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The Guide to Football League Scouting

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Is Football league scouting different to Premier League Scouting?

Football scouting has always had a bad reputation. Visions of old men cornering young players and promising them the world.

Today's scouting world is a far cry from these stories, with rules in place to protect players and clubs. The new academy compensation scheme is just one of these regulations.

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Premier League Spotlight

We all know the endless media coverage and speculation about the elite clubs. But how does football league recruitment differ for clubs without billionaire owners? What tactics do these clubs use to bring find and attract new talent? And where can you position yourself to increase your chance of them finding you?

Scouting the Lower League

The lower down the leagues you go, the smaller everything becomes:

  • Budgets
  • Stadiums
  • Wages
  • Transfers fees
  • Attendances
  • Staffing
  • Scouting network
  • Squad Size

Therefore the clubs must be efficient when identifying new talent. They must lower the risk of losing money.
None more so than the clubs relegated from the Premier League. These clubs still have high wage bills and expect to get promoted. These clubs would be wiser to balance the books by streamlining there processes. Instead of investing too much to get back to the big league.

League One and Two Club Scouting

Smaller clubs cannot buy experience players, so need to be to be clever in the transfer market. These clubs cannot compete financially, so either looks for youth or non-league potential. Seeking Under 21 or Under 18 academy league players, or even overseas.
These clubs offer non-financial benefits including:

  • Hands-on support and coaching
  • Clear pathway to the first team (not guaranteed by top clubs)
  • Much like the path Jamie Vardy career took.

Vardy's Journey Through the Leagues

The poster boy for non league recruitment has to be Jamie Vardy. His rise from nowhere to lifting the Premier League trophy is the stuff of dreams.

First Fleetwood Town took a gamble to help them gain promotion. Then Leicester City took a £1 million gamble for the non-league player.

But, Vardy's goals helped Leicester City to the 2015/16 Premier League title. Making it one of the best return on investments in football.

Many Championship and Premier League clubs had scouted Vardy before he joined Leicester City. This highlights that even the biggest clubs like a bargain and unearthing potential stars.

The First Team Pathway for Lower League Clubs?

The development squads of lower league clubs are smaller than elite clubs. Therefore, the competition is lower to reach the first team. Unlike Chelsea and Manchester City, these teams cannot stockpile reserve players, so every signing must be better than what is already at the club.

Club Scouting Plans

Club plan out their recruitment strategy at the start of the season. This includes the budget and preferred location of there scouts. Often clubs hire part-time scouts to cover more regions, which ensures they have experts in each location.

The board dictate how much funds are available for scouting. This is down to the clubs recruitment philosophy.
Once the scouts have found potential signings, they feed the info back to the clubs analysts.

A club should have good communication with their scouts, as they need to identify what type of player they are after. A lot of successful recruitment comes down to the clubs philosophy and whether a player fits into that team.

Contracts in Lower League Football

The average football league contract is a lot shorter than a Premier League player contract. Clubs look to sign players for 2-3 years, opposed to 4-5 years in the Premier League.

This may influence a scouts decision on a player. As they must assess if the player can go straight to the first team, or if he's one for the future.
The Bosman Ruling

Scouts must also be aware of the Bosman ruling when recruiting. This may entice a club to a player nearing the end of his contract, knowing they won't have to pay a transfer fee.

At the end of every season, all football clubs receive a list of UK based players available through the Bosman ruling.

Recruiting Players Released from Top Academies

Lower league scouts keep an eye out for talented youngsters released from top academies. This can be a good strategy, although youth academy wages can give players an unrealistic view of professional football. These high wages also put off potential lower league clubs.
Most of these players only have experience in academy football. Therefore football league clubs must assess if the young player is cut out for pace and power of lower league football.

There is a huge difference between playing youth football and lower league football such as:

  • A lot of experienced professional already playing
  • Often lower standards of pitches
  • Poorer facilities
  • Congested league fixtures means playing Tues/Wed and Saturday most weeks
  • Lack of Youth

Whether it's players not taking a pay cut, or teams not taking a chance, but there is a lack of youth players (18-21) starting lower league games. Is this a sign that the modern academy system is failing players by not preparing them? Or is the short-term strategy of playing experienced players only, trickling down to the lower leagues.

Football League Scouting - Loan Signings

Another popular strategy for scouting talent is the loan market. Lower league clubs use this method to attract young players in need of first-team football. This can be difficult as Premier League clubs want there youngsters playing at a standard to prepare them for Premier League football. Also, they may not let there most talented players play in the physical lower leagues.

Another negative is the fines imposed if the loan player doesn't start enough matches, even if he's not good enough. This is when the two clubs use of the loan system differs. The football league club want players to improve the first team and the Premier League club want to develop their player.

Most Premier League academy players will never play for the first team but still, earn high wages. Therefore it's not uncommon for a Premier League team to split the wage so a player can get first-team football.

Scouting Youth Loan Players

The final loan option is the youth loan system. This allows players under 21 to go out on loan at any time before their 21st birthday. They can also play for their parent clubs under 21s, whilst on loan at another club. This lowers the risk for both clubs, as the player will play either first team or u21's football.

Scouting the Academy Leagues

Scouting academy leagues is an important strategy for clubs without an academy. It allows them to gather data on young players. Using video technology and live scouting enables them to create player profiles.
The Standard of Lower League Football

The Premier League riches attracts the best players from all over the world. Therefore talent is now filtering down to the lower leagues, meaning more homegrown players must pave careers in the Championship and below. This has made it even harder for unsigned players to get a chance, as the standards keep improving. Long gone are the days of 'long ball' football. The lower leagues now focus on skill and athleticism, so these are the attributes that scouts look for.

Conclusion

Football League Scouting involves a team of specialist working to find the right player. Clubs can either identify players for the first team, or players who they can sell on for a profit. So playing lower league football to put yourself in the shop window might not be such a bad idea.

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