Scouting system that reveals David Moyes' mind

In an exclusive extract from his new book Michael Calvin is allowed behind the scenes at Everton to see how the man who is now Manchester United's manager works

Michael Calvin
Saturday 10 August 2013 23:19 BST
"Like his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson he wields power decisively but sensitively. He is comfortable with ultimate responsibility – indeed he demands it"
"Like his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson he wields power decisively but sensitively. He is comfortable with ultimate responsibility – indeed he demands it" (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


David Moyes is not a man to cross on a moment's whim. He has a finely developed sense of respect. His trust, once earned, is of immeasurable importance. His professionalism is unimpeachable. His eye for detail is acute. His work ethic is prodigious and his wrath is best avoided.

Had he walked into Finch Farm training complex that bleak, wet Wednesday morning, he would have been distinctly unimpressed. It was bad enough that a stranger should saunter through the heavy door, marked "with permission only", which led to a sequence of four offices which symbolised the continuity of Everton's decade under the Scot's control. To allow someone of my calling into the nerve centre of a club which consistently overachieves in the face of financial restraint was positively heretical.

My guide, James Smith, revealed the compelling simplicity of a system which many seek to emulate. Appropriately, given the nature of my visit, Moyes was on a scouting mission in Europe. Thankfully, given my vulnerability, Duncan Ferguson, who has previous in dealing with unwanted intruders, was unaware of my presence. He was flicking yellow-flighted darts into a royal blue board in the players' dining room around the corner.

Smith, Everton's head of technical scouting, was free to reveal the science behind the School of Science. Smith has worked for Moyes since 2003. A sports science graduate from South Bank University in London who coached in the United States and worked his way up from Coventry City's Community Scheme, he was among the first wave of performance analysts who seeped into professional football in the early years of the last decade.

He was promoted after five years, when Moyes had the foresight to recognise the value of an integrated approach to recruitment, which embraced technology and made a virtue out of necessity.

"I think he was the only manager outside the Premier League to use performance analysis software when he was at Preston," Smith recalled. "It's not unlike him to want to have the best things and to be ahead of the game. Managers don't let people in very easily – so much of the job is about relationships and confidentiality, because you are working very closely with them. He was not looking to overhaul recruitment exactly, but drag it forward a bit. He wanted someone with more of an academic background as we stepped things up."

Smith operates from the recruitment room. Its contents are cherished and highly classified. They represent Everton's most valuable intellectual property. Moyes' entire transfer strategy is mapped out on a succession of whiteboards which cover all four walls. This is the visualisation of a principle, the distillation of a philosophy. It underlines the collegiate nature of his approach and the clinical brilliance of his management skills.

Everything is self-contained, yet inter-reliant. Smith has 5,000 reports stored online, on around 1,000 potential targets. They conform to a blueprint, which matches the club's culture, aspirations and financial status. A series of internal scouting conferences analyse trends and standardise reporting mechanisms.

Each scout must assess every player under the age of 24 at his match, and grade them on specific aspects of performance. Moyes has produced what he calls "an MOT Test", where players are judged against a checklist of up to 12 criteria for each position.

The optimal aim is to have up to 50 reports on a primary transfer target, written by between 10 and 12 scouts. The manager's commitment inspires loyalty and, it must be said, a little awe. Steve Brown, who took Smith's role as principal performance analyst, hails Moyes' "brilliance" in devising specific tactical strategies. The same qualities which make him a leading coach – according to Brown, "he's so detailed, thorough and methodical in his work" – make him a good judge of a player. The complementary disciplines coalesce in the preparation of a two-tiered game plan, which draws on detail contained in Everton's opposition scouting reports.

Steve Round, Moyes' assistant, has an integral role in its compilation with the manager. The main strategy, which takes several hours to create, is distilled into a shorter, more accessible version for the players, featuring team shape, set-piece analysis and opposition goals. Round enters the transfer process after first-team coach Jimmy Lumsden has followed up leads sourced by the scouts, and sanctioned by chief scout Robbie Cooke. Again, the principle of collective responsibility applies.

Smith admitted: "When I started at the club, I didn't know much about it all, so I've learned from the manager, from Steve and the other staff. In the first job, I was doing all the pre- and post-match video work, so I spent a lot of time listening and showing them stuff, talking about stuff. Doing all the team meetings, travelling abroad, was a massive chance to learn from David.

