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Scouting, the quest for football’s next wonderkid

Paris (AFP) – Hundreds of banal matches, thousands of miles on the road, gatecrashing training sessions and cultivating relationships with teachers and parents, such is the life of the football talent scouts scouring playing fields for the next wonderkid.

Much of their method is kept secret and Romain Poirot, former Manchester City scout now working for Watford and Udinese, told AFP “it would be indelicate, revealing too much” to spill the beans.

However, he did reveal that he travels at least 5000km per month to see games, not counting plane and train journeys, on his quest to dig up a rough diamond on his constant meanderings around France.

“Experience is crucial,” he said. “I began with the 1993 generation, that of Paul Pogba. He was already phenomenal at 16. I had nothing to compare him to then.”

Poirot explained that watching training sessions and matches at every level led him to develop a classification method.

“You eventually end up with an eye for it,” he said.

Luiz Rangel, a scout at Rio de Janeiro outfit Vasco da Gama, is of the same persuasion, claiming “you can’t improvise this”.

“Just about everyone believes he is an expert and many of them bring us kids for us to trial,” he said in a jokey manner.

– ‘TIPS’ –

Poirot uses a method in vogue at Dutch club Ajax Amsterdam named TIPS, that is to say technique, intelligence, personality and speed.

“Then you have to look at their growth to see if they are in advance for their age or if they still have a development margin, to gage their potential to develop through the ranks.”

Another Vasco scout, Gilberto Figueiredo, says that mentality is vital.

“We speak to the parents and teachers to find out about their everyday behaviour,” Figueiredo said. 

He also says watching a non-descript training session at the child’s school to observe their behaviour away from the spotlight can be telling.

All this keeps the scouts on their toes and when Poirot explains that he watches upwards of seven games per weekend from second and third division games thorough to under-15s and 17s, it begins to take on the look of a labour of love.

– ‘Key to be quick’ –

Rivalry between scouts is ferocious, even if Figueiredo describes it as a healthy rivalry.

“The key thing is to be quick about it, faster than your rival. You need a good network at the heart of the key competitions, to know the organisers and leaders at small clubs.”

French scout Loïc Ravenel cuts to the quick.

“The idea is to not miss the star of the future, but to deprive your rivals of him.”

In this spirit, Real Madrid paid 50 millions euros to take Brazilian sensation Vinicius Junior, who will join them when he turns 18 next July.

But financial might is not the only method. Paris Saint-Germain wonderkid Kylian Mbappe almost signed for tiny Caen two seasons ago. 

Former Caen scout Laurent Glaize told French daily Ouest France about the extensive lengths they went to in their bid to sign him.

“We went to see him where he lived at least twice a month and gradually got closer to his parents and started to get on with them.”

But in this case, ambition told. Caen were stuck in the second division and were powerless to intervene as Mbappe slipped from their grasp, signing instead for Monaco.

That proved costly in more ways than one — earlier this season, Monaco agreed to sell Mbappe to Paris Saint-Germain for 180 million euros.

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