David Showell

As Arsenal enter perhaps the most crucial part of this intriguing season, hopes remain high at the Emirates Stadium. Of all the teams in contention for Champions League places, Arsenal look as likely as any to be involved in next year’s money-fest.

The squad is as good as any in the Premier League except perhaps the ones at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, but has been assembled on the cheap. In recent years, Arsene Wenger has been throwing the club’s money around like a man with no arms. No wonder the board love him.

The strength of the set-up therefore owes a lot to a superb scouting network. At one time, Arsenal’s catchment area consisted of Islington, Holloway and the southern tip of Finsbury Park. Now, the catchment area is, well, the whole world.

In 1996, Wenger left Japan for Arsenal, swapping sushi for shepherd’s pie in the process. One of the first things he did was overhaul the club’s scouting system. In keeping with his cosmopolitan world view, he knows no boundaries, and, as he’s stated in the past, passports mean nothing to him.

Put simply, if you’re good enough, you’re in. In the late 90s, Wenger tended to rely on players he knew well. The club therefore had more French talent than that well-known Paris-based TV show ‘Le X Facteur’.

Once he’d established himself, though, any country was a potential source of talented youngsters. In came the likes of Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast), Denilson (Brazil), Alex Song (Cameroon) and Abou Diaby (France), to name but a few.

Wenger has said in the past that he has an almost obsessive passion for football. In fact, a huge chunk of his time at home is spent watching matches on TV from all over the world.

Because of this, the French boss has a wide knowledge of players in most leagues, even the obscure ones. By all mean ask him who is the best left-back in the Colombian second division, and don’t be surprised if he reels off a list of names with their strengths and weaknesses.

As well as being a bit of an anorak, Wenger knows all about recruiting the right people to be his eyes and ears. His back-room team is assembled with as much care and diligence as his first team, in fact.

Steve Rowley is the club’s chief scout, and he enjoys an excellent reputation in the game, as well as a great working relationship with Wenger. The Frenchman has said before how much faith he has in Rowley’s judgement.

He heads a vast network of talent-spotters from around the world, including a dozen or so Simon Cowells in the UK alone. Among the world network of scouts are former Gunners Gilles Grimandi, who’s based in France, and American Danny Karbassiyoon, who covers the USA and Mexico.

Irrespective of which country, the system generally remains the same. A promising player will be watched a few times, and if he’s considered to be worth a further look another scout will be sent along for a second opinion.

A dossier is usually made, along with a video, to send back to London. Part of the process involves looking at the player’s weaknesses; it’s not always all about the plus-points. If Wenger likes what he sees, he’ll usually make a few enquiries of his own, via his own networks throughout the football world, which are of course extensive.

However, that’s not where it ends. The Frenchman will often want to know about the player’s background and family life, too. Arsene Wenger, shrewd man-manager that he is, will want to be sure the player can settle, and will know how to behave. It’s well-known that he likes his players to be more Pete Sampras than Pete Doherty.

One of the things that Wenger also insists on in players is intelligence. He prefers to work with the more cerebral footballers like Fabregas and Robin van Persie, and the same applies to any new inductees. So if a new player thinks Sherlock Holmes is a block of flats, chances are he won’t be staying long.

And with Wenger’s record in the recruitment of young talent, who can question his methods?


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