Liverpool’s secrets of scouting explained as ‘£100m hidden gem’ defender on the radar of transfer chiefs
If Liverpool’s success in the transfer market in recent years has often appeared like a club with the Midas touch, the reality has been much more complex behind the scenes. Fewer things are more fraught with the potential for mistakes and missteps in modern football than recruitment and for a club like Liverpool, whose resources don’t always stretch as far as their direct rivals, it often requires smarter thinking and harder working to keep them ahead of the curve at that level. As you would expect for a club of its size, the Reds scout players from all over the world and are generally assessing a large number from most leagues at any given time.
It can be a source of frustration for those doing the job at times when their presence at games across Europe is revealed as a result.
While it always intrigues supporters to hear what games the club have dispatched their talent-spotters to, those working in the field itself will counter that they are simply doing their job and therefore it is not worthy of coverage or analysis. In an age that is becoming increasingly in thrall to the idea of transfers, however, it does allow fans to begin dreaming up just what players might be on the shortlists.
Scouts rarely go to a game with a view to watching one player specifically, though. If someone representing Liverpool attends a Ligue 1 or La Liga match, for example, it is to cast a critical eye over a number of potential prospects and occasionally those involved are spotted through chance as opposed to any long-term or wider strategy. Checks on the on-loan Pedro Chirivella, while at Willem II in Holland in the 2017-18 season, led to scouts noticing the talents of an up-and-coming left-back by the name of Kostas Tsimikas, who was also temporarily with the Eredivisie side at the time.
Those keeping tabs on the Greek defender had noticed significant improvements by the 2019/20 campaign, particularly in the Champions League and Tsimikas had started to gain interest from clubs in France and Italy before checks on his character led to the establishment of positive terms with his representative, Paschalis Tountouris. Diplomacy and professionalism helped Liverpool clear the pathway in the pursuit of Tsimikas at the turn of 2020 when work started to be undertaken toward that summer’s transfer targets. Sevilla and Leicester City attempted to join the race for the defender but Tsimikas had already committed his future to Anfield, thanks, largely, to the friendship that had been struck.
Establishing relationships, perhaps more than any other aspect, is the key to modern scouting. If identifying ability is the relatively easy part, it is the willingness to create those working partnerships with agents and family members which can sometimes be the defining factor in a transfer saga. Two years ago, Liverpool had earmarked Luis Diaz as a summer transfer target before the Reds were alerted to sudden interest from Tottenham in the closing days of the January window after his agents, the Colombia-based Carlos Van Strahalen and Portuguese representative Raul Pais Da Costa spoke privately to those working on the club’s behalf.
It means Liverpool were able to nudge ahead of Spurs and get them into a position where they could complete the transfer after leaning on yet more relationships within the game when the club’s South American scout, Gonzalo Siegrist, gained permission for Diaz’s medical to be undertaken in Buenos Aires, Argentina while on international duty with Colombia at the end of January 2022. The courting of Stefan Bajcetic allowed Liverpool to steal a march on Manchester United at the end of 2020 with the midfielder’s family – specifically his father, Srdan – having already established positive terms with the Reds to ensure it was Anfield that was chosen over Old Trafford. That could yet prove to be a hugely astute piece of business in the years to come.
Bajcetic’s capture was overseen by Head of Academy Recruitment, Matt Newberry, after he had been identified as a multi-functional player with the potential to become a star with the right guidance and a deal for the teenager was expedited in December 2020 to ensure they signed him before new European Union guidelines were introduced at the turn of the year that would have impacted the transfer. “Once you have an idea [of a target], you put it around to some of the staff and then you get back-up information from analyst staff, statistics, scouting videos and your own coaching staff, you can marry it all together and then you know you have an interesting player,” says one scout who works for a club who are regularly involved in the Champions League. “It’s the way to do it.
You’re mixing old technology with new technology and when you come up with the same answer that’s when you know [you have a player]. Sometimes it can be a no-brainer when you watch them play and then delve a little deeper.” On the flip side, the failure to create those dynamics early on can sometimes lead to missing out on a key target.
Moises Caicedo, for example, was someone who chose Chelsea over Liverpool in August after both clubs had made British-record offers to Brighton & Hove Albion at around GBP111million. Liverpool were believed to have held meetings with the agent Manuel Sierra at the start of the year but Chelsea’s long-term pursuit was what eventually swung it when it came to crunch time during a surreal mid-August weekend. “When Liverpool’s offer arrived, Brighton were asked for time so that Chelsea could match it, they did, they surpassed it and he ended up at Chelsea because he had given his word to Chelsea for quite some time,” Sierra told Ecuadorian media in October. One South American midfielder who did sign last summer was Alexis Mac Allister.
