What Scouts look out for
Talent identification is the holy grail of scouting.
The ability to unearth a diamond in the rough, whether it be spotting the next Lionel Messi playing in a kids game on a Saturday morning or the new Jamie Vardy slugging it out on muddy semi-pro pitches.
AFC was set up to give a voice to the men travelling the globe in search of football’s next stars.
Talent Identification is one of the training courses it provides which attracts a wide range of football people from former players and club scouts/coaches to agents and fans of Football Manager.
So who better to ask for tips on how to go about what football scouts look for when spotting talent for a football club.
Here Three AFC members from around the world give their top five key identifiers of talent.
We have mined the views of professional scouts working in the Premier League, Bundesliga, MLS and national associations, who scout at youth, first-team and international level.
To ensure you get the most out of their experiences, we have asked each one to speak about talent identification in specific age groups and situations, starting from age 5 all the way up to the first-team.
It is important to know the playing style and culture of your first-team and then relate that to the players you are looking at. Bayern is a team that plays a possession-based game, pressed high up the pitch which requires players of a high technical level. We look to see if players have good control of the ball. How is their first touch? How do they react when they receive the ball? Can they control the ball with both feet? Are they balanced/co-ordinated? We do not prioritise shooting and long passing at this age, as that can be developed. We are more focused on how they run with a ball, whether they have good co-ordination and the first action when receiving the ball. Do they have that gift from the gods?
You do not need to see someone play football to judge their physical structure. This can be done as the players walk out, during the warm-up or even in a supermarket.
We look at the body of the players but unlike many teams we are not looking for physically developed 14-year-olds with the bodies of 21-year-olds. We do it the other way round, so we will have under 14s who look like 10-year-olds. The technical side is a bigger factor at this age but you still have to assess the physical development.
You can look at the parents, how they are physically. You can have big boys but their parents are 1.60m so you can see they will not grow further.
We can educate and develop players but if they are not open to listening to the coaches, to be part of a team, there will be a problem.
It is important to note how a player reacts in different situations. Look to see how they act in a team that is winning 5-0. How do they react in a team that is losing 5-0? Look how they are before and after the game. Do they go with their teammates to collect balls and cones after training or do they go straight to the dressing room? Look at how they react when the coach is speaking to them.
If a player is not fast, a lot of clubs will not sign them. We are very similar in this but we are not quite the same. Speed is very important and most players need it, but we look at speed in terms of the requirements of the position. Defenders, particularly full-backs, need to have speed over longer distances than midfielders, where we look for speed over short distances from standing starts. Look at attacking players and if they have a trick to get past a player do they have the acceleration and speed to run away from defenders?
KNOW YOUR CLUBS NEEDS
It is important to be aware of the standard of players already at the club. The worst thing is to have a player take a bed in our Academy and they do not play. It is not good for the club or the player.
You also have to know your club’s philosophy, how they play. We made the mistake a few years back of signing a striker who scored lots of goals for a lower league team, where they played lots of long balls over the top for him to use his speed. At Bayern, there are so few opportunities for that, with the play in the opposition’s final third most of the time, so it did not work out. You have to make sure a player’s attributes are a match for your playing style.