A closer look at the process of scouting - and signing - a new player

VANCOUVER, BC – The process of scouting – and signing – a new player can be a complicated one. It’s a process that can take months, sometimes even years.

Just ask Carl Robinson.

The ‘Caps head coach, for example, first expressed interest in Costa Rican midfielder Christian Bolaños about three years ago before signing the two-time FIFA World Cup veteran last January. So while Robinson departed for South America with assistant coach Martyn Pert at the end of October to kick off an extensive offseason scouting trip, this isn’t the first step of the process.

It’s closer to the final one.

“We know what we need,” Robinson told whitecapsfc.com. “It didn’t change over the last six months. It probably highlighted it a little bit more. We’ve got plans in place.”

Robinson said he and his staff have been watching a select group of players for “three or four months” with an eye towards this offseason. Like many clubs, including English Premier League giants Arsenal FC and Manchester United, the ‘Caps use a platform called Wyscout to track players. At this point, they’ve already watched their targets countless times.

“You can’t just judge players on one game,” Robinson said.

But you also can’t ignore the other players who may stand out a little more when you see them in person. That, according to Robinson, is not an uncommon scenario.   

“When you go on these trips, sometimes the players you go and watch aren’t the ones that you sign,” Robinson said. “It’s scary the way it works. Someone will catch your eye you didn’t know was available and things like that, so it’s important you go for a period of time.”

And it’s important you do your homework.

Watching games, and a lot of them, is only one part of what happens on these scouting excursions. Robinson and Pert will also be watching training sessions, meeting with agents/clubs, and trying to learn as much about their targets as they possibly can.

“Everyone wants to play well in games,” Robinson said. “But what are his characteristics? Is he a good trainer? Is he a bad trainer? Is he a good influence? Is he a bad influence? What do his previous coaches think of him? What do ex-players think of him?”

There are a number of different factors.

And that’s just the process of finding a player. Then, it comes down trying to actually acquire them, which can be the trickiest part. It’s a little easier if they are out of contract, or on an expiring contract, because then you’re usually dealing with the player and/or his representatives directly.

If the player is under contract with another team, the ‘Caps must not only negotiate a salary for the prospective player but also a transfer fee with the club that owns him.  

“Sometimes it’s not just about the player’s salary and what he earns and what he wants, it’s what the club wants, what the agent wants,” he said. “It’s not an easy process.”

“You can speak to an agent all you want,” Robinson added. “An agent will tell you it’s X, Y, and Z. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s not the case. It’s important you get the right information. And it’s important you know the right people in the right places to get you the right information.”

That is certainly the case for Robinson, Pert and the rest of the technical staff, who have developed a number of trusted sources through their years in the game. The ‘Caps also have an international scouting network, as well as a domestic one, to identify players. And even then, it’s not an exact science. Scouting never is. But it’s worth the time – even if takes a couple months.

Or, like in the case of Bolaños, a couple years.

“We’ll look to try and get players in as soon as we can,” Robinson said. “The plan will ideally be that these guys come in for January, but you have to be patient.”