FLP’S BOY SCOUT
Chris Dunlavy goes to scout school to learn how to analyse a player
WANT to know why nobody has stumped up £12m for Blackburn goal king Jordan Rhodes? Ask Colin Chambers.
“Jordan is one of the hardest players to analyse that I’ve ever known,” says Chambers, a former scout for Bolton and Charlton.
“You watch him and there’s not much there. He’s not that quick, he doesn’t hold the ball up with any extra strength, he hasn’t got much in the way of power. He’s not creative. But his finishing is incredible and in the right team he will get you 2030 goals a season.
“His biggest asset is his finishing and all the other attributes don’t really matter. But in the modern game clubs are looking for more in the player they want to sign.”
Chambers dispenses this wisdom to a packed classroom in Kirklees College, a stone’s throw from Huddersfield Town’s John Smith’s Stadium.
Tired of seeing his profession overrun by amateurs and charlatans, the jovial Yorkshireman now runs IPSO, a company dedicated to deconstructing this most mythical of jobs by teaching everyone the secrets of talent-spotting.
Colin Hendry attended one of Chambers’ courses, as did former Blackburn and Scotland forward Kevin Gallacher. The Sky pundit credits the course with “enhancing” the way he watches football.
“Clubs expect ex-professionals to have the knowledge, just because they’ve played at a good level,” says Chambers, who played semi-pro before learning his trade with Charlton.
“But it doesn’t really work like that. The way you watch a game as a scout is totally different to the way you watch it as a manager or a coach. It’s all about attention to detail. Steven Gerrard is a much better footballer than I ever was, but I guarantee he’d not be as good at spotting a player compared to a professional scout.”
This audience contains several track-suited members of Huddersfield’s Under-18 coaching staff, two coaches from Bradford Park Avenue, four Chinese students and, of course, me.
Over two days we are guided through every aspect of scouting: the differences between DVD and live games, how to build databases and contacts, how to compile player and opposition reports.
A visit is also included to Huddersfield, where we are detailed to study just one player – Charlton winger Callum Harriott – for the entire 90 minutes. Chambers’ advice (“even if a player barely touches the ball, you can learn a hell of a lot”) proves sage as the Addicks are battered 5-0.
Informative and interesting, the IPSO course is also peppered with anecdotes from Chambers’ days as a scout, both illuminating and cau- tionary. Like the one about a famous Premier League manager, whose mind games, it transpires, went far beyond antagonising opposition managers.
“When scouting a player, you’ve got to be aware of the team he is in,” said Chambers.“A good passer will struggle to impress if his striker isn’t making runs, or if he’s in a system that doesn’t suit. It doesn’t make him a bad player.
“Likewise, a poor player will be elevated by a bad side. If you look back over the years, a certain manager would often give a young lad his debut when the side was at its strongest.
“Then, after one game, he’d take him out again and wait for the bids to roll in. A million quid, two million quid. He knew that kid wouldn’t ever be good enough but he also knew nobody would realise. You have to be wise to those kind of tricks.”
Then there was the manager who thought he knew best.“A colleague of mine worked for a club who
played a friendly against a lower league side,” recalls Chambers.
“This young lad played really well and, straight after the game, the manager walked into the opposition dressing room and said ‘How much do you want for him?’
“All the scouts shook their heads. If that manager had only asked, there were about eight separate reports on this kid, all saying he wasn’t good enough. Everybody can have one good game, especially in a friendly.”
The key to avoiding such pitfalls, says Chambers, is repetition and return visits. Gone are the days when one wizened doyen would bend the manager’s ear.
Top clubs now have ten or more scouts spread throughout the country, all uploading multiple reports – often on the same players – to online databases, like Scout7 and Wyscout. No stone is left unturned.
“Don’t believe these loudmouths who say ‘I could see he was a player the moment he walked down the stairs’. Or ‘I walked out after ten minutes and said ‘Sign him up’,” adds Chambers.“That’s a load of rubbish. A good scout will watch a player a minimum of three times before he makes any kind of recommendation.”
By way of an example, he divulges his own scouting reports on Jamie Vardy, compiled in 2012 when the England man – and current Premier League sensation – was plying his trade at Fleetwood in the Conference.
The first advises that Vardy – ‘quick, but not lightning’ – be monitored. Two months later, after a hat-trick and a 40-yard lob in a 6-2 win over Ebbsfleet, quick has been upgraded to lightning and the report concludes with the words ‘sign him’. By that point, however, scouts were outnumbering fans at Highbury.
Some of Chambers’ scouting tips are obvious. Get the team shape right or everything else will be wrong. Be suspicious of stats.
One graphic showed a Chelsea game where Cesc Fabregas had 78 per cent passing accuracy, compared to John Terry’s 95. The Spaniard also won a greater percentage of headers.
Some are more subtle. Is a midfielder an anchor, a screener or a holder? Is a full-back unadventurous or just following his boss’ orders?
Others are more left-field: watch Monday Night Football and listen to the pundits. Why? It may be Carragher and Neville delivering the goods, but it’s professional analysts like Chambers doing the legwork behind the scenes.
Overall it’s an eye-opening insight into a profession that requires mileage, dedication and a skilled eye.
“I was very lucky to learn from a man at Charlton called Ted Davies, one of the best scouts who ever worked in the game.” says Chambers. “It is his knowledge I’m passing down and I believe it can change the way everyone – from scouts to journalists to supporters – watches the game.”
So, to the big question: would Chambers recommend Rhodes, currently a target for Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday?
“You need to build a side to suit him,” says Chambers. “But I tell you one thing, if you put him in a team like Arsenal, who create loads of chances, the kid would get 25 a season.”
MAN OF MYSTERY: Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes scores one of his many goals. Inset below: Scouting guru Colin Chambers. Bottom: Carragher and Neville on Sky SCOUT’S HONOUR: Jamie Vardy left, after his 40-yard lob for Fleetwood. Right: Our target, Callum Harriott, on a miserable night for