Noel King

Republic of Ireland U21 Head Coach and Head of Talent ID for the ROI

NOEL KING has been Republic of Ireland Under-21 head coach since 2010. He is also in charge of the FAI’s Talent ID programme.

Following the departure of Giovanni Trapattoni in September 2013, Noel was promoted to the role of interim manager of Ireland’s senior team for World Cup qualifying matches against Germany and Kazakhstan. Here he uses his experience of talent spotting for the FAI and as former manager of Shamrock Rovers, Limerick, Derry City and Finn Harps to share his key pointers to identifying talent.

Be Prepared

If the scout is hungry, cold, late, lost or badly positioned in the ground, he can be distracted from his focus of analysing the player, so my priority is that the scout must ensure he is prepared.  If your target is a goalkeeper get there for his warm up – it may be the only time you see him handle the ball or make any saves. Also, you need to know the criteria of the person or club, who sent you. What do they want in the position of the player you are watching? For example, the manager might not like full-backs who are under 5’6.  Different positions can require different qualities. 

Players Ability

The name of the game is football, so when I talk about ability, what I am saying is look at the player’s relationship between his feet and the ball. How does he receive the ball? What can he do with it?  How does he Pass the ball? Run with the ball? Does he chip? Flick? Is he confident and comfortable with the ball? What passing options does he see and take?

Players Character

In attack, watch for a player working to be a target? Watch how he reacts when he doesn’t receive a pass he feels he should. What does he do when a teammate miss-passes to him and when he miss-passes to the opposition? Note his willingness to chase back and defend, or lack of it. Observe his body language and verbals, they can reveal a lot.

Impact on the game

What has the player done to have an effect on the outcome of the game? The player may have questionable touch and ability on the ball but could score 20 goals per season and effect key results. Is it a goalkeeper who can come up with big saves in big moments and keep you in games on his own? What has a player done as a defender? What has he done as a midfielder? What has he done as a forward? Having that ability to effect games is crucial. You can have players making lots of passes and not move his team anywhere, where others can barely touch the ball but with a well-timed challenge can lift their team, the crowd and change a game. 


It is the most important part of the game and one of the most difficult things to do, it is a gift. A gift that only some players have, they just have that knack for goals. The ball lands at their feet and they just stroke or pass it over the line. A ball bumps on their head and it goes over the line. The ability to score goals is invaluable and that is why teams spend so much money on these players. It is not just strikers. Has a midfielder got the ability to score goals? They may make amazing runs but do they finish once they get there? Do defenders offer a goal threat at set-pieces? Why do they go up if not to score? Goals are the most expensive commodity in the game so if you can find a player with that gift, it is priceless.