The Role of the Soccer Scout

The role of soccer scouts is more important than ever as clubs look to get a head start on their rivals.

Primarily, there are two types of soccer scout: the talent scout and the tactical scout.

The Talent Scout

The job of the talent scout is to attend matches with the objective of spotting potential players for their club to sign.

Such scouts are important because clubs are constantly looking to improve their squads, and those capable of seeking out untapped talent can make a club millions if that player ultimately helps his new employers to success on the field or is sold on at several times his original price.

The biggest clubs have worldwide scouting networks, with much emphasis placed on signing players at a young age. Portuguese giants Porto specialize in acquiring talent cheaply from across the world, before selling at a huge profit several years later once the player has established himself.

"We have to be permanently studying the youth market. This is what allows us to keep fighting, despite having a budget 20 times less in respect to income [than other leading clubs]," Porto chairman Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa was quoted by "Year after year we lose great players and then put our faith in players with great potential."

Scouting is now more important than ever with the globalization of soccer and the vast financial rewards garnered by results, prize money, television revenue, sponsorship and, of course, player sales.

"The tricky part of the scouting process is that everybody is doing the same thing," Porto scout and ex-player Rui Barros told "Big clubs are always on the lookout for the next big thing so we need to be fast and accurate in our picks. A bit of luck also helps."

Relatively few are employed full-time, with many clubs preferring to employ scouts based in different parts of the world on a part-time basis.

Scouts will attend youth tournaments, internationals, reserve matches, and league games domestically (often in the lower leagues) and abroad as clubs cast their net far and wide.

Some full-time scouts can work up to 80 hours a week, taking in as many as five games, and the job involves much traveling. Scouts do not make decisions on signing players. Managers, who along with sporting directors and chief executives have the final say, are provided with detailed reports on players, before deciding whether to make a move.

Soccer scouts, who often receive tips from agents, peers and club colleagues, will look for certain characteristics in a player such as speed, strength, aerial ability, and goalscoring prowess, depending on which position they play. The player’s character will also be assessed. Does he have the necessary work rate and mentality? Does he look after his body? Is he injury prone?

A full-time scout at a top club can earn well over US$150,000 a year.

The Tactical Scout

The job of the tactical scout is to attend other club’s matches and build up a knowledge base that a busy club manager would not be able to get on his own. These scouts will assess the tactics of the other team, patterns of play, and players who could cause his team a problem when the two clubs meet.

Managers will sometimes do their own homework on upcoming opposition as they seek intelligence that will help them achieve a positive result.

Andre Villas-Boas used to work as an assistant coach to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and would provide his compatriot with detailed reports on the opposition.

With millions riding on the results of matches, clubs leave nothing to chance in their quest to find out more about the opposition.

Villas-Boas would go as far as producing DVDs for the Chelsea players in which their specific opponents would be forensically analyzed.

“My work enables Jose to know exactly when a player from the opposition team is likely to be at his best or his weakest,” he was quoted in the Daily Telegraph. “I will travel to training grounds, often incognito, and look at our opponents’ mental and physical state before drawing my conclusions. Jose will leave nothing to chance.”

Whether assessing potential signings or the opposition, a good scout is crucial when it comes to getting a head start on the competition.