Scout – the word has its origins in the military, and of course in the scouting movement. We need scouts for our own efforts to explore unchartered terrain and go into battle with the best practical tools at our disposal. Our scouting department is numerically pretty humble, about one-fifth of the size of a typical major European club. How is it the case then that we are said to have one of the best scouting systems in Europe? What differentiates a good scout from a bad one? And what do our scouts actually do all day? We took a glimpse behind the scenes to find out.
Scouting brings a massive amount of work. Mountains of data, terabytes of video clips and countless trips to cold football grounds. It is a hard grind when in the best case scenario your work will prove to have paid off three years later. A scout has to see things that regular football pundits don't. If he wants to be regarded as a good scout, he has to be get there earlier than the rest. "We want to discover and sign highly talented young players as early as possible and as quickly as possible," is the job description of a FC Red Bull Salzburg scout. What does that mean in practice though? Imagine you are on a three-lane motorway...
We make as much progress as we can in the slow lane. This stands for the surrounding area, in which we try to pick out the best local young footballers with talent days and regional scouting. This talent pool is limited, of course. At some stage we get stuck behind a lorry and have to change lanes to overtake. To accelerate, we sign European talents. From the age of 16, youngsters from within the EU can be signed. There is plenty of competition for them despite the risk that the talent may never become a professional footballer. Top clubs can be hesitant to get involved due to the uncertainty. We see this is a chance and show off our fantastic set-up, showing the player our stadium and the academy we work with. The recent signings of Bryan Okoh, Maurits Kjaergaard and Benjamin Sesko are great examples of how this approach can bear fruit. They are all carefully selected talents. To help churn up the best talents lurking in the transfer market, we are guided by our philosophy. European top talents should improve our squad bit by bit in places where we are lacking local talent. They are the icing on the top of the cake - as for the cherries, these can be found in our fictional fast lane.
From the age of 18, players can be signed on international transfers. Acting fast pays off on the pitch and also in a business sense - as the cases of Diadie Samassekou and Amadou Haidara have shown. Like any motorway, our fictional route has its own road markings. Generally we don't sign players aged over 23. We allow ourselves a hard shoulder though too. Our over-23 signings Andre Ramalho and Zlatko Junuzovic have played a vital role in supporting our youngsters with their leadership qualities. These are exceptions that support the rule, however.
If it sounds easy, it isn't. Every transfer needs a scouting process. Generally this begins long before there is even a possibility of a transfer, let alone when it eventually takes place. At the start of every scouting process comes the 'what' question? What kind of player do we want to sign? In most cases it is the coach or sporting director who decides this alone. Not for us though, as we follow our guiding principles first and foremost. Every position, from goalkeeper to striker, has their own set of requirements. These focus around a determined playing style, ability to transition quickly and positive mentality. Those who meet this criteria go onto the shortlist. For this process, thousands of footballers are watched, however. Our scouts do this on a computer. There are 400,000 players on their database.
Our scouts can get a very detailed idea already from their computer screen - such as how direct is their play or how determined are they after losing possession? There are things they can't see though. That's where the ever dependable combination of video scouting and pitch scouting come in. Pitch scouting allows for an image to be gained away from the camera. What does the player do when the ball is out of play? How do they warm up? No detail is spared. If a talent passes this litmus test then their name goes on the so-called end scouting list, which is ranked according to priorities. The absolute ideal player in each position is in first place, and behind them players are ranked according to their quality.
The product of all this work then gets stored away in our system and waits for the moment that sporting director Christoph Freund knocks on the door and says: "We need a new centre-back!" Then things can move pretty quickly as the long scouting process is already complete. The wheels set in motion and within days our new signing can be shaking the hand of our club bosses and grinning into the cameras. If you want more detail on how transfers work, take a look at our article on that here.
So the scouting's done? – No way! Now the focus is on the player developing as well as possible and that means more and more loan deals. Our scouts keep a watchful eye on our players who have spells at other clubs. A loan can mean a lot of things, after all - a few months abroad to help personal development, a boot camp to gain playing time or a trip back home to boost confidence. There to find out if the loan has really served its purpose is the scout. There is no time to waster after all. Our idea of transfers is to give youngsters a chance but also to sell them on at a profit. A buy and sell strategy, you could say. It is a point of our principles that has been criticised in the past, but our head of recruitment Christopher Vivell says "selling players is only bad when you can't adequately replace them." He's right. Despite the public doubting it, the constant flux in our squad has worked perfectly well in recent years.
What are the reasons for this continued success? Knowledge, quick decisions and a bit of luck. It is not just about the vast wealth of knowledge in the scouting department at the Red Bull Arena, it is the way it is applied and a lucky touch at times, perhaps that little bit extra too. Definitely what helps is the continuity and faith in our guiding principles, which we follow every day with great determination.