Still Alive; This Time With Scouting

So I put a thing on Twitter about my new scouting set up, and then quickly realised while trying to explain it to Samo that the theory and execution were a bit too in depth to convey in the character limit. So here we are.

There’s a lot, to be entirely fair, that’s already been written about scouting in FM18 – the new scouting centre, how it works, why it doesn’t work (I disagree with this) and how the old report emails were better (I also disagree with this) – so I’m not going to cover what’s already been written. Instead, I’m just going to talk about how I’ve got my scouting team set up to work and the theory behind my scouting structure.

First things first, you’re going to need to have a look at some other stuff.

  1. For a great look at targeted and efficient scouting and transfer policy, read La Magica; The Monchi Files from the wonderful Strikerless.
  2. For the stats I use in my shortlist views, read Part Five of that series where Guido lays them out and the reasons behind them.

While I’m not using the exact scouting set up detailed here, the general theory of it is a key foundational element of what I’m doing with my Ajax side’s scouting department and it’s because of this that I’ve been able to put together a team for relatively low cost that has a truly staggering net worth and made a clean sweep of both domestic and European silverware in the 2022/2023 season.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen the level of insane talent that Benjamin Sturm has, but I’m going to talk about my star left winger Paulo Borges instead. Both players were found using this system, but for me Borges is a slightly better example of what I’m talking about.

To start with, and before we get to the player in question, let’s talk about how I’ve got my scouts set up and why I have them doing that. And also, if you’re that way inclined, how you can do something similar with your scouting team.

ScoutingStaffViewExample

An example of my scouting staff view.

The image to the left shows a sample of what my scouting staff view looks like. It does also include filters for the judging data attributes, but we’re talking about scouts right now so I left them off.

These stats, other than youth which is just interesting for me, are the important ones for your scouts to have to my mind – determination is good for everything and everyone, adaptability gives you an idea of how quickly the scout in question will adjust to any new countries they visit, discipline is something I like to have but isn’t key and judging current and potential ability levels are fairly self explanatory. Tactical knowledge is there so I can work out which scout is the best option for telling me about my next opposition.

Now, I’m several years into the save so my scouting team is very, very good indeed (and greatly expanded – I have 22 scouts) but that’s not really something you need to worry about as it’ll come with time and over that time it’s really not that difficult to gradually improve the quality of your scouts. At the end of the day it all comes down to what you think anyway, with the scout reports being a helping hand rather than a be all end all situation.

So! You’ve got your scout team and you’ve worked out who’s good where and what they’re best at. Case in point, Gerardo Guzmán is my best scout (pretty obvious why), so even though he’s not employed as my chief scout, he’s going to be acting like my chief scout for all intents and purposes. Now you need to work out your scouting structure.

First of all, from the scouting screen and in the Scouting Centre tab, you’re going to want to set the scouting responsibility to the manager rather than the chief scout or director of football (if you have one) to give you much greater control in setting up your scouting team. When you’ve done that, it’s time to actually send the scouts out on assignments that fit in the general structure you’re going for.

ScoutingStructure

The diagram from Twitter.

The image on the right is the chart I threw together that spawned this post, and it does a fairly good job of showing the base idea of the structure I’m employing for scouting, but it doesn’t show the specifics of what’s going on behind the scenes of what I’m doing.

Let’s start with my domestic scouts.

I’m currently managing, as you may have gathered, at Ajax. A key part of the club’s philosophy (and mine) is to sign and develop young talent that then either goes on to play a big role at the club or is sold for considerable profit at a later date. Therefore, being able to find talent in the domestic leagues that can be developed into something is important when it comes to registration rules for continental competition, as well as the fact that it’s always nice to have domestic talent at your club to supplement what you get through in your youth intakes.

My domestic scouts aren’t the best but they do have the best knowledge of Holland, and this is where the structure comes into play for the first time – they don’t need to be the best scouts at the club, because my ‘chief’ scout is there to double check their work. Obviously, decent quality is nice but my scouting structure is one of checks and balances – they find a player, the chief scout looks at him and gives me a report on his potential, if I think he’s good the chief analyst looks at him and if I still think he’s good he goes on a shortlist.

