What do scouts look for?

09.02.2021 Saul Cuttell

What do scouts look for? A brief chat with Manchester United’s Scout Rene Moonen.

Who is Rene Moonen?

I had the great pleasure to talk to Rene Moonen, Manchester United Scout for Holland, and while we can never know the inner secrets or workings of Manchester United, we can gain some insight into the scouting world of football.

So, I started with the most obvious and interesting question I think you can ask a scout ‘’What’s your story and how did you get into scouting?’’. He suitably answered with the fact that he was brought up in and around football and had a great desire and passion for the game. He had played to a high standard (Dutch league 3, the equivalent of English league 1) but unfortunately, he got injured at 21years old which stopped his career short in its tracks. Well the inevitable happened, he got a job, had children but then rediscovered his love for football by going back to education and also seeing his children growing up around football.

This reinvigorated passion for the game led him to volunteer as a coach and also to volunteer scout for some local teams. This passion led him to getting a full-time job working for Dutch professional club HFC Haarlem for 10 years and the Dutch giants Ajax for 8 years. But this was not the end of his story, Manchester United saw this passion, drive and love for the game and head hunted him for a role at the illustrious football club, where he has been for the last 4 years.

What does a scout do?

I was really keen to understand what scouts do in their day to day role but also how the current pandemic had impacted this type of job. Well he was very honest and stated that at the minute scouts would be relying on online sources of videos (Hudl, Wyscout) and writing reports. This made me want to tell him about my website Pitch, but I realised I would be going off on a tangent and needed to remain focused on the blog at hand. Anyway, he told me that scouts normally would be going to games, watching players and writing reports along with a lot of travelling in-between different games.

I also wanted to better understand who exactly are scouts and what sort of background do they come from, but immediately as I asked him this I realised I knew something of this just by hearing his fascinating journey into scouting. But he did answer stating a lot of scouts tend to be ex professional football players, who have a strong focus on team work, networking and a great collaborative attitude towards talent identification, for example it is common for scouts to share their insights with other scouts within their club to check to see if the talent they have identified is to the right standard. This was a very interesting insight for me as I always thought a scout would watch 1 or maybe 2 games, but really, they are much more comprehensive when looking for players. For instance, its common to look at a player up to 5 to 10 times a season and that for three to four season in a row, to make sure that the player is up to the required standard.

But this led me to ask, which I think was an obvious question in hindsight, but what does a scout want?  I thought Rene would answer with ‘’wanting to find talent’’ or ‘’finding the next Messi’’. But it wasn’t that, his answer was a lot more profound for me in its unique simplest form, --- he said ‘’to stand on the side line and watch players play’’. This made a lot of sense because a scout is invariably a person who has a great love and passion for the game, so it makes sense that they want to watch football. I guess when it’s played well, but I didn’t ask that question!


What do scouts look for in players?

I did then however become fascinated with what he may look for generally in a player when they play, but realistically this depends on so many factors. Rene said ‘’you cannot compare a centre back to a winger they are two different types of player just simply based on position, but they all need to show some skill and movement competencies. For example, can they turn quickly, do they take the ball well, are they fast, are they strong?’’ Ultimately, Rene stressed the bigger picture is always important. This meant looking at the player on and off the ball, how they get on with their team mates, how they communicate and so much more. This was equally fascinating to me because it made me wonder how a scout assesses a player’s psychological ability/capacity.

It turns out, after Rene elaborated, that this is a complex question that involves a lot more and to think of the bigger picture. He did go on to say ‘’it all depends on the personality of the player, their awareness and composure on and off the ball and off the pitch too, one trait complements another, so they are all interlinked’’. He did go on to say that successful players do tend to have an element of luck and also a strong element of trust in their coaches. I took this to mean that the player listens to the coach and has an unwavering appetite to learn about themselves and the game, and they can only really get this from coaches and experts in the industry like Rene.

My chat with Rene was almost at its end, and he did not fail to deliver, it was utterly fascinating to talk with him and to understand the scouting process. His professionalism and joy for the game was so evident from our chat that I think Manchester United have got a very valuable asset there. He came out with many little gems of wisdom, and one of the final parting quotes he said about player development in the search of talent was ‘’players that like and enjoy the game are learning all the time, and if you are enjoying the game you are improving by yourself’’. Rene’s passion for football was very inspiring and thought provoking, so if any young player wanted to know what a scout looks for, here’s the inside scoop, work hard, play hard and most of all make sure you have fun playing the game.