Liverpool tracked the Argentina World Cup winner for much of last season and were able to discover the existence of a release clause, believed to be around GBP35m at Brighton, through their working history with the agent Juan Gemelli, who helped broker Philippe Coutinho’s move to Anfield in 2013. With Jurgen Klopp often inundated with other commitments on a week-to-week basis, the operation is a fluid one and all opinions are valued from those with the right expertise. John Achterberg, for instance, is described as a “goalkeeping manic” in affectionate terms by the manager is known to store information on thousands of up-and-coming keepers from around the world.
The opinion of Alisson Becker is also sought by the staff when it comes to those who play in his position, with the Brazil international widely thought of as the best in the world around the AXA Training Centre. It was Klopp’s agent, Marc Kosicke, who put forward the proposition of Jorg Schmadtke coming in to temporarily replace Julian Ward as sporting director earlier this year. The German was not on the radar having retired at Wolfsburg a few months earlier but he was enthused enough by the offer to return to work and it was interesting to note that the three players signed during his tenure so far have all been from Bundesliga clubs in Dominik Szoboszlai (RB Leipzig), Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern Munich) and Wataru Endo (Stuttgart), once more highlighting the importance of respected contacts across the game.
It’s understood that Klopp received a number of private messages from Bundesliga legends after Liverpool’s capture of Japan captain Endo, with them all believing it to be an astute, if surprising piece of business and Schmadtke will stay on to oversee any deals concluded this month before working towards the summer’s in-take. “It’s more about knowing one region very well and watching this region you generate knowledge and then this knowledge is held by the scouting and recruitment department,” says one source familiar with the operation. Occasionally, though, Klopp – who always has the final say – will make a definitive call himself.
Darwin Nunez was only someone who was tentatively being looked at across 2021/22 before the Reds manager “fell in love”, to quote one, with the Uruguayan international when assessing Benfica before their Champions League meeting nearly two years ago. It was thought at the time that Manchester United were leading the way for Nunez before Klopp was suitably impressed enough to instruct Julian Ward to use his contacts at Benfica to get a club-record deal over the line. Liverpool are scouting dozens of players at any one time and while many assessments will often lay dormant, due to the skill level needed to be successful at Anfield, interest of varying levels is retained until an age when it is accepted that progress and improvements only become incremental.
There is also the fact that the club does not act on glowing recommendations from those doing the assessing. Two who are being looked at presently are Genoa’s Denmark international Morten Frendrup and Ousmane Diomande, who currently plies his trade at Sporting in Portugal. At 22, Frendrup has been looked at as the search for a long-term Fabinho replacement goes on, although there is little suggestion a deal is imminent.
Ivory Coast defender Diomande, described as a “hidden gem” by those familiar with him, will be in action for the host nation at this month’s Africa Cup of Nations, where the rule will likely continue to be run over the 20-year-old. “If he makes it through AFCON unscathed, he’ll be going places soon or in the summer, for sure,” says one Portuguese-based source. “He’s definitely one of the standouts of the league, looking at all clubs and positions. “He’s a cut above the rest of the centre-backs we have playing here, [even] better than Antonio Silva at Benfica.
He reads play really well, wins his tackles and moves in with perfect timing. He is definitely at a Champions League level already.” Another based in the region adds: “I think he’s going to be Sporting’s next expensive sale.
Sporting is going to make at least GBP100m with him. Mark my words.” With Liverpool in the market for a centre-back for the coming years, a search that has been underway for some time, it is no surprise to hear Diomande is currently being analysed.
Like Frendrup, though, there is no suggestion a big-money move is near this month. What happens next over Diomande will be intriguing. Liverpool tend to look for players aged 22-25 with around 150-175 senior appearances to their name and the Sporting defender has less than 75 under his belt at the age of 20, meaning some more seasoning might be needed before any green light is given.
“It’s nice to work with good agents who believe in their boys and the pathway they are on,” says one. “You watch them countless times but sometimes you just know when you see someone.
You use your contacts and the people whose judgement you trust too because football is all about contacts.”
- ^ Liverpool have new key player taking his team-mates to new heights this season (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ Liverpool transfer latest as Reds ‘make plans’ to fill problem position (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ Champions League (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ Liverpool (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ Anfield (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ the key to modern scouting (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ had earmarked Luis Diaz as a summer transfer target (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ European Union (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
- ^ Jurgen Klopp (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)