12 March 2013

Scouting: Time to Broaden Our Horizons

by Andy McKellar | Deputy Editor

In my most recent article here on the CRO I discussed the many failings that we have all witnessed on the pitch this season. I also highlighted the great opportunity that presented itself to us in the shape of our exile to the Third Division and the possibility of creating a football philosophy that would provide the foundation for decades to come, one that we appear to have missed. Although there are numerous financial predicaments that accompany our fourth-tier status, this was also a chance to build a business model that would be sustainable in the long-term to ensure we never again run up crippling debts.

Charles Green and Brian Stockbridge clearly have a vision for the future of Rangers Football Club. This was evident in a recent story in the Herald newspaper where talk of achieving a turnover of £100m was discussed and this is further reinforced by the acquisitions of nearby assets following the highly successful Initial Public Offering. Edmiston House for example could bring in considerable sums of money if utilised correctly and owning the Albion Car Park will save the Club cash that would otherwise have been paid out on the original lease that ran beyond 2020.

In today’s Daily Record however there was an article which discussed scouting and networking at football clubs and highlighted the various successes achieved by the likes of Motherwell, Inverness and Celtic. This is one area in which our club has been badly lagging behind in recent years although perhaps that has been to do with the difficult financial circumstances that surrounded us more than anything else. Now though the clouds have lifted and, while we are still running at a loss, there is cash in the bank and no debt. This was the perfect opportunity to create and build an efficient and productive scouting network that would form an integral part of our business model going forward.

The financial condition of Scottish football is certainly as fragile as it has been for a number of years, as highlighted by the recent difficulties at Hearts and Dunfermline. The ‘Premier League’ has also failed to secure a sponsor for next season and there are still question marks lingering over the value of the current broadcasting deal. Clubs must therefore strive to live within their means, to bring in players at a low cost and make a profit where possible. This is where a solid scouting system is invaluable and it something that I believe we have still to properly address.

The story which was published today claimed that Neil Murray, Rangers’ chief scout, does not have any budget for identifying young talent in the United Kingdom and of course we no longer have any scouts across the continent. Whether or not the story is accurate is certainly up for debate but, regardless of the truth of that particular claim, there are certainly problems with the scouting network at the Club and have been for some time.

We have had a few success stories down the years that would perhaps earn some credit for the scouts at Rangers with the likes of Jean-Alain Boumsong and Carlos Cuellar proving to be particularly beneficial both on the park and the balance sheet. Unfortunately though these are few and far between and I’m sure most fans can rhyme off a lengthy list of names such as Juan Ortiz, Mervan Celik and Alejandro Bedoya to name but a few recent examples. There is more evidence this season too although perhaps some slack can be allowed given the chaotic circumstances in the summer.

In my opinion Rangers should be placing emphasis on enticing promising young players to the club, ones which can be nurtured and developed into first-team regulars at a low cost and who should hold a healthy resale value which the club can benefit from. As much as it saddens me to say it, Celtic have a very good track record recently of bringing in players on low wages and making money from their sales and John Park has rightly received praise for his work there. The article today quoted Izaguirre, Wanyama, Kayal and Matthews as examples. Let’s not forget they also brought in good money for Ki Sung-Yueng following his recent transfer to Swansea City. On this evidence it would certainly appear that we are miles off the pace.

Rangers’ most recent transfer targets hardly stretch the imagination with the likes of Cammy Bell, Nicky Law and Jon Daly being strongly linked with moves to Ibrox. That is not to say that looking at SPL players is the wrong option of course however it would appear that Kilmarnock, Motherwell and Dundee is as far as our scouting system reaches. As mentioned earlier, clubs such as Inverness have made a great success of identifying affordable talent south of the border with their top scorer Billy McKay being the perfect example.  Sadly it would appear that our scouts can learn all they need about a player from watching Sportscene each weekend and that is something which is rather disappointing.

A club’s scouting network should also do more than just directly providing the first-team with players as I alluded to previously in this article. Arsenal for example have a terrific track record of bringing young players through into their senior team and that is perhaps something we should be considering when our scouting budget is next discussed. This isn’t all done through completely home-grown talent as the London outfit regularly sign players from the top youth academies throughout Europe, even if that isn’t always appreciated by other clubs. While we cannot compete on the same level as top Premier League teams in England, there is no reason why we can’t endeavour to bring in another Lewis MacLeod or Barrie McKay from an outside source.

This season has been filled with chaos and complications. Charles Green and his boardroom have had more than a few difficulties to overcome from building a team for the start of the season to floating the club on the AIM market. I sincerely hope that now things are beginning to settle down that underperforming areas such as our scouting network can be evaluated and improved. Apparently club representatives were down studying the operation of the Manchester United scouting system only last week and perhaps this is the first step to modernising and maximising the efficiency of our own set-up.

Only time will tell as to whether or not we have made the necessary amendments to certain areas of our club and there is definitely plenty of room for improvements when it comes to our scouting. I’ve heard a few people suggesting that we should hire a new team of coaches to support McCoist in his role but surely improving our scouting and player identification would also assist any manager of Rangers? It therefore should be something that is seriously considered by the men in the boardroom at Ibrox and I hope it isn’t an issue which is left on the ‘to do’ list for too much longer.