LUCA BIANCHIN / AIPS* – DUBAIThey move in small groups, travelling for up to 200km every day. Their society is built on a precise law: no-one trusts anyone else.

Scouts have been playing their own pivotal role in the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013. In search of good players at a low price, they are everywhere: on the stands, behind a door in the changing rooms, next to the buses of the teams.

They exchange information but each one knows that a colleague will be keeping a secret about an Ivorian midfielder or maybe an Argentinian striker.

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The top European clubs have been represented in the Emirates with two, even three scouts. From Chelsea to Manchester City, from Liverpool to Manchester United, everyone needs live information from the stadia.

Consequently, every club are ready to pay up to €4,000 for airline tickets and 10, even 15, nights in a five-star hotel.

Talent business

It has been easy to see scouts working for Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Olympiacos, QPR, Porto and Benfica in Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and in the other venues of the World Cup.

Together these, and a handful of agents working for minor clubs, go from town to town looking for the business of their life.

They do not have a massive budget but they know how to work.

“It’s important to stay informed,” says Beppe Corti, responsible for Atalanta’s scouting sector. “We know that we do not have the money to buy players like Kevin Mendez [Uruguay] but we can make deals together with a bigger team. A co-ownership sometimes could be a solution.”

Real Madrid and AC Milan are the main exceptions: they kept their scouts at home because they prefer to buy well-know, older, less risky players at higher prices.

The scouts often sit all together in the stands, taking notes on a piece of paper or, occasionally, on their iPads. They have no dress code: Jim Fraser, head of youth recruitment for Chelsea, was in Dubai to see Canada-Austria wearing a simple, grey T-shirt and most of his colleagues choose Bermuda shorts, sneakers or flip-flops.

The FIFA U-17 World Cup is a crucial stage for all of them.

Rules and regulations

Pierluigi Casiraghi, head scout of Italy’s Internazionale and who attends up to 150 live matches every year, had already seen the best Brazilian, Argentinian and Uruguayan players at the 2013 South American Under-17 Championship, in Argentina in April.

He has a story for almost every player: “Alen Halilovic [Croatia] had a try-out for us when he was 14 but it is not easy to close a deal with Dinamo Zagreb. We also noticed Mosquito [Brazil] some years ago but the rules do not help a club like Inter Milan.

“In 2013 you need three or maybe six million euros to buy a 16-year-old player and you can sign him only for three years. It’s a big risk because at 19 he will be free to sign for another team.”

In the first days of the tournament, Japan were the surprise team. More than one scout was impressed by Kosei Uryu, the man of the match against Russia, and by Kento Misao.

“A person working for Barcelona talked to me after the game,” another scout recalls. “He told me that he was astonished: the Japanese played tiki-taka better than his players in La Masia.”

Quality strikers

Nigeria also began well, prompting Casiraghi to say: “The best forward in the tournament, in my opinion, is Nigeria’s Isaac Success. Mosquito is good and impressive in the goal area, in the last metres. But Isaac Success co-operates with other players in a way which is very impressive. He can score goals too and has a lot of qualities.”

The best quality for a scout, according to Casiraghi, is the courage to trust his feelings.

“What matters most when I want to decide on a player is the first impression and first emotion that the player gives on me,” he says. “It is like seeing a woman walking down the street: does she turn your head?”

Of course, scouting is not only a matter of sensations. He adds: “A good scout needs to have very good knowledge of their own team and what kind of players they need and in which position. No use signing a leftback if your club already has one.”

If an ‘unknown’ plays a huge game, a scout will be contacting the player’s club as soon as possible. If he is lucky, he will find the player’s agent in the stands.

Hence the U-17 World Cup is also interesting for agents. It’s not difficult to meet two or three of them in a stadium, taking notes just as the scouts do. Their goal is to come into contact with the best players and their families. In the best case scenario, they will become brokers in a deal between two clubs.

The families are not difficult to find, either. Some of them were the loudest supporters of their own countries’ teams.

They stand out, just like the best players.


* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA

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