Scouting in football can be a risky business, and Mick McCarthy’s TV appearance at the weekend reminded me of this. During Sunday’s edition of Goals on Sunday, the former gaffer explained how his scouts at the club had spent time looking at young Irish winger James McClean – who has become a vital part of Sunderland’s team in recent months. However, after considering the options available, McCarthy and his team opted to sign the much-senior Stephen Hunt instead – a decision which has since been questioned by fans.
But let’s be honest, scouting isn’t all that easy. We’ve all sat on Football Manager at some point screaming at the screen after shelling out tens of millions on a player dubbed a ‘wonderkid’ or ‘the next Ryan Giggs’ – only for them to turn into the next Tomasz Frankowski instead. There are tens of thousands of players in the world, and you’re obviously going to miss the odd one.
We know this all too well at Wolves, having opted out of signing a number of talents over the years. The names that immediately come to mind are Maris Verpakovskis (Latvian international striker, went on to play in the Champions League) and goalkeeper Antti Niemi (became an established Premier League player). Alongside the decision not to sign new players, there are also the ones we let go – Elliott Bennett and Keith Andrews just to name a couple.
But my point is this. I argue that the scouting system at Molineux has to be one of the best in the country, based on the financial and staffing constraints at the club. We of course don’t have the financial power of Manchester City, or indeed the global knowledge of Arsenal, but we have managed to pick up some fantastic talent to help build a Premier League team. Notably, much of this is down to Mick and his backroom staff.
Let’s look at the evidence. The first one that spring to mind is Michael Kightly, who was picked up for next-to-nothing from the wilderness of non-league. And the reason we were able to beat the competition (including Manchester United) to his signature was our scouts spotted him first. We all know the player Kightly went on to be and, if it had not been for injuries, would have been pushing for an England call.
Speaking of internationals, Matt Jarvis is another one picked up through the scouting system. Picked up for a relatively cheap price from Gillingham, Jarvis has gone on to become a real fan’s favourite at Molineux and break into the England squad. With the situation the club is in, Jarvis could well be on his way in the summer as bigger clubs circle like vultures. But, if he does go, the club should make a today profit on what they paid several years ago.
Stephen Ward was another bargain basement buy. Fully versatile, playing in pretty much every position for the club, Ward must be regarded as one of the scouting team’s best ever finds. Plucked from the Irish leagues as a striker, Ward is now an establish Premier League full-back and and Irish international. Yes he has struggled for form this season, but nobody can deny his contribution over the last few years.
Karl Henry is another one who joined on the cheap, having been spotted at Stoke by the scouting team. Again, he not only went on to establish himself as a first-team player, but also became the club’s captain – lifting the Championship trophy back in 2009. Kevin Foley also proved a useful signing, with his performances in the promotion year earning him the player of the season award at Molineux.
I could go on. George Elokobi, David Jones, Andy Keogh – while not proving as successful as others, still contributed to the club’s rise in recent years and all cost under £1m each.
And yes, I’ll be the first to admit we have had some howlers in the last few seasons as well. The giant Austrian Stefan Maierhofer turned out to be just an expensive bean pole, while Neill Collins never really established himself as a solid defender. But we’re all allowed the odd mistake aren’t we?
Competing for players in the tough market place that is the transfer market must be a nightmare for managers. Hunting out the bargains is becoming increasingly difficult nowadays as the bigger clubs expand their networks all over the world. However I remain optimistic about our own network and the talent it is clearly capable of discovering. We may not be the fine art dealers of the footballing world, but there sure is a David Dickinson-feel about the club – and not just for the golden colour.
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