The following article will look to make a case for establishing organised scouting networks across India. This shall be done in light of the steady growth of Indian football in terms of international performances as well as the several talents that have emerged in the recent past and who have gone on to represent India at various international levels. The necessity of scouting networks is not just to recruit great players but also serves as a great business and administrative model for Indian football clubs.
There was much talk about Indian football back in 2015 when the country lost to Guam by 2-1. The layman Indian analysis of the game was that a country of 1.3 billion people lost to Guam, which has a population less than Chandini Chowk. Such was the extent to which the loss was reduced to. The focus on the loss narrowed down to player development and promoting Indian players with dual citizenship. Allowing foreign players of Indian origin to play is a debate for another day. The focus should be on establishing proper scouting networks across the country for youth teams in Indian leagues.
Grassroots football structures in India have begun reaping the rewards of patience and progress. Several Indian players and coaches have taken the spotlight for their on and off-field performances. Khalid Jamil is one such coach who has broken all odds with his heroics with North East United FC and Aizwal FC and leading the way for Indian coaches to work upon professional coaching. Yet, something that could benefit and enhance talent recognition for Indian football is establishing systematic youth scouting networks across India. The following article will look to make a case for establishing scouting networks across India that will help recognize the much-needed talent and promote a properly organized business model for football to grow with.
What Makes A Good Scouting Network
To give a brief understanding of how a club scouting system works, the ever-popular FIFA video game provides an example to relate to. A scout is sent to a particular country or region that proceeds to set up a network. This could be in a specific city or even a set of districts. After that, the club issues a set of instructions to the scout, including a particular player profile they wish to attain. It includes the playing position, physical attributes, technical skills, and his overall local rating as per coaches and players. This player profile is then acted upon by the scout who goes to regional tournaments, local academies, youth teams of local clubs, and school tournaments to find players of that calibre. This is precisely how famous Arsenal scout Francis Cagigao operated during his time in Spain and South America.  His reputation does precede him, but the system in place which brought out little known talents like Emiliano Martinez and Gabriel Martinelli from different corners of South America is something to reflect upon ad emulate.
Dortmund's "Young High Potential" Model
Borussia Dortmund's rise from bankruptcy is a story for the ages. But something the teams have sustained phenomenally until today is the proportional youth recruitment network, player acquisition, and subsequent sales combined to make them one of the best clubs in Europe on the field, but financially massively strengthened them. Keeping aside the tremendous profits they have made, their scouting network has focused primarily on recruiting players who have one step into the first teams of their respective clubs and who command potential and talent. In football terms, youth players with high potential. As a result, Dortmund managed a phenomenal new player recruitment average age of 23 years in 2008-09. This was a couple with them winning back to back Bundesliga titles a few years later under the able leadership of Jurgen Klopp. While Dortmund's model was more of a compulsion to find a solution for financial woes, they have been largely successful in tapping into raw talent across Germany and Europe as well. Moreover, they have earned approximately 450 million pounds plus in transfer sales over the past 5 years, just one example of massive profit capitalization in a short period. All the players that were sold were bought for prices that were approximately 10-25% of their sale price. This is the best model case study that one can use to refer and understand the need for a comprehensive scouting system. It solves problems of snapping up youth talent alongside ensuring that Indian league teams ramp up their finances with quality purchases and sales through player developments. It is a win-win situation for Indian football with clubs getting the best out of purchasing and sales of top quality players and the national team selectors having a range of players to choose from who have progressed through years of adequate training and development.
Expansion throughout the country
While scouting has often been depicted in movies as spotting skilled players in the off chance they do some trickery on the field, the reality speaks of something else. In a country with thousands of young kids playing the sport in competitive leagues across all age groups, it comes down to identifying particular players over long periods and watching them play across different sports avenues.
A majority of the extensive scouting networks in football take place in tournaments such as the Subroto Cup, Junior and Senior National Championships, Hero Elite Youth Leagues and many more such events. The players who often get noticed move on to have trials at I league and ISL clubs for a considerable period. More often than not, these players are observed only for a few matches and are judged upon what they do in a short period. Others tend to get ignored for lack of opportunity to showcase their skills. This is the biggest problem staring down at the face of Indian football today. By ignoring countless players due to a lack of observation and effort to make detailed reports, generations' worth of talent will be wasted. If there were to be a more long term establishment of visible scouting networks across the country, schools and universities would begin to be recognized as potential recruitment fields for youngsters.
An Example to Build on
Huidrom Thoi Singh made headlines last year when he signed for ISL side Bengaluru FC. He is a product of the Reliance Youth Foundation and was rated as one of their best assets before being snapped up as a high-potential player. The young lad from Manipur had been putting in brilliant performances for the RYF team and had netted 45 goals in 50 appearances. Several ISL teams have signed the RYF graduates but Huidrom Thoi Singh is probably the best example of what intensive coaching and recruitment plans can do to youngsters. The question, however, is 'if only there were more such foundations.
By continuously bringing players to the limelight and uplifting them from amateur leagues into professional ones, scouting ads significant boons to the footballing world. Several national teams have benefitted immensely from scout systems set up in professional football leagues across the country. Moreover, by pushing football into the limelight for all age groups, India can make a genuine effort to start regulating the massive growth of football. Setting up foundations and initiating the ISL was a boon. But to create a constructively organized and systematically induced football culture in India, significant additions have to be made in the administrative department to hone youth talent in the country.
*The author is a law scholar from Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat.
(The image used here is for representational purposes only)
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