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Scouting about for a decent football future

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Jack Ross | 09:07 UK time, Monday, 11 April 2011

In the midst of endless talk of takeovers and tax bills, one recent announcement from Ibrox made little headlines but could, over the course of time prove to be one of the most important decisions made by the manger in waiting Ally McCoist.

The news I am referring to is the appointments of Neil Murray and John Brown to significant roles within the scouting setup at Rangers.

At a time when more and more clubs are unable to pay excessive transfer fees for new recruits the ability to unearth players from all levels and countries is becoming of paramount importance.

Scotland manager Craig Levein (left) with chief scout Michael Oliver

Scotland manager Craig Levein (left) with chief scout Michael Oliver

A targeted player must, of course, be able to add to the current squad and be part of a strategy aimed at achievement, but a potential future sell-on value which far exceeds the fee required to secure their services is not just a bonus but quickly becoming an essential requirement.

It is fair to say that two of the SPL's star performers this season in Emilio Izaguirre and Beram Kayal are perfect examples of a far reaching scouting network paying dividends.

Both were previously playing in leagues which are not normally considered a source for SPL recruitment and yet both have undoubtedly made major contributions towards Celtic's title challenge and would also command high transfer fees if pursued by other clubs.

If we assume therefore that for a club or manager the choice of scouts is vital and that the role requires a real eye for a player why do we rarely hear of former players pursuing careers in this area?

We know players try to become coaches, pundits and agents but should more pursue this career given their background in the game?

There may, of course, be an egotistical aspect to consider in that perhaps players consider this type of role to be beneath them but when you see members of successful Rangers teams such as Brown and Murray making a return to the club in this capacity and others such as John Kennedy scouting for Celtic then there is a growing trend of very good players occupying scouting positions.

While some of those mentioned above have found themselves in these positions after working in other areas, there are examples of players who have pursued a scouting career with vigour and progressed accordingly.

Former Aberdeen star Hans Gilhaus is one example with a chief scouting position at Chelsea among others on his CV.

Most of this blog has centred on the importance of having good scouting networks at larger clubs but are they just as vital at smaller sides?

It could be said even more so, with it more essential that recommendations prove to be worthwhile.

Unfortunately budget cuts will usually impact upon this area of a club's infrastructure and therefore lessen its ability to produce a diamond from the rough.

In these instances it may be that a manager will rely on the goodwill of contacts he has made throughout his career with it being a major advantage, if these associates cover other countries and continents.

The interesting thing about scouts is that they are an important part of a player's career from a very early age.

I remember from my boys' club days the sense of excitement that would spread around a dressing room if someone found out a club talent spotter was attending the game and the subsequent surge in confidence felt from receiving a glowing recommendation from this individual.

Fast forward several years and players producing good performances in the senior game will be conscious of clubs sending trusted staff out to monitor their progress, and will usually associate it with the possibility of an impending move to a bigger club.

Therefore, scouts are at the very foundations of our game but it might just be that the current climate is making their roles more important and more high profile than ever before.


  • Comment number 1.

    "far reaching scouting" isn't that the problem, there is little local talent to scout?

  • Comment number 2.

    This is an important area that has been so far hugely neglected by Scottish clubs, and one that can lead to success on the pitch & on the bank statement.

    John Park at Celtic has introduced some fantastic talent to Celtic, as mentioned above, but his impact at Hibernian had an even more significant impact on their club. The scouting & development (and subsequent sales) of players such as Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Garry O'Connor & Steven Whittaker, among others, allowed Hibs to enjoy a sustained period of relative success on the pitch & has not only cleared the clubs debts on their departure, but has led to them boasting a fantastic stadium & training ground. All paid for!

    Having top notch facilities is important, but scouting the best talent in the first place is even more so. And contrary to popular belief, the talent IS out there.

  • Comment number 3.

    The appointment of John Brown as a scout may cause concern among Rangers fans - was it not his inability to spot a player that caused him strife while Clyde boss?

