placing scouts all over the globe, those individuals with a track record of finding the next world stars are more in demand than ever. Delve into the world of superscouts..

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.

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.

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.


American in Alkmaar

Billy Beane, former first draft Major League Baseball pick turned Sporting Analytics enthusiast, has made his first and much-anticipated venture into Football…


By Danny Wyn Griffith.

Billy Beane, former first draft Major League Baseball pick turned Sporting Analytics enthusiast, has made his first and much-anticipated venture into Football in an Official Adviser capacity for Dutch Eredivisie club, AZ Alkmaar.

Ever since a best-selling book called Moneyball – about his ideology and antics as General Manager of The Oakland A’s – was converted into a Hollywood film back in 2011, his name has been attached to folklore by the Sporting Economics and Analytics field.

Having Brad Pitt play his character in the film may have had a part to play in it. Although, for everyone that’s taken an extra interest in his achievements within Baseball management – they quickly look past this coincidence.

Over the past fifteen years, the Oakland A’s went on to reach the play-offs eight times despite having the fifth or sixth lowest budget among the 30 teams involved in the Baseball Major Leagues.

Looking at long-term achievements, there is no Football equivalent to Baseball’s Oakland A’s.

Currently, it’s like 6th placed English Premier League side Southampton selling their prized assets last summer, but doing so each year for fifteen years whilst still achieving a top-six finish nearly every season.

Forgetting English Football and looking across the shores, Borussia Dortmund is another potential example. However, even they’ve shown this season it’s pretty much inconceivable a bad-patch may come along by doing exactly that.

Billy Beane has been able to maintain performance levels by trading players at the right time, and for the right amounts. To put it simpler, he uses data analysis to find value that may not strike the eye at first view.

From time-to-time, a player comes along that has his value to a team-sport demeaned because he may be suspect to injuries, say. It’s here that Billy Beane saw a gap in the Baseball market and decided to exploit it.

He picked up on a theory by Kansas-born Bill James that on-base percentage within Baseball was overlooked and underappreciated, therefore moved to take advantage of it – and thoroughly did.

Factory worker James studied Baseball in his spare time. He went on to achieve bestsellers when his scribbles and thoughts were eventually sold as books.

James stated that ‘his books were outside baseball and shows you what the sport looks like if you take a step back from it and study it intensely.’

In Football though, it would be harder to spot an undervalued part of the game given the fast pace it is played at. It’s not a stop-start sport like Baseball.

However, dead-ball situations are sections of the game where Billy Beane and Bill James’ methods could make a difference. You’re able to take that step back and analyse the situation from a free-kick or corner.

If AZ were expecting Billy Beane to make an immediate impact, it is during these situations he may be able to achieve his first positive progressions within Football.

Scoring rates from free-kicks and corners are incredibly low to think that so much concentration is given to these situations.

As Ben Lyttleton of Soccernomics and The Guardian recently stated, Cristiano Ronaldo had failed to convert any of his previous 54 free-kick attempts as of the 26th of March 2015. (Typically though, he scored his first of the season as I uploaded this piece.)

The brilliant Soccernomics book has a theory that you have a better chance of scoring from dead-ball situations if you play it short to a teammate. The reasoning being that a number of players are holed up in the wall or marking in the box; therefore it allows space to develop in other areas of the opposition’s final-third.

Dutch Football followers might just pick up on the increased numbers of AZ short-corners or free-kicks over the coming year, perhaps.

Billy Beane’s success isn’t only down to his and James’ own ideology. He places emphasis on ‘making sure he is always the dumbest guy in the room.’

He decided to surround himself with people that were experts in their own field, may it be Baseball or not. One of his staff, Farhan Zaidi, had a PHD in Behavioural Economics but no thorough knowledge of the sport. He is now the General Manager of the LA Dodgers.

Billy Beane bringing analytic ideology into Football will not be a completely new experience, though. Nowadays, most top-tiered teams have statistical analysis specialists employed throughout their clubs.

Surprisingly perhaps, but it was Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers in 1999 who first placed more emphasis on employing good statisticians, rather than good players – not that he was able to afford any.

Bolton were known as overachievers during Allardyce’s eight years in the North West of England. They saw seasoned veterans like Jay Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo arrive cheaply to great effect. Billy Beane has had similar success with older athletes across the Atlantic.

One of his analysts at the time, Mike Forde (later went onto become Chelsea’s Performance Director) found that ‘the ball changed hands 400 times during a match, on average.

Allardyce was apparently infatuated by this stat, and emphasised the importance of instantly switching to defensive positions once the ball was lost.

People with an outside view of the game have more reason to pick up on these aspects as they look at the game differently to a coach.

Therefore, Allardyce’s decision to employ statisticians paid dividends – similar to Billy Beane’s at The Oakland A’s.

Beane’s contract with The Oakland A’s comes to an end in 2019. Afterwards, he intends to become involved in English Football, per The Guardian. If his plans come to fruition, English Football might be given the statistical shake-up of a lifetime.

Firstly though, the influence he has around the cheese markets of Alkmaar will bear much influence on his future intentions.

By @dannywgriffith.

Some info sourced from The Guardian articles and the Soccernomics book.

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