Are Professional Football Clubs Scouting Kids The Wrong Way?

“Anyone who tells you they can spot a professional player at five years old is basically lying,” says talent ID manager Nick Levett, an expert in the eight to 11-year-old age group and one of several FA appointments encouraging clubs to improve in this field.

Scouting football players as young as five, persuading an 11-year-old to sign a contract with private school education or offering a teenager’s parents a house. These are just some of the things English clubs are doing to secure the best youngsters in the country, in an increasingly desperate fight to beat rivals to sign potential stars.

But are they doing this to develop the player? Or to stop other teams from gaining the player?

Academies have came under extensive criticism due to the lack of first team players coming through the system. In the search for instant success, the cheque book approach is being adopted over developing youth.

The figures

There are approximately 12,500 players at present in the English academy system, however only 0.5% of under-nines at top clubs are likely to make it to the first team. Why?

The drop-out rate in football between the ages of 13 and 16 is alarmingly high with anecdotal evidence to support a similar number to Rugby union which can be as high as 76%.

So have clubs got it right or is it in a compete state of disrepair? And, with the number of foreign players in English football already making it harder for academy players to reach the top, is a different approach required at the bottom end to ensure talent doesn’t slip through the net?

With players such as Jamie Vardy developing late in his career into an international star it is clear, from the thousands and thousands of kids spat out of the academy factory line, that a change is needed. What would any change look like? And how could it be done?

We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject matter, please feel free to comment.


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Paul Kirton
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  1. Tom Wilcox on February 20, 2017 at 10:56 pm

    Get rid of academy’s clubs shouldn’t be able to sign any young player under the age of 16.Let them play boy’s club until that age and go back to the S FORMS if they are going to be good enough they will become players with their talent instead of 10 shirt fillers to keep 1 player.

  2. Thurlo on February 22, 2017 at 6:36 am

    It all depends on who the scout is..And what his loozing for…. Yes as a coach of many young players there are those naturally gifted and those that want to 2 win at all times and then there are those that juSt play for the love of the game.. to them it doesn’t matter whether they win or lose .. However the natural raw talent on display could be snapped up at a academy and never progress beyond a certain point because he is now taught a different way eg the Barcelona way of playing which may result that his restricted from showing his natural ability… Academies therefore could in some instances be good… but in most instances also harmful. .. Take Uniteds Damien. .. A brilliant right back and for months he was Uniteds best player… His now asked to play left back..The same with Oshea… A brilliant left back asked to play centre back then in midfield right back and all over the park… Coaches therefore without realising it do more harm than good.for that player as his a brilliant left back doesnt mean he can be a brilliant right back or centre back.. To me each position in that defence is a specialised position as each asks for a different apoach. .. as a right back you show the the right touch line and if you do the very same on the other side you offering the player the opportunity to run at your goal .. I feel that its the duty of every coach especially of young players to coach them the basics and let the kids be kids and play for the love of the game… The cream will always float to the top unless you constantly mixing the bowl the cream will just dissolve into the milk and lost forever…. That’s also one of the reasons children stop playing… It’s like being at school where there’s 50 children per class and another where there are 15… Those that have less pupils will get more attention than the 50 plus kids… Because in the 50 pupil class you will be told what to do… whereas in the class with less pupils you given the opportunity to express yourself… And we wonder why children hate school or the sport they playing… It’s because they not given that freedom to EXPRESS THEMSELVES..but told what to do and what the coach wants… How many times haven’t you seen a young defender run with the ball at his feet dribbling forward and the coach shouts pass the ball and get back…GET BACK…..

  3. stevie on March 14, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    I think we should breakaway from going to Eleven a side at age twelve and keep it small sided games untill say 15/16 years of age.The big kids who are fast runners and tall seem to dominate games and the smaller kids that can dribble and are may be more talented but get shoved off the ball lose heart and end up leaving the sport.Keeping it small sided lets them hone their skills and i think we would develop better players this way. Less chance of coaches ego as well winning at all cost.On another note do you think clubs should bring reserve leagues back or why not make top teams must play x amount of British players in a cup game this way it gives the young ones a a chance to play in the top team.As i know they spend a lot on foreign players so may be not in a league game but cup game different.

  4. iama2photmailcom on April 3, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Could not agree more with this. With the exception of a minute number of natural sporting geniuses, players are developed into professionals, not born into it. The teams that bring in huge numbers of players in the hope of finding the next superstar are going about it the wrong way.
    As a coach I’d rather be given a team of hopeless players who love the game and are desperate to improve than a team of brilliant footballers who think they’ve made it because they are playing for Manchester United or Arsenal. The team of weaker players would give their all to improve and with the right guidance there is no reason why they cannot make huge strides. At a young age, attitude is more important than ability and recruiting more players or “better” players isn’t the way to improve your squad. Recruiting more committed players on the other hand, might just work.

  5. Glenn Frost on September 6, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Are there any guidelines or rules a scout from a pro club should stick to when scouting a young player at a grassroots club? The reason I ask is, I am a junior coach at under 11 at a good local football club that provide football for under 7’s through to vets, including a good standard womens side and a Senior League male team.
    We have had 1 of our 10 year old boys invited to a trial for a London based Premiership side. They haven’t contacted the club, and the scout didn’t have the courtesy to talk to the boys coach, he by passed him and went straight to the parent. He has now been told he is not allowed to play for anyone else for 6 weeks while they asses him at training. After he has signed for our club.
    No one wants to stand in the way of a player progressing, but as a grassroots coach, we are doing our best for the kids, and we can have all that taken away because the pro clubs play by different rules. I’ve been told by a scout from the same club when I complained ‘what’s your problem, it’s the way football is’

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