    His transfer record was woeful at best.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Jack - agree with most of what you are saying, signing players with future sell-on value is important but in the Bosman era not always feasible. The days of Jim McLean's 10 year, tuppence a week contracts (Duncan Ferguson, Alec Cleland, Billy McKinley etc) where he could ask any price he liked are long gone. You mentioned Hans Gillhaus (two "l"s incidentally) and he epitomises the changes in Scottish football. When Aberdeen signed Super Hans he was the top scorer in the Dutch league and had just won the league, cup and European Cup with PSV and was a full Dutch international and he signed for ABERDEEN! Jump forward to today and the comparison would potentially be Luis Suarez (arguably of lower calibre given Ajax are not close to the top team in Holland never mind Europe) at 23M. This demonstrates that the field we are playing on in Scotland is so massively different from that of my childhood 20 years ago and highlights exactly why Scottish clubs really need to think outside the box.

    I play for a club in Calgary, Canada that has some exceptional youth players (16-20 years old) many of whom have British/EU origin parentage that negates the need for work permits etc. yet very few Scottish clubs tap this market. I tried to discuss this opportunity with a major SPL club but the response was essentially "Nah, we have enough on our hands scouting the UK and Ireland market" - short sighted? just a bit. This brings me to the point that clubs should look to take greater advantage of the enthusiastic volunteer fans they have around the world - a club like Aberdeen for example has supporters in pretty much every corner of the globe due to the oil industry. If a club created a network of these people globally, brought them together for some training (what to look for, how to capture players on film, practicalities for arranging for the player to come to Scotland for a trial etc.) they could create a pretty formidable resource in my opinion at low/no cost.

    One other potential solution in Scotland is for the SFA to centralize all youth development (Four centres East, West, North and South) and they would then have a scouting network to bring in the best young players from around the globe - the improved facilities possible with this approach and the ability to attract the best coaches would also increase the attractiveness for potential stars. There would be a setup cost but ultimately it would become self funding as after a "draft" style excercise (where youth players are assigned to Scottish clubs) the SFA would retai

  • Comment number 5.

    I feel that Scottish clubs have a good history of bringing international unknowns with great potential to Scotland.
    Jack, I feel the Scots have been good at scouting talent overseas during the past 20 years.
    Dunfermline's 1989 signing of Istvan Kozma is an example close to home, with Graeme Souness then snapping up the striker while manager at Liverpool.
    I think the difference now is that Scottish clubs are now outbid by clubs from countries as small as Cyprus, who can now offer decent wages through their rich owners.
    It getting harder and harder for players to come to the SPL when most English League One sides are capable of outbidding.

  • Comment number 6.

    [Biscoback] Some very pertinent points were made in your comments. I have been involved in the senior game since I was 21. There is definetly a gentlemens club mentality that goes on, and I feel that your situation a perfect example of this.
    On so many levels I feel the need for an overhaul of the game in Scotland. Outwith the scouting, there is massive disinterest in Junior managers and coaches due to not having played at senior level, a total injustice really, when outwith the top 18 teams in Scotland, what really represents top level.
    I have a dslike of social networking sites, but I feel many scouts could take advantage of say, youtube, and show off the abilities of some of their finds. Perhaps you could do this yourself...if you do, let me know at as I have coaching interests in the Borders.

    Jack, you mentioned before you would not referee, and I gather now, not be a scout. Maybe ex players should lower their expectations for the good of the game. Cynical as I am, maybe the word 'good' was the wrong description.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thank you for all the comments.

    blogcritic, it is a great point re successful scouting paying dividends in both a football and financial sense. I was actually at Hibernian's training facility this week and it is a great set up significantly financed by the players they scouted and developed.

    Biscoback, really enjoyed your post. It is interesting that you mention the Canadian leagues as in recent times players from the USA such as Andy Dorman and Stuart Holden have made big impacts in the UK. I would have thought that Canada would therefore be of significant interest to clubs in Scotland-perhaps one with a bit of forward thinking will begin to pay more attention to players in this country.

    cammeag1965, I am not sure I expressed the view that I would not be a scout rather asked why more players do not do it. I have actually undertaken scouting work for clubs since retiring and really enjoyed it and look forward to doing more of it over the coming weeks.

  • Comment number 8.

    Agree with many of the comments posted.

    Just seen the latest FIFA rankings and Scotland are 66th !!

    A 'Celtic' League with the top teams Wales,N Ireland and Eire would be the my solution to promote young talent.

    Inverness CT playing St Johnstone 4 times a season is a joke, and the main reason why Scottish football is now officiallly a minnow.Even non league teams in England have larger growds than some teams in the SPL.

    1998 (France World Cup finals) is a long time ago, and most of these posts refer to memories 20 years ago.Perhaps the future for Scotland now is purely as a minnow.


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