What does a modern football recruitment department look like?
This is a question I am often asked. We work with a number of different clubs, and each has its own structure.
However, the aim of the scouting department is always the same.
To find the best possible players for their team within their available budget.
It sounds simple, but structuring a department to do this as cost-effectively as possible can be a real challenge.
A good starting point would be to look at a traditional club set up and see how we could get most of the value of an advanced setup for relatively little money.
We are big believers in the Pareto principle; 20% of the spend gets you 80% of the value.
The most common structure in the lower levels of the EFL would be where the manager/head coach works with a club employee (sometimes called a Head of Recruitment) and the Chairman/Chief Executive.
Between the three, they will look at players they have personally watched, recommendations from trusted sources, and agent recommendations. Almost all will now have a video scouting package.
The Head of Recruitment may also run a small team of scouts watching live matches and video, normally U23 football and first-team football covering specific geographical areas.
There is a lot of snobbery around this type of setup. However, it can run really well if you have a well connected Head of Recruitment with a good eye for talent.
The main risk of this arrangement is it is so reliant on that key person.
If the Head of Recruitment goes you lose all his contacts. It relies on a limited number of relationships functioning really well under great pressure. You also have a limited pool of players under consideration, your market is as big as your contact list covers.
So how can these issues be solved?
Issue 1: Reliance on a small number of individuals
It is inevitable that people will change jobs. If you have a particularly good Head of Recruitment with a good track record then you will not be able to retain them. What you, as a club, have a right to do is to retain the work they did whilst employed by you.
Solution: A database that is the property of the club that contains all the players under consideration for each position.
This should be the main tool used by everyone to record the information and available to all key stakeholders so they can see progress throughout the season.
Having used the most popular commercial package – Scout 7 – we decided to create our own version, which we see as offering the basic functionality for a lot less money.
Issue 2 – Relationships between those individuals
Football is an immensely high-pressure environment. Individuals get blamed, work that was praised is rubbished if the XI players on the pitch on Saturday don’t get a result. In this type of environment fallouts and arguments are inevitable.
Solution: Have a plan and stick to it. The very first conversation we have with every client is to discuss their current squad, the style of play they want to implement, and how we can transition their squad to that point.
We use our Squad Score system as the basic starting point. This creates a common multi-season goal to work towards. Shifting the view from the last result to a long term vision is key.
Issue 3 – Limited pool of possible players
However well connected a Head of Recruitment is there are only so many players who can be watched in a year.
Solution: Expand the scouting team and have defined roles and accountability.
As we said earlier the three main decision-makers are going to be the Head of Recruitment, the Chairman/Chief Executive, and the Head Coach/Manager.
However, the executive and the head coach should only be making final decisions on players the Head of Recruitment has already decided are good enough.
The Head of Recruitment can free up a lot of time by taking on the role of decision-maker. Leave the initial filtering work to your team (either internal, outsourced to the likes of MRKT, or a combination of the two) who will use data, video, live scouting, personal recommendations or agent recommendations to come up long lists.
By using a much larger scouting team, data that covers all world football, and supplementing your own network with an external network you massively increase your pool of potential players. The tools we supply allow two way interaction. If you want more left-backs on the database we get onto it. If the budget suddenly changes dramatically we have a large pool of pre-scouted players we can show you.
Once you have this basic structure in place, it is just a matter of scale.
You may have more scouts, more advanced data, more live scouting, build more advanced networks covering more territories. You can get the best persuaders in the business working for you. Get to know the best deal makers and agents around.
But ultimately it is always a question of identifying the best possible talent available within your budget and working to persuade them to choose your club.