For me, I’m looking for young players under the age of 21 (or under 19 for the U19s scout, shockingly) and with a ‘good’ minimum potential ability, but you can easily tailor and tweak that to what you’re looking for. It’s important, as far as I’m concerned, to set this age manually instead of selecting ‘hot prospect’ on the assignment screen for one reason:

TheHotProspectIssue

The issue I’m talking about.

As you can see, if you pick ‘hot prospect’ from that menu, you’re locked into players under the age of 24. If you want to change that, you have to remove it and at that point you might as well set it up manually anyway. So set it up manually.

It also locks in the minimum potential ability level which, like maximum age, you’ll have to remove if you want to change it so… yeah. Do this manually with the ‘all’ player status. At the end of the day, it actually saves a bit of time and gives you more control.

My roaming scouts are set up a little differently, and their structure is also a little different. Where my domestic scouts all, essentially, report to my chief scout in terms of structure, my roaming scouts are split into two tiers – those that deal with an entire region, and those that deal with a country within a region.

On the surface of it, this might seem like overkill but the theory behind it is, in my opinion, solid: the scouts covering regions have higher adaptability and higher CA/PA than the ones covering nations within those regions and as a result, they’re a built in check and balance.

 

NationScout

Nation scout setup.

It works like this, as shown in the images to follow. My nation scouts have decent adaptability, good knowledge of the nation they’re being sent to and lesser CA/PA than the regional scouts. They’re sent to find players under the age of 21 and with a minimum of a ‘good’ PA in the opinion of the scout in question. I’ve not set any minimum attribute requirements to maximise the number of reports I get. All of my nation scouts are sent to nations that typically produce good players with some regularity, as well as ideally being nations with a lower reputation than the nation that I’m based in so I can use that, along with club reputation, to leverage transfer prices.

RegionScout

Regional scout setup.

My regional scout set up is very similar, but with two key differences – the PA ceiling is higher and they’re scouting a region instead of a nation. The regional scout has very good adaptability, decent knowledge of the countries in their region and has better CA/PA than the nation scouts.

The theory here is simple – ignoring the scout report email you get every so often, check the actual reports from the assignments tab in the scouting centre. Look through the reports from your nation scouts first, then cross reference them with the reports from the regional scout that matches up with the nation in question. If a player appears in both reports, he’s likely a player that’s worth at least a second look.

Naturally, this isn’t an infallible system, and neither should you only go by players appearing in both reports, but it’s a fairly good indication of who might be good. Also naturally, players that don’t appear on both lists but you think might have something can be included in your shortlists – this tiered structure is there for guidance, not as a rigid thing that you absolutely have to adhere to.

Let’s assume that you’ve got a player that’s been found by your scout based in Switzerland. Let’s further assume that that same player has also been found by your regional scout and they agree that the player is good. Where do we go from here?

Well, we go to the shortlists.

This is where my levels of intensity start to get to heights best described as ‘worrying’, fair warning, but honestly you don’t need as many shortlists set up as I have – I just like to have the amount of compartmentalisation that I do. So here’s what it looks like:

  1. Default shortlist you can’t get rid of. I use this for all players that come through any report so I know where they are and have them all on one page for double checking and seeing what I think of players that don’t overlap national and regional scout reports.
  2. Shortlist for domestic players. Like is says on the tin, really. Helps with stopping the specialised lists getting too overwhelming.
  3. Shortlist for overlapping reports. This one’s for players that appear at both the national and regional tier of scout report.
  4. Preliminary Chief Scout shortlist. Look through the overlapping and domestic player shortlists, work out which players fit, or might fit, your tactical system, bang them in here, throw your chief scout at them.
  5. Ongoing scouting shortlist. If your chief scout likes a player from the previous list, bang them in here to check out how they perform over at least half a season. Pay special attention to the ‘[x] per 90 minutes’ and general performance (tackles, interceptions etc) stats. Send your chief analyst out to have a look at them too.
  6. Shopping list. This one’s for the players that have worked their way through every other list you have and have shown you something. Chief scout goes out again, and your chief analyst goes after them too – both for final check ups for attribute changes and personality/report shifts (things like consistency, big games etc).

