Scouting is one of the most important functions of any football team today. With football becoming more global, it has become imperative for every top club to have a thoroughly professional scouting department.
It is well known that Arsenal have a fantastic scouting network and have picked up players from obscurity and turned them into world-beaters. One of the men responsible for that is Steve Rowley, head of Arsenal's scouting department and a close liaison of Arsene Wenger.
I've got my hands on an interview with Rowley, which was published in a fantastic fan blog known as "Young Guns."
Do go and check it out if you want some reliable and interesting information about the up-and-coming Arsenal youngsters.
Q. Steve, tell us a bit about the scouting structure at Arsenal.
A. First of all let me say it’s a real team effort at Arsenal. I have 12 scouts based in the UK, and aside from that we have a worldwide network. We have recently developed the Americas. We have our former left-back Danny Karbassiyoon in America, and he covers Mexico too. Then we have Sandro Orlandelli who looks after the scouting in Brazil, Argentina and the rest of South America, along with Pablo Budner and Everton Gushiken.
Bobby Bennett does all of Scandanavia, where he has been doing a great job for seven years. We have Francis Cagigao who does Spain and Portugal while Gilles Grimandi does France and Switzerland. Jurgen Kost covers Germany, Czech Republic, places like that. Then we have Tony Banfield in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Finally we have Peter Clarke, another of our former players, who is based in Holland.
This just goes to show the fantastic scouting network at Arsenal. Have they left any country out?
Now, one question every Arsenal fan will be wondering about is—how on Earth do we find such fabulous players? Well, Steve Rowley explains to us how exactly Arsenal go about finding a player and then signing him.
Q. What’s the process for finding players? Do you tell them where to be or do they follow their own leads?
A. Well these scouts are all responsible for their own countries, they have built up a big network of contacts over the years. They have met players, coaches, other scouts, so they all get tip offs, they then go and watch, and then report to me via our database.
If the report sounds interesting then I will tell them to watch a couple more times, then I will send another scout to look at the player, to get a fresh perspective. If they come back positive too, I will go. But there is no set number of times we watch a player.
For Fabregas for example, you watch him once or twice and that’s enough. Other players though may play in a poor league, so you need to watch them more when they come up against a good team. So there is no set rule, basically I trust my scouts and if they say "Steve, stop messing about" then I’m there.
After I’ve watched the player I will compile a dossier for the manager, and also a video which contains the player’s good and bad points. The manager is so, so good at assessing a player that he can say straight away whether he likes what he sees or not.
Then he will get onto his own contacts around the world to find out more about the player’s background, so it’s not just down to playing ability. When he’s made the decision, we move quickly to seal the deal.
Q. How easy is it to persuade promising players to come to Arsenal?
A. Let me tell you that the name and reputation of Arsenal is huge nowadays. You can watch us on TV all over the world, and wherever I go Arsenal is a very well known club. Kids love watching us because we are exciting, and our profile has shot up.
They love the fact that we can field a young side in the final of the Carling Cup, against a strong, strong Chelsea team, and do so well against them. The Carling Cup is a great shop window, but so is the regular first team. Cesc went in at 16 and we know that the manager will play you if you are good enough.
Also the facilities here are a big factor. They are blown away when they see the training ground. Yes, it’s really satisfying to see them develop, train well and break through to the first team. Not for me but for the scouts because for me they don’t get enough recognition. They put in a lot of work, OK myself and the gaffer make the final decision, but they bring them in initially.
I’m delighted when I saw the players do so well against Sheffield United in the Carling Cup for example, but it’s down to them. They have all shown great character.
Q. Arsene Wenger has a reputation of signing lesser known names, so do you tell your scouts to focus more on those type of players?
A. Well we know about the bigger names too of course, we knew about Messi when we knew about Cesc obviously because they were in the same team, but we couldn’t do anything about it because he is Argentine.
Generally though, yes the prices are more competitive when they are relatively unknown. I think the gaffer likes the fact that they are not going to cost millions and millions, but I also think that what’s important to him is that it gives him more scope to develop the player through his own coaching methods.
At the same time if we bring a 16-year-old in through our scouts, I fully expect him to be able to train with the first team and not look out of place. They have to be of a very, very high standard.
Q. What was it that made Cesc Fabregas stand out for example, when you first saw him play?
A. It’s a combination of things. The boss loves intelligent players, physically they also have to be of a certain level. Midfielders have to have great stamina and with Cesc, even at 15, you could see he would run all day.
He had the basic requirements, added to great intelligence and great technique, just as every player we bring in has. We also look for that winning attitude.
People like Cesc, Denilson—all of them in fact—they have the right mentality. There are also players we scout who are undoubtedly very talented, but you know that for whatever reason, they will not be a success in England.
Can they adapt to this league? It’s a big question.
Q. The strength of the squad was underlined by the Carling Cup this season, when the boss regularly made 11 changes to the side that played in the league, but are you still looking for new players?
A. Yes and no. We are happy with our squad, and also with some of the English boys coming through, but you can never stand still in this game, because you know your rivals will always be looking.
You don’t turn down a Kaka or Maradona if he comes along do you? So the scouts are always looking, but they have to be a hell of a player to improve upon what we’ve already got. My job is to find the talent, then it comes down to the manager whether he says yes or no.
The above question answers our doubts as to why Aaron Ramsey may have been signed. Arsenal had been tracking Ramsey since he was sixteen and it was clearly not some knee-jerk reaction to Manchester United's bid to sign him or anything like that,
I hope that the interview gave all Arsenal fans and all football fans in general a good idea of how the scouting structure is at any top football club.
No wonder so many English clubs have superb players of the highest quality who produce some fabulous football!
We can only hope that this trend continues in the future.
Thanks to J. Sanderson from Young Guns for providing the interview.