The Role of Agents as Scouts and Football/Soccer Experts
Football agents that operate within the modern game come from all kinds of backgrounds and pathways. Some agents may have previously been in finance, business, legal matters and other professions, and have utilised their transferable skills to venture into the agent industry. There are also a significant number of agents that have been a part of the football field for many years, in varying capacities. For example, former players, coaches, technical staff, and scouts, are pre-prepared with a certain ‘football-specific’ skill-set that may be useful to them should they wish to foray into the opportunity of becoming an agent.
In this blog, we will summarise how an in-depth knowledge of football and its mechanics can be of benefit to agents as well as highlighting more general attributes that an agent may have to supplement this. Specifically, we will look at how agents often take on the role of ‘scouts’ during the client recruitment process, particularly when starting off in their career. Perhaps scouting is one area of ‘agent education’ which can easily be done and will be a significant help for an agent’s career. This blog will hopefully act as a brief guide to the key factors that every agent ought to be aware of in talent identification and additional skills that contribute to a well rounded professional in the agency field.
An Agent’s Understanding of the Game
Whilst it is not absolutely necessary to have previous first-hand knowledge of the football industry and to be a so-called ‘expert’ in the intricacies of the game, having at least a practical and broad understanding of football is imperative. An agent ought to be able to put themselves into the minds of clubs and players to some extent in order to best judge where the most desirable opportunities may lie and to provide the optimal service to clients.
Agents may have developed these capabilities from previous football experience but can also obtain them from dedicating time and effort into studying and investigating the small details behind how football, its clubs and its players function. Through this research, and continually improved through experience, agents come to learn how clubs operate at board level and below, and where they can present proposals for their clients. The more layered the depth of knowledge that the agent has, the better. For example, in a specific club, an agent may investigate the owner, chairman, sporting director, managerial history, squad structure, financial situation, average player wages, transfer strategy and pattern, average age, long term goals, and more, to form a broad and detailed assessment of the club.
There are also some more general skills that most successful agents possess which are complementary to football-specific aptitude and may sometimes even be sufficient as a substitute, as long as there is a basic understanding of the game. For example, although agents may have gained the skills from other industries; business savviness, commercial nous, legal understanding, and knowledge of areas such as negotiation, human psychology and finances, are all beneficial attributes of an agent.
The Basics of Identifying Talent
For the purpose of this blog, we will consider the specific component of talent identification as a necessary skill of agents. In the scouting department, often when agents start out in the industry, the first task will be to recruit clients, either for themselves or for a company. This usually involves attending a large volume of youth games and hence, an ability to identify top emerging talents can be a useful facet of an agent’s capabilities.
Many agents will develop relationships and communicate with scouts that are part of clubs who can always help point them in the right direction. Nonetheless, many of the top agents, whether they have previously been involved directly in football or not, will develop the necessary abilities to be able to give a basic scouting review and insight on young talent. This can help agents judge which players have high potential in the game and may be suitable as clients.
Remember that scouting is a profession and an area of expertise in itself. The top scouts refine their eye for talent over many years of experience and become experts in identifying youth stars that realistically have the potential to go on to play at the very top. However, an ability to scout and understand a player’s potential is part of the broad job description of an agent as well, and can help agents in recruitment of clients.
The difference between scouts and agents is that the scouts will be observing players on behalf of clubs and assessing the scope for their inclusion in the future in their club’s first team and academies. However, agents approach scouting from a slightly different perspective, to identify the best clients to work with and to represent. Usually this is centred upon their on-field potential as agents naturally want to represent the top talents but an additional consideration is their suitability as a client. For example, judging whether the player’s character, attitude and personality aligns with the unique and niche principles of the agent or agency.
Scouting is a unique science. In terms of on-field ability, below we attempt to outline and summarise the basic factors and indicators that should be considered and prioritised by an agent, particularly in the youth football context. It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and that a lot of scouting can be subjective but the general overview of identifying talent is universal:
- Relative age effect: At under-16 level for example, some players may have turned 16 eleven months prior to some of their teammates. Knowing when their birthdates lie and assessing the pubertal status as either early or late developers is a vital part of scouting youth talent for agents and scouts alike. Sometimes, it can be easy to dismiss a small but incredibly skilful and technical player based solely upon their physical attributes. There is a chance they may develop and surpass their teammates physically as well as technically once they have matured fully. Key indicators for this may be the size of their parents as well as their current body composition.
- Potential rather than performance: In youth football especially, one game does not determine the quality and potential of one player. To give an accurate scouting assessment, it is important to look for and spot small indicators that may suggest the player has an abundance of potential that could see him flourish in the near future.
- A ‘weapon’ skill: A clever way of simplifying scouting is to narrow potential clients down to those players that have what may be referred to as a ‘weapon’ skill. In other words, the player may have a single exceptional attribute that distinguishes them from the rest of the players. This can be something like sheer pace, their set piece capabilities, incredible strength or a flamboyant and mesmerising dribbling ability. These are the kind of players that will be noticed by scouts and, whilst their all-round game is important too, a weapon skill can help them become a professional footballer. For an agent, these kinds of players are sometimes easier to market and sell to football clubs.
- Necessary attributes: For some positions, certain characteristics are non-negotiable. For example, goalkeepers must be agile and have considerable size, wingers often need to be fast and strikers must have a notable finishing ability. Clients that may be of interest to agents will likely have all of the necessary attributes as well as some additional traits that indicate potential for a future in the game.
- Unique characteristics: some players are harder to come by than others. For example, scouts will usually make a note of a left-footed, tall and fast centre-back as they are always in high demand. The same can be said for a top quality left-back as they are treasured at the highest level. Contrastingly, there is an abundance of strikers across youth football and beyond and hence, selecting a top talent that could go on to play at the highest level can be difficult. However, this is not to say that some academies may be capable of producing the very best strikers, keep a keen eye out for these talents.
Agents also need to identify and interpret other parts of a player’s character as to whether they would be a suitable client. For example, by arriving early to games and watching the warm up or even going to training sessions, agents can observe the body language, commitment, intensity and desire of the player. It is vital that top professional talents always conduct themselves in a professional manner, not just in a match.
Another useful tool that agents can use to help their judgement of talent is social media. Firstly, the player’s own social media is important. How they represent themselves on platforms like Instagram, often reflects their attitude and approach to life and sometimes even shows their performance in school. Having an off-pitch impression of the player is always taken into account by agents. Through this the agent can usually also identify the family relationship and involvement in their career. This is important, particularly for youth players as the agent also needs to be able to work well with them.
This blog hopefully explains how agents must understand the game of football to an extent that allows them to judge which talents can also be potential clients and have the ability to succeed at the top level. Hence, scouting is very important for recruitment but not in the same manner in which a club scout would do so. For an agent, this is done more in a way that allows them to work with the best “clients” rather than just “players”.