The January transfer window is now under way and the gaping hole in our infrastructure, otherwise known as ‘Scouting’ is evident once again.
Mark Hughes made efforts to improve the club off the pitch in many ways, one of which was to try and improve the scouting. To do this, he brought in Mike Rigg from Manchester City, Rigg had completely overhauled the scouting set-up there and left it in fantastic shape. Rigg then appointed Stuart Webber who joined from Liverpool as a chief scout along with the respected Hans Gillhaus and Steve Hitchen. Gillhaus, who had previously worked for Chelsea and PSV, was to be primarily based in Holland. Hitchen would be located in France and Paul Dyer, who was also new, would be looking at lower-league talent in England. All of this was overseen by Mike Rigg and his infamous whiteboard that was divided up into sections. Player names would move around the board depending on whether they were first team, squad player, development potential or surplus to requirements and out on loan.
He also tried to implement a four-tier system of player recruitment. Premier League player was number one. The player that could come in and immediately fit in straight away. Number two was the ageing player with little resale value that would only cover short-term targets. The third was for development players between the ages of 17-21 who would go on to make the first team. The final was schoolboy. Rigg, believe it or not, wanted a global target list for each tier as he had managed to leave Manchester City.
There was an acceptance that perhaps agents had become to involved and were able to influence Tony Fernandes thinking too much, when it should have been left to the team. Players like Jose Bosingwa and Stephane Mbia were signed despite doubts over their attitude and obvious character flaws.
December saw Mike Rigg leave and Redknapp replacing him. With that, the former Spurs manager wanted to bring his own Chief Scout Ian Broomfield. It became clear early on that those brought in under Rigg and Hughes were no longer needed. With this Han Gillhaus was sacked, Stuart Webber joined Wolves as Head of Recruitment, Hitchen began working closely with Tottenham and Liverpool again whilst Dyer – who is good friends with Mel Johnson – was told he wouldn’t be needed.
Ian Butterworth joined as scouting co-ordinator, who’s job is to oversee and organise the scouts rather than do it himself. The set-up is back to almost as it was before, non-existent.
As usual we blew everyone else out of the water in regards to what we spent in the summer, Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips were the two stand-out performers in the Championship last year and cost the best part of £10m. Richard Dunne, Beniot Assou-Ekotto, Niko Kranjcar and Danny Simpson came in also, for little fees but astronomical wages – the latter was convinced to drop down a division and I don’t think that was because he admired David Bardsley. Joey Barton returned and has arguably, much to the disappointment of some fans, been a stand-out performer. Karl Henry joined for around half a million and has been pretty dire. Javier Chevanton, Oguchi Onyewu and Yossi Benayoun have recently signed on frees, but only the Israeli has featured regularly.
Uruguayan Chevanton was offered to Redknapp last year, whilst Rangers were in the top flight and despite being keen to sign the 33-year old, Chevanton rejected the advances. Despite earning only £1,000 a week in Leece, he was offered £15,000 to join on a six-month contract.
But Redknapp’s side finally got his man when he secured the South American earlier this season on a three month contract. Unfortunately, Chevanton understood very little English, was extremely unfit and generally not very good. He left in late December having only made one substitute appearance for the First Team. One would wonder why Jamie Mackie would be allowed to leave if this was the type of dross replacing him?
Former AC Milan defender Oguichi Onyewu was in a similar situation, although despite having an impressive CV, he is yet to feature in anyway – but you can never have enough bodies. Understandably, the board were then hesitant about sanctioning the signing of Yossi Benayoun, Redknapp was adamant that he was still a top,top player to have. Although he’s home debut against Doncaster looked more like a player that was after that final top,top pay day. Which is ironic.
For all our money spent, surely we are better off investing more into the scouting system and seeing what we come up with? For example, with all our links at Wycombe, how do we miss players time and time again? Before Jordon Ibe made his debut as a youngster aged 15, then manager Gary Waddock phoned Mel Johnson, who was instrumental in highlighting the talents of Lee Cook, Martin Rowlands, Danny Shittu and Lee Camp to QPR (he also was the first to see a 17-year-old Adel Taarabt in France and insured he signed for Spurs). Waddock told Johnson the Ibe was set to play and he was a talent not to be missed. Johnson changed plans, watched Ibe dazzle the crowd and celebrate his goal with his family. Liverpool paid £500,000 and is now one of the most exciting young players in England and featured against Rangers in the final game of last season.
Matt Phillips left Wycombe for Blackpool in a deal worth £325,000 and eventually made his way to W12 for £4m a couple of years later. It wasn’t as if Phillips was a late bloomer, everyone knew his potential, but Blackpool moved first.
The EDS are improving but are still a long way from many of them making a career in football, let alone breaking into the first team at Loftus Road. Tom Hitchcock is receiving a lot of attention recently due to the striker shortage. For those that have seen more than the 7 minutes he had on the pitch at Ipswich, he isn’t good enough. He is a tidy, young player that could make a career in League 1, but he certainly isn’t what we need. His contract is up in the summer, let him go out and make a name for himself. If you want to be interested in anyone it should be Mike Petrasso. He has a really good chance of breaking into the First Team if he keeps progressing.
Who knows what this month may bring, I’d imagine Cole, Wellens and Jelavic.. But it would be nice if we could get value for money, plan for the future and begin thinking about our longterm strategy rather than our normal scatter gun approach.
Successful clubs have a philosophy and stick to it, whether it will be players or managers changing, if only the board could remember that.