"So I've got an idea of players from him. I kind of know what he's looking for, what he's thinking. I'm thinking out loud now, but my role is knitting it together, being a kind of a link between the manager and the scouts.

"Everything is fed back into the recruitment room. Anyone can just pop his head in at any time. It enables the manager to keep absolutely on top of what's going on. That's a lot of what I think David Moyes' success is probably about: keeping on top of everything and checking, making sure you're on it and it's not just drifting."

The secret room is unprepossessing, long and thin. It has the feel of a teacher's study at a busy comprehensive. It is a mine of information, a tantalising glimpse of what might be, expressed in marker pens of different hues.

The whiteboards on the walls have a logical sequence. To understand where Everton are in the recruitment process, they must be read from left to right. The first board features the most promising new foreign players, highlighted by the system. They are the pick of the 1,000 or so players under review, and are deemed realistic recruits. Annotated beneath individual positions, they span Europe and South America. Trends are highlighted: right-backs, for instance, are in extremely short supply.

The next whiteboard contains live targets, who are monitored constantly. Their ages are written in red, on a yellow square. Those names in blue are potential free transfers, coming to the end of their contracts. Those in green are potential loanees. Those in red carry a price. There is an additional section, in the bottom left-hand corner, featuring three goalkeepers, who are seen as emergency loanees if required.

Some managers preach loyalty; Moyes practises it. The next whiteboard is a statement of faith in those closest to him. It features favoured Premier League players, personal choices who are not on any other list. They must be 26 or under, playing for a club outside the top six, and be regarded as realistic potential recruits.

They have been voted for by Moyes, and his senior staff. Four players, out of the 20 or so featured, are unanimous selections. That gives everyone food for thought. Time moves with terrifying speed in football: the next wall condenses the next three seasons into the five seconds or so it takes to scan a succession of teams, in Everton's favoured formation.

This is why the secret room is off limits to players. It is, in essence, a Moyes mind map. The whiteboard contains a list of all first-team squad players, with their ages, contract details and appearance records.

It starts with Moyes' idea of his best current starting 11, and what it will be, up until 2014. This offers an insight into which regulars he suspects will fade away, and who he hopes will emerge from the supporting cast. It is an imprecise science because of the unpredictability of fate but the gaps, when they appear, are ominous. This is a visual tool for the black art of management, moving a player on when his use has been exhausted but his resale potential is still significant.

Moyes does not share the elitist view that the quality of players from the Football League has declined so markedly that it is negligible. His personality was shaped in the lower leagues and he retains faith in their ability to nurture raw talent. The next whiteboard is smaller, and contains no player over the age of 23. The most promising Championship, League One and Two players are highlighted in blue, red and green respectively.

The last major whiteboard, the transfer window list, is in many ways the most important. This contains the names of players Everton are actively seeking to sign. This is the scruffiest section, because so many names have been scrubbed off, or re-entered, during the courtship rituals involving players, clubs, agents and assorted hangers-on. The human element will always be paramount. Peer recognition is pivotal. Moyes' brains trust uses individual contacts, including players, coaches and managers. Agents are regarded as most useful in South America where the web of third-party ownership can ensnare the unwise or the unwary.

Smith reflected: "The world is changing. In the old days it seemed as if they did everything off the back of a fag packet. The old school scout would go to a game and just have a general look, unless there was a specific player. He'd then speak to the chief scout on the phone and tell him what he thought, so basically everything was stored in people's heads.

"Well, they thought it was. It wasn't really, because you can't store it all in your head, can you? That's why reports have become so fundamental. It's about intellectual property rights. That information belongs to Everton because it was gained by people being paid by Everton, working for Everton. The old-school way, with the chief scout having it all in his head, gave no continuity. If he gets run over by a bus he takes all the knowledge with him. I know I'm laughing at that thought, but we had a similar problem in the academy several years ago. The head of recruitment left and there was nothing. We didn't even have the telephone numbers of the scouts! It was as if he'd never been here. An owner, or a CEO these days wouldn't tolerate that, if he's got anything about him."

Some things never change. Great clubs are shaped in the image of their great managers. It is too simplistic to view Moyes as merely an autocrat, with the inflexibility that implies. Like his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson, he wields power decisively, but sensitively. He is comfortable with ultimate responsibility – indeed he demands it – but the democratic nature of Everton's recruitment policy informs us of the man, and the club he has created.

Michael Calvin's 'The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football's True Talent Spotters' is published by Century at £14.99. Available at all good book shops and online

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