Co-Founder of the Professional Football Scouts Association
DAVID HOBSON is a co-founder of the PFSA with over 20 years experience of scouting for Manchester United, Bolton and Blackburn. David used to be a coordinator for one of United’s development centres in the north west of England. We tapped into David’s vast experience of recruiting for development centres to discover what you should be looking for when watching 5-7 year-olds.
Do They Use Both Feet
It is the first thing that I look for. You can go and try and observe these things in matches but it is easier at open training or skills sessions. I go to these events and you can see which players are comfortable using both feet. You can get the players to practise penalties with both feet and note which ones strike the ball as well and naturally with their left foot as they do the right one. Joe Reilly and George Tanner, who are now at Manchester United, were both players I spotted at a young age who had this. The simple reason why I think this is important is because it means you can spend more time developing other aspects with a player. It is also a key pointer to my next key aspect.
Movement And Balance
If a player can use both feet then he tends to have good balance. At the young age groups I place this above speed. Yes, speed is a great asset but at the younger age groups may just be because they have developed quicker than the rest. I think it is more important to watch how a player moves. Do they have good balance when they run with the ball? How do they set themselves when they pass the ball? What is their movement like on a pitch? Do they have a natural awareness to move into to space so they can receive a pass? Do they like to hunt down the ball?
In particular, I look for things that indicate whether a player has the capacity to learn and become a professional footballer. You cannot really tell if a player will go on to be a pro but we can develop them into pros. At this stage, we are just putting them on the path, so it is important to see if they have the capacity to be developed. You have already checked their ability with the ball. Here you have to observe their behaviours on and off the pitch. A big one is how they listen to their coach. Are they listening? Do they do as the coach asks them or do they just wander off and do their own thing? Do they join in and help their teammates when it is time to put the cones away or do they just walk straight off? I watch the players when they go in the canteen afterwards and see what they buy. Do they take a fizzy drink or a water? Do they have good habits that will serve them well as they develop?
Know Whom You Are Scouting For
You need to know how the Academies operate. What is the level of player they are taking? How will they develop the player you have? Can they develop the player you have? You may spot a player’s potential but if his skills are raw he may not interest one of the top clubs who will already have more polished players on their books.
You may have a boy who is the standout player for his Sunday football team. But if you take them to a top club, they may not be the top dog anymore and that can harm their confidence. They can become disheartened and in turn their development suffers because they are being overlooked and not enjoying themselves.
It is important to know how the clubs operate. It can ruin a player sending them to the wrong environment for their development, whereas if you get it right and match a player to the right club, they can flourish and fulfil the potential you have seen.
Observe The Parents
You have got to know a player’s family background. You need to know who the parents are because that will provide you with an indication on how they will develop.
A good example was with a player I took to Manchester United. They did not take him on because they felt he was overweight. I tried to explain that it was just puppy fat that would just drop off as he grew older but they would not have it. I knew the weight would drop off because I knew the player’s parents. They were both fitness instructors. Within a year, all the plumpness had fallen away but by now the player was at Manchester City. You have to take into account things like the resources of a family. It is a big effort, in terms of time and money, taking young players to train three times per week.