So there I was, on a scouting mission in Poland with my assistant manager, Mick Jones, watching a left-back. About 10 minutes in he had barely had a touch and we’d worked out why, his team-mates weren’t passing to him. They had obviously heard he had a chance of moving to an English club and didn’t want him to go.
Half-time arrived and, while trying to force down a cup of the thickest coffee I’ve ever had, I said to Mick, “We can’t judge him on this, let’s hope he sees more of the ball in the second half once the manager’s had a go at the other players.” Two minutes after the break he went into a tackle and was sent off. We didn’t buy him.
That is the problem with the modern, global transfer market. Unless you’ve got a hugely staffed, and hugely expensive scouting system, it is hard to get enough information on a player. There is always an element of risk unless you’ve seen the player, and had him scouted, several times and in different circumstances. I like to watch a player twice in person, I look at the physical side – can they play in our game? Then you will ask your scout to do some homework on him, look into his personal life and try and ensure you won’t get a nasty surprise when he turns up.
But you are always thinking, “What can he bring to the table? What can he do for me?” Which is why there will be Premier League managers watching the World Cup, wondering, wondering, then gambling. Some will get a bargain, others will live to regret it because playing week after week in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League is different from playing in the heat and humidity of a World Cup. Look at Gary Medel, he’s been superb for Chile, but he didn’t stand out at Cardiff last year.
However, some players have caught my eye, and I’m have they have interested some of the managers who are out there or watching on TV. Here’s a team of them.
(Costa Rica & Levante, age 27)
There’s always an element of risk in bringing in a goalkeeper from abroad. Even David de Gea took time to settle in England while I remember Portsmouth buying a Japanese keeper after a World Cup, but the way he performed for them he wouldn’t get in a press team. Navas, though, was strong, he caught everything, and he has had a very good season in La Liga.
(Netherlands & Feyenoord, 24)
There have been several good right-backs this tournament. I was really impressed by Matteo Darmian against England and Ivory Coast’s Serge Aurier delivers a great cross. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Louis van Gaal brings Janmaat to Manchester United as they haven’t really replaced Gary Neville.
(Netherlands & Ajax, 24)
I’ll be very surprised if Van Gaal doesn’t try to buy Blind as well if United don’t succeed in signing Luke Shaw from Southampton. He has a good engine, can tackle, is not bad in the air, hits a great long ball – as he showed in setting up Robin van Persie’s header – and can play anywhere in midfield.
Hector Moreno (Mexico & Espanyol, 26)
It’s not been a great World Cup for central defenders so I’m only picking one. I hear Everton and Swansea are both looking at Moreno and I can see why. He reads the game well and is not physically intimidated, which is a good combination for the Premier League.
(Australia & FSV Frankfurt, 23)
I do like Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado and Dries Mertens of Belgium, but I think Leckie would be a better signing for a mid-table Premier League side. Being Australian he should settle quickly in England and as he plays in the German Second Division shouldn’t be too expensive. Wingers normally have their heads down – I should know, I was one – but he gets his up and sees what there is. He is always looking positive, his first thought when gets the ball is to go towards goal. I like France’s Mathieu Valbuena too, a little niggler, but he’s 29 which will put most clubs off.
Axel Witsel (Belgium & Zenit, 25)
Steven Defour (Belgium & Porto, 26)
Muhamed Besic (Bosnia & Ferencvaros, 21)
I’m spoilt for choice here. If money was no object I’d sign Bastien Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, who screen so well for Germany, but it would be tough getting them out of Bayern and Real Madrid. The same applies to Paul Pogba, I read Juventus want £70m for him. It could be worth it. He is going to be a hell of a player, he’s already built like a brick outhouse and is only going to get better. Every time I see him I think, “How did Sir Alex let him go?”
I was very impressed by Bosnia. I thought they matched Argentina all over the park. Miralem Pjanic was superb but Roma won’t let him go easily so you might be better off chasing his less well-known partner Muhamed Besic. The money I’d save I’d spend on the Belgian pair who play with their brains and dovetail well together. And we already know Belgians do well in the Premier League.
(South Korea & Bayer Leverkusen, 21)
He’s scored a lot of goals in the Bundesliga and you can see why. He cuts in from the left and takes people on. You always wonder whether Asian players will be strong enough physically to play in England but some of them have done OK.
(Russia & Dynamo Moscow, 23)
(Costa Rica & Arsenal, 21)
I’ve been impressed by Mexico’s Oribe Perelta and the Chilean pair Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas but I’ll go for Kokorin and Campbell. Russians have struggled to settle in English football, so it would be a risk, but for a young man Kokorin played the lone role really well for Fabio Capello. It’s a tough position and he carried Russia.
Joel Campbell is a bit of a cheat for this team. He’s an Arsenal player, although he’s never played for them, so you wouldn’t be able to sign him. But Arsène likes to send his players on loan and he’ll be fielding plenty of calls from managers now. He reminds me of Daniel Sturridge, who also had lots of talent but took a few loans to find his feet.