What do scouts look for in a youth player? Do they look for Athletes (speed, strength, power, stature), Stats (distance run), do they need to be academy trained or do they need to have appearances in men’s football.
Before I get into this, I’d like to speak about the role of a scout.
Everyone is looking for a gem. That one player that is so easy on the eye and so very effective on the field.
In order to spot that gem, a scout may have to go against their principles because those types of players do things outside of convention. Therefore, a scout should be looking at strengths and weaknesses of a player.
Talking to some scouts, you get the impression that they’d rather tell you what a player can’t do more than anything? When asked about the strengths of a player, they can’t seem to reel them off as quickly.
Well, if you’re scouting players of ‘potential’, you better know what they’re good at because no one is going to sign a player based on what they can’t do.
The problem with scouting players based on their athletic ability is that you can never be sure how and when a player is going to grow. I’ve seen boys grow nearly a foot over the course of a full season.
This presents new problems to players as they can struggle to adjust to this accelerated growth and their performances can suffer as a result. Also, by ignoring the football intelligence, technical ability and mental aspect of players, thousands of very good young footballers are being ignored and as a result, leaving the game and not having a career.
Scouting based on stats is a very dangerous game. Stats can be misleading and can make player appear more influential on the pitch than they actually are.
As an example, a midfield player may have possession stats in the top percentage of completed passes but how many of those passes went forward? How many chances did those passes create and how many moves did they start?
For me, there’s nothing like seeing a player in person and watching how influential they are on the pitch. Stats have their place in the game but scouting takes more than just accumulating stats.
Academy trained players are on the whole, technically and tactically sound… In their own age group.
Manchester City and Chelsea receive adulation for the high standard of player that they produce and for the results in their academy leagues and youth cups. The problem comes when you take a young player out of that environment and put him into a men’s team.
I’ve had numerous conversations with first team managers and coaches at professional clubs and they commend the technical ability of these players but are disappointed with how long it can take for an academy player to adapt to playing against seasoned professionals.
The old reserve team football model, where young players would get to test themselves against men, gave them an opportunity to break through that barrier before reaching first team football where it really counts.
For me, this needs urgent attention because we could lose a generation of footballers who are deemed ‘not ready’ by the current system.
This brings me to my final point……….
It is imperative that young players are exposed to men’s football at the earliest opportunity.
Firstly, it gives an indication of how far along they are in their personal development; Are they able to handle the physical side of the game? Can they handle the pace of the game?
These are all questions that need to be answered before a player can move to the next level.
Under-23s football is beginning to gain a bad reputation. Are the games competitive enough? Are they top clubs doing their players a disservice by holding onto them, in order to win an academy league or cup?
My answer to those questions, respectively? No and yes.
Do you agree with our Secret Scout? Let us know in the comments.