As scouting in football has become increasingly complex and sophisticated over the years, gaining experience and insights into this crucial part of the game is invaluable. Stuart Millar brings with him a wealth of knowledge having served as Chief Scout/ Director of Football at some high-profile clubs including Ross County, Airdrieonians, Aberdeen, West Bromwich Albion during his career. With extensive international experiences under his belt too – from player development to youth talent identification – we gain an access-all-areas pass to pick Stuart’s brain on all things scouting within football. In this post we get answers from him on how it’s changed since he began working in the industry up until more recent times.
Q. Considering your extensive experience in both England and Scotland’s top-tier football, could you shed some light on the significant contrasts, if any, between the roles of a scout in these two regions?
A. In Scotland, a scout often has a more intimate relationship with the team manager. For instance, during my six-year tenure as Chief Scout at Ross County, I had regular weekly conversations with the manager, Derek Adams, despite being part-time. This was perhaps due to the relatively smaller size of the club, which resulted in a heightened sense of responsibility for the results. At Aberdeen, I maintained a strong relationship with both the manager, Craig Brown, and the Chief Scout, Craig Robertson, communicating several times weekly.
In contrast, my experience in England, particularly at West Bromwich Albion, was quite different. The club’s extensive network of scouts spread across major footballing nations reduced the role to a number, primarily providing opinions on players. My main contact was the Chief Scout, as I was the sole scout based in Scotland. The few interactions I had with Tony Pulis involved discussions about potential Scottish Premiership talents, and our opinions generally aligned.
Essentially, while the core responsibilities remain consistent, the scale of football operations, influenced largely by the significant financial resources available in England, creates a stark difference in the scout’s role between the two regions. In Scotland, a scout can potentially exert more influence due to closer ties with the management.
Q. Considering your experience with recommending Virgil Van Dijk to Tony Pulis, do you believe there’s a risk that clubs might inadvertently overlook potential talent simply because they are playing in Scotland?
A. While a scout can present compelling reasons for signing a specific player, the ultimate decision rests with the manager. During my tenure at West Bromwich Albion in 2014-2015, there was a distinct tendency to overlook players from the Scottish league, largely due to perceptions about the league’s quality. However, this trend has shifted in recent years, perhaps influenced by Brexit, with several young Scottish players being scooped up. Even so, it’s noteworthy that accomplished international players like Andy Robertson, John McGinn, and Ryan Christie were initially signed by Hull City, Aston Villa, and Bournemouth – all Championship clubs at the time, as no English Premier League clubs showed interest then!
Q. Given your diverse experience in scouting, coaching, and management roles, which position has brought you the most fulfillment, both personally and professionally?
A. First and foremost, nothing compares to the thrill of playing the game itself!
The gratification derived from management and coaching roles is immense when you’re on a winning streak, but it can feel isolating when things don’t go as planned. Similarly, scouting can often be a solitary pursuit, especially when you’re clocking up miles on dimly lit roads in the heart of winter, often without receiving fair compensation. However, the rewards are sweet when you spot a player who catches your eye.
In my stints as Director of Football at Stranraer and Airdrie, and even at Dumbarton where I was officially the Head of Recruitment, I was accountable for all football-related matters. This included hiring medical staff, managing all internal football personnel including the manager and backroom staff, kitman, establishing a scouting network, recruitment, opposition analysis, and so forth.
Every aspect of football I’ve been involved with has offered its own rewards when met with success. I wouldn’t say I’ve enjoyed one role more than another, although being the Director of Football does garner more respect within football circles.
Q. I’m keen on assisting individuals who aspire to venture into football scouting, particularly those who may not have followed a conventional football career. Drawing from your personal journey, what guidance could you provide to someone interested in this career path?
A. As you might already be aware, connections play a crucial role in football. It’s often essential to have a relationship with the manager or assistant, with trust being a key component from both sides. I would advise everyone to participate in the talent identification courses, including the SFA’s. Clubs are constantly on the lookout for individuals with both qualifications and experience. If you’re just beginning, attend as many games as you can and submit unsolicited reports on opposing teams or players to clubs. You never know where it could lead!
Q. With almost four decades dedicated to the game, it’s clear that your passion for this sport remains strong. Reflecting on your career, how have you observed the evolution of the role of a scout over the years?
A. The scouting role has seen significant transformation during my tenure, particularly with the advent of tools like Wyscout and Hudl that allow us to access almost every game and statistic imaginable. However, these tools can sometimes create a misleading picture of a player – nothing beats seeing them with your own eyes.
It’s also become common for clubs to enlist the help of eager young individuals willing to watch players and opponents without compensation. This, in my view, is quite unjust and diminishes the value of the role.
Recruitment is arguably as crucial as coaching in football, yet it’s often underrated. Every manager, whether their influence was positive or negative, contributed to my growth. It’s natural to pick up bits and pieces from what you enjoy and believe in most, but it’s also important to truly embrace your own beliefs. The real knack, I suppose, is not only believing in yourself but also convincing the players to share that belief. That’s the challenge – and then, victory follows!
Q. Was coaching always on your radar as a career path, or did this interest emerge later in your professional journey?
Building on my previous response, I love all roles in football. I’m in a state of readiness but also deeply satisfied with my own journey and academy. We receive incredible support from parents who enroll their children, local schools, and grassroots teams who hire us for guest coaching sessions. Despite the lingering thrill of playing for 3 points, I’m equally passionate about nurturing young talent. So, I wouldn’t say I’m agitated or impatient for the next opportunity. I would welcome another chance down the line, but being familiar with the nature of football, I can’t afford to be overly sensitive about it.
Stuart Millar’s experience as a scout within football is remarkable. His insight into the ever-evolving complexities of scouting in the sport has been invaluable and it was great to gain his insights on how the industry has changed over time, from traditional methods to modern technology and from one country to another. From Scottish clubs with smaller resources by comparison to English ones, there are noticeably different scouting approaches. It would be interesting to hear about what experiences anyone else has had when working between these countries and how they manage the differences between them. By continuing to facilitate discussion among those in the game, we can all benefit from shared information on developing successful talent scouting strategies that deliver results. As always, thank you for taking the time to visit us at our blog – check back soon for more updates!