Scout still pulling rabbits out of hats

Man who was instrumental in signing Drogba and Essien is now ensuring nobody slips through the net at Hull

The training session is over and the players are on their way home, but Steve Walsh's day is far from finished. There are scouting reports to analyse and arrange, phone calls to take from agents and DVDs of players to watch. If there were times when assistant managers did little more than bark out the boss's instructions on the practice ground, they have gone the way of terraces and nailed studs.

There is no more crucial cog in the machinery of a modern club than the man responsible for bringing in new players, which is reflected by Hull City's management structure. Nigel Pearson, the manager, has two assistants: Craig Shakespeare is first-team coach, while Walsh is head of recruitment.

If Shakespeare and the goalkeeping coach, Joe Corrigan, are a public face of the backroom staff, nobody, least of all Pearson, undervalues the work of 54-year-old Walsh, who has worked behind the scenes at various clubs since the end of his non-League playing career.

For 30 years, Walsh combined his football with a full-time teaching job, having been head of physical education at three comprehensive schools. He was working part-time for Chelsea, where he had recommended the signing of players like Tore Andre Flo and Gianfranco Zola, when Jose Mourinho asked him to become a full-time senior scout. Walsh worked closely with Mourinho's assistant, Andre Villas Boas, and was instrumental in the signing of key Mourinho recruits such as Didier Drogba and Michael Essien.

Sam Allardyce lured Walsh to Newcastle, where he first linked up with Pearson, before following the latter to Leicester. They signed 32 players in two seasons as the Foxes won League One and reached the Championship play-offs.

Both men, along with Shakespeare, moved on last summer to Hull, where the new management team have turned the club's fortunes around following relegation from the Premier League. The wage bill has been cut in half, putting huge emphasis on Walsh's recruiting skills. Of Hull's 33 registered players, 10 have been signed permanently by the new regime, six are on loan and seven have been loaned out elsewhere.

"Nigel and I often joked about pulling rabbits out of hats when we were at Leicester," Walsh said. "When we got here the situation was so difficult that we talked about someone even pinching our hat, but we played the loan market and we've slowly but surely got our own players in."

Investment by Assem Allam, Hull's new owner, enabled Pearson to splash the cash on Matt Fryatt and Aaron Mclean in January, but the manager remains heavily reliant on Walsh's scouting team, headed by David Mills, the former Middlesbrough striker. The network is not as extensive as, for example, Chelsea's, which costs millions to run, but enables Walsh to build a detailed database of players.

Walsh spends less time on the road these days – he watches all Hull's home games from the stand with a video analyst, Laurence Stewart, feeding observations to the bench – which means the quality of his scouting team is crucial. "You need experienced, quality scouts because you'll only be as good as the information those guys bring in," Walsh said. "You need to invest in your scouting because the more times you see a player lessens any risk when you sign him."

On a noticeboard above Walsh's desk is a schedule showing the matches – 30 or more in a week – his men will be attending. They include non-League matches, Premier League fixtures and internationals. Some are covered to scout Hull's future opponents, others because Walsh is interested in a particular player.

The reports on Championship rivals go into great detail. The scout outlines how teams play, their areas of strength and weakness, how they line up at set-pieces and how they can be beaten. There are individual comments on every player, including a note of the level at which the scout thinks they could play in future, a mark out of 10 and a grading. Players are graded A ("worth signing"), B ("worth keeping a watch on") or C ("not worth considering").

"We ask our scouts to go in without any pre-conceived ideas," Walsh said. "We just want to know what the players did in that match. All the time we're building pictures of players. Our technical analyst will sift through all the reports and tell me about the players who come up consistently as As or Bs. Then we'll start to take more interest in them."

Walsh keeps an eye on all players released on free transfers, in Britain and overseas, and takes a special note of those leaving bigger clubs. "If players are at Premier League clubs they've already gone through a big filter process," he said. "The players the big clubs don't want sometimes have to drop down a level to redevelop."

Lower down the scale, Walsh monitors players' first-team appearances. "If they've only played three times in a season you're suspicious," he said. "If they've played 35 games you know they might be worth looking at."

Walsh admits that some talent still slips through the net, recalling how he watched one match overseas in which he failed to spot the potential of two future Premier League players. "I was working for a Premier League club at the time and I didn't think either of the players were good enough for us," he said. "Yet they've both gone on to have good careers."

The misses, nevertheless, are heavily outweighed by the hits. The depth and quality of Walsh's research is evident in the range of Hull's recruits, from products of the Manchester United academy – James Chester, Cameron Stewart and Corry Evans – to out-of-contract senior professionals like Robert Koren, James Harper and Liam Rosenior, and a Tunisian international formerly with Slavia Prague, Tijani Belaid.

Rosenior, who had left Fulham, shows how it is not always money that talks. "I couldn't believe we got him for nothing," Walsh said. "He came to train with us on the Monday, he played in the reserves on the Wednesday and we offered him a contract on the Thursday. Now he's the best right-back in the Championship."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash