Live Scouting: “It’s all about travelling?”… Or not?

It  was two months ago while I was attending a Scouting Lab in Athens, when a key speaker and fellow friend with great experience in top level clubs expressed –in a bitter sense of Italian humor- the opinion that Live scouting is still alive because old-school scouts want to travel around the world.  Of course, he immediately clarified that he was exaggerating by that quote but he added that live scouting is declining day to day while technical-video scouting is gaining territory fast and furious.

We all have friends who support one or the other side having solid arguments for their preference. For every joke for a live scout who scouted Luther Blissett back in 1983 instead of John Barnes who was the real target of AC Milan at the time (as mentioned in Soccernomics), there’s a story for a technical scout who edited the “wrong” Ligue 2 player in France –actually the opponent DM-, but who turned out to be the good one and who got transferred at the end…

Also there are plenty of stories with live scouts who made long trips and at the end the player they wanted to watch didn’t play due to last minute reasons. Believe me it’s very annoying to go to Moscow at Khimki Arena during Russian winter (early March), only to realize that the player you had in your notebook, isn’t playing cause of a sudden illness and then to return on foot at your hotel at -5 C cause there’s no metro around and the traffic is huge. We understand that both sides have their misses, but at least those of technical scouting are far less costly and energy consumable.

So that means that live scouting is dead? Only for veteran players or old-school guys who want to travel around the world or for young newly certified scouts with good connections who just want to increase their network? Of course not…

We have to admit that video scouting becomes more and important through years but there are at least three cases (indicative but not restrictive) for which live scouting will be totally needed forever.

  • When you recruit players for the Academy or you scout young players

It’s obvious that TV or whatever footage is available in lower division matches and of course during most of the Academy matches is very poor (if there’s any coverage), from very bad viewing angles that makes it difficult to define on and off the ball movements and of course you can not define well the whole mentality and attitude of the player.

When scouting a young player we shall not be aware only for his skills. It is useful to watch him during the warm-up, to watch his attitude towards his teammates, towards the opponent players, how he reacts to his coach’s orders, to watch closely his in-match reactions but also to observe his post-match behavior, to create a better and more spherical opinion over him.

Of course, you need always to have a more thorough opinion even for more established players but you don’t have to go for example to Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid to hear Diego Godin –among 70.000 people- shouting to his teammates to understand  that this guy is a great leader…you already know that. But if you heard that Atromitos in Athens has a good 15-year old player you have to go by your own to the “Quarry” (“ntamari” in Greek) as it is the name of Atromitos’ Youth Academy Home to define by yourself his value, his skills and his personality.

  • When you have finalized and filtered your list so you have concluded to your last 2-3 main candidates by position.

After watching tens of players (or maybe more) for a certain position, after shortlisting them, filtering them throughout the club’s transfer process (which may be similar or totally different between each club) there will be few remaining players for each position. It will be more than useful to go and watch them live, to ensure what you have seen during the analysis you’ve made so far and why not, to “scout” the opinion of locals and the whole “context” of the team in which the player belongs.

It is not difficult for example to learn if a player is the best client of the pubs of the area or whether he is a party-animal, but believe me, there are many times a club doesn’t give the importance needed to such facts leading them to expensive but unsuccessful transfers. Not mentioning names but there are plenty of cases of well-known and great-skilled footballers that went to cities like Athens, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Barcelona, and they primary showed their partying skills instead of those in football. The distance between a successful transfer and an expensive “bust” was just one question away.

  • When you analyze your opponents.

It’s not the traditional scouting of players but opposition scouting especially in European Competitions demands to travel abroad and define not only about the opposition tactics, transitions, set-plays, patterns etc but also about the general atmosphere that your team is going to face. Also that helps, to collect useful information that may lead the coaching department to be proactive and not reactive. For example a match held on 14th of August in Athens (just a day before an important religious holiday and at the time which all the Athenians are on holidays) is a whole different story than a match in Olympic Stadium during September when you can face 70.000 noisy fans instead of a semi empty, and much more calm atmosphere in the first case.

The above reasons show of course that Live Scouting will be alive and kicking for many years more but it seems that it will start being as the “cherry on top of the cake” for the scouting process year by year.

Even if the conclusion of such a debate is most of the time subjective, I’ll conclude using the quotes of two great football men:

The first one is dedicated to those who say that only data and video scouting will remain in the future…

“ I find it terrible when talents are rejected based on computer stats. Based on the criteria at Ajax now I would have been rejected. When I was 15, I couldn’t kick a ball 15 meters with my left and maybe 20 with my right. My qualities technique and vision, are not detectable by a computer.”   Johann Cruyff

And the second one, dedicated to those who think that only old-school scouts and veteran players can do the job…

“I never realised that to become a good jockey you needed to be a horse first”

Arrigo Sacchi

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Kostas Xydias is an MBA-PMP graduate, with a thesis in Statistics, having studied also Engineering, Sports Journalism and Soccer Analytics. He is collaborating with Galatasaray SK Technical Scouting Department since 2012.

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