How to buy a footballer
PHASE 1 | THE SCOUT
Barry Hunter, chief scout at Liverpool
What most fans don’t realise is virtually every transfer target is planned at least two windows ahead. When I was at Manchester City in 2006 we signed Joe Hart, and my top priority, straight after, was to source a replacement for him – for either the future or in case he didn’t work out.
Every manager has his own targets, but wish-lists tend to be drawn up based on who the scouts recommend. The manager will often ask his scouts to keep track of a certain player, but we will probably be looking at him anyway. Liverpool’s network is like Big Brother – we are everywhere. Since the scouts, along with the director of football, are on the road a lot, we try to forge initial links with most clubs, so if a transfer is on the cards there is a already a pre-existing relationship between the buyer and seller.
Another point to note is, scouts are basically analysts these days. We have to input data into a complex network. In the days of Brian Clough, scouts would see a player, approach them face-to-face and pretty much make an offer there and then. Now, all kinds of information gets put into a computer, meaning scouts don’t just watch matches, they have homework afterwards.
PHASE 2| THE MANAGER
Peter Taylor, ex-Bahrain and current England U20-boss
Virtually every manager wants control over who they sign, but increasingly comings and goings are influenced by directors of football or even the owners themselves. You can either kick up a fuss over this or just roll with the punches. Ultimately, you have to trust your staff to either land your targets or bow to their judgment when it comes to certain situations.
Managers don’t always have time to scout, especially abroad, so it helps to have a team to lend a hand. If you are going to let them do this, you have to also respect their opinion too. When I was at Leicester City we didn’t have a director of football and I had carte-blanche to sign who I liked but, since the advent of the Premier League, at most clubs the manager is more an ambassador than an initiator in the transfer process. By this, I mean they agree on a target, even if it’s not their own choice, then use their personality, persuasive skills, style and stature of the club to help seal the deal. The manager is crucial in this respect, since the player must feel comfortable playing week-in, week-out under them or they just won’t sign.
PHASE 3| THE AGENT
Trevor Steven, ex-England international and licensed FIFA agent
The agent is there to broker a deal, getting the best possible package for the player or, at times, the selling club. Agents have bad reputations, but the FIFA-licensed ones work in an extremely transparent way. All the logistics behind a deal are openly declared and FIFA keep very stringent records. We are certainly not the wheeler-dealers of the 1980s and ’90s.
The agent is there to let the player focus on football. They allow him to be pretty much kept out of the whole process, right up until their unveiling, meaning they are not badgered by fans, press or, most importantly, prospective buyers. In addition, the agent sometimes prompts a deal if they know their client wishes to leave. They will do this by alerting interested parties, but only once they have consulted with the selling club and let them know their player wants out. Transfers in the Middle East work in exactly the same way as everywhere else. The only difference is non-Emirati players go in a bit blinder. They don’t know the standard or culture of the region as well, and thus the agent has to do more research to advise them on whether the move is right. Works permits can also be harder to obtain.
PHASE 4| THE PLAYER
Michael Owen, ex-England striker
At the height of my career I was linked with a number of clubs, and it is separating the rumours from the realistic moves that is the real task, and the area where your agent earns his money. As a player, I had ultimate say where I wanted to go. I never let the agent, or the selling club, dictate my future.
However, if your contract is coming to an end, and you know it isn’t going to be renewed, there is a real pressure to find a new club. When it came down to it, the manager, and a happy dressing room, were the two main factors I looked for. Certain players want big signing-on fees or wages, but I left that side up to my agent. I would never join a club unless I was sold on the manager, since he is the person you have the most day-to-day contact with. That’s why I chose Stoke City over Al Shabab last year. I would have been well rewarded by the latter, but I didn’t know enough about the UAE Pro League, manager, stadium or standard to uproot my family, so chose to stay in the Premier League.