Yes, this is absolutely a bit much. Yes, this takes a minute to set up and get used to. Yes, this is likely insane. But it does work. The goal, here, is to start with an overwhelming number of players and gradually, list tier by list tier, whittle them down to the handful that you think have something a bit special about them.

And now, finally, we get to Paulo Borges.

He came through from my scout based in Portugal, originally, as a right footed left winger with high potential. I was intrigued immediately due to the fact that I play an inverted winger in the left midfield slot, and having a right footed player there is something I like. I made a note of the name and then moved to the regional scout, where I also spotted him. Straight away I was more interested.

BorgesHistory

Borges’s history.

He made his way through the shortlists and scouting hurdles until, as you can see from the image above, we signed him for Ajax for the princely sum of £500k. As you can also see from the image above, he’s performed very well for us (last season was an anomaly in terms of his goal involvements as he struggled for fitness after a string of annoying injuries), and has gone on to replace Mattias Svanberg (sold to Bayern for £44mil) as my first choice in that position. Here’s what he’s worth now:

BorgesAttributes

Not bad, eh?

So from this we know a couple of things.

Firstly, we know that the lad’s amazing. Secondly we know he’s worth one hell of a lot more than when we signed him. Good coaching, good development and a solid amount of playing time led to him becoming a truly world class player that is firmly entrenched on the club icons list.

But he’s still at the club which is only one part of the system – I also mentioned that signing to develop and then sell was a key part of the system, and so I direct you to Afshin Abdi.

An Iranian winger that only came through in the regional report because I don’t have anyone scouting Iran for reasons that are fairly obvious. I liked the look of him, so like Borges he fed his way through the system before signing for us.

AbdiExample

The profit margin.

Some time with Jong Ajax, a half season on loan at Inter and then a season playing off the bench for us, then he was off to sunny Manchester for a massive profit. Feeding players through like this means that the rotation of squad players is quite high, but we’re able to hold on to our big names by paying them big wages with the money made from player sales, thus keeping the team strong but also giving young talents space to develop as rotational options and by playing from the bench.

TransfersOut

Transfers

That’s what we made in player sales last season, with Abdi, Nicão and Vecchi all players that were signed with this system and then sold for major profit margins which gave us the ability to pay players competitive wages to keep them at the club instead of moving to some of the bigger clubs in Europe, whilst also giving us even more money to spend on bringing in young, precocious talents that we can repeat this process with.

Finances

Club finances.

As you can see from the state of our finances, we’ve been making sales fairly regularly, wages pay out, and then we make more sales to keep the balance up – a key facet of my financial philosophy has been to make season profits get as close to the wage bill as possible so that we keep a good turnover, as well as getting bonuses from gate receipts, season tickets and prize money.

When you combine all of this you end up with something that looks a bit like my finances on the left there – from a balance of roughly £50mil at the start of a fresh save, to over £380mil six years later to go with one of the best squads in Europe and the silverware to prove it.

Yes, my structure and how I use it is intense but it’s hard to argue with the results, really.

And now, because this is quite long, the TL;DR version:

  • Set your scouts up manually in a way that works well and that compliments your team and your philosophy.
  • Use tiered shortlists intelligently to further filter players down from hundreds to a handful.
  • Make sure you’re sure about that handful before you sign them.
  • Develop those players into either first team stalwarts or players that get moved on to further fund your club’s success and the scouting machine that drives it forward.

This particular system has taken me six years to put into operation, along with six years of marginal upgrades to the scouting team – both size and quality – so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to fully replicate this exact thing right away in a fresh save, but I do like to think that it serves as a good example of what can be done when you have a long term plan and use the mechanisms within the game almost against the game.

Here’s hoping you find the level of success with this that I have!

 

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