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The Science of Scouting: Agents

As part of our new series, Leicester City’s head of technical scouting Rob Mackenzie talks us through the ways a club can sniff out a bargain as well as the best way to avoid the pitfalls of being influenced by agents.

By Adam Bate.   Last Updated: 29/09/14 7:36pm

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We’re frequently told how agents are the scourge of football. There are tales of clubs being hoodwinked, agents who have the ear of key recruiters and that the media is being used to push players into deals that do not reflect their limited ability.

But if you’re Leicester’s Rob Mackenzie, the horror stories comes with a key caveat – they’re only a problem if you let them become a problem. Most issues can be avoided by being well prepared and ensuring you’ve done your own research. With Mackenzie doing biographical profiles and statistical analysis of players at home and abroad, he’s well-versed on the names that come up.

“We’ve been to the Wyscout forum for the last couple of years at the Emirates Stadium and there’s a familiar hierarchy to it,” he tells Sky Sports. “The agents will call my boss Steve Walsh, the head of recruitment, so he’ll get the information off them and drip feed it into me and my colleague Ben Wrigglesworth. We will then say to him either yes or no in terms of whether it’s of any interest.

Steve Walsh with Nigel Pearson

“At the Wyscout forum I’ll then be introduced to all these agents who’ll be telling me, ‘Oh, so you’re the guy that says no all the time! Every time I try to sell Steve a player, he’ll be leaning away on his phone to you and then telling me my player hasn’t played enough games or has an injury problem’.”

It’s a tale Mackenzie tells with a chuckle and he understandably sees this as a badge of honour. It’s a clue that he must be doing something right. “I think this sort of access to information has probably made their life harder,” he adds. “To be honest, at Leicester we aren’t easily led by agents.

“There’ll always be agents trying to sell you players and some of them are good and can give you valid recommendations. But there are others who you quickly realise are way off the mark in terms of what they’re telling you their player can do. That’s why we profile players ourselves then find out who the agent is as opposed to the other way around.”

Value of technical scouting

It highlights the point that the value of technical scouting can be seen in the players that a club doesn’t buy as well as the ones that they do. That’s of paramount importance at a club like Leicester where they can ill-afford to make an expensive mistake.

“One of the big selling points for technical scouting is efficiency and accuracy,” he adds. “We’re not just going to watch a player in Italy or Germany on the hoof. We go through this process for every player and if he doesn’t tick enough boxes then we don’t go. Someone else may buy him but based on the way we operate we wouldn’t go and take a look.

"One of the big selling points for technical scouting is efficiency and accuracy. We’re not just going to watch a player in Italy or Germany on the hoof. We go through this process for every player and if he doesn’t tick enough boxes then we don’t go."
Rob Mackenzie

“Obviously we’re governed by the finances. We follow the top leagues in Europe but we can only really look at a certain amount of players in those leagues for whom Leicester City is a viable venture for them. That takes out a lot of players.

“We look at players who have either one year or two years left on their contract. If the player is unsure of signing a new deal you might have a bit of bargaining power because they may have to sell them. If they are abroad you can set up a pre-contract agreement in the January to take them on a free transfer so you’ve got that option to point out to the club that they’ll get nothing in six months.

“We have to be as efficient as we can because we don’t have that man-power here in terms of eyes on the ground across Europe so we have to make the filtering process as realistic as we can. If we get told someone will be costing upwards of €10million then we have to look elsewhere.” Bad news for agents. Good news for Leicester City.

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