It is no exaggeration to say that almost every football fan dreams about working in the professional football industry. Personally, I began to consider it for the first time when I played FIFA Manager 06. I knew this game was unrealistic in terms of determining the level and development of the players, but I enjoyed improving the financial standing of my club by selling more tickets, and merchandise. This passion indirectly influenced my choice of education, as I decided to study marketing and management.
Over the years I have realized that it is impossible to get a job in Russian football if you don’t have any playing experience at a high level. To fight this trend I tried to network, and get as many connections as possible. I asked ex-Lokomotiv and Russia goalkeeper Ruslan Nigmatullin, who worked in Lokomotiv’s scouting department, if it was possible to get a job in scouting without playing experience, and the answer was, not surprisingly, a no. I talked with one of Russian football’s most famous marketing consultants Dmitry Markov, and I read Anton Kopyshov’s book about an incredible antagonism of Russian clubs against the increase of matchday and commercial revenue. Kopyshov is currently heading the marketing department at the Crimean club FC Sevastopol. Furthermore, I listened to the stories of Lev Munblit, a graduate of the European University with a master’s degree in sports management, which made him one of very few Russians with such an education. Despite his academic background, his attempts to get a job in football failed, and he now finds himself employeed as financial director at a women basketball club.
One day I read a blog by the former Lokomotiv sports director Alexey Zinin about football scouting, and here I found a link to his personal website. It turned out that he had his own scouting consulting agency, and there was a description of a workshop, which sounded like a type of training to be a scout. I applied, and later received an email with a test. It was the first time I had ever seen smart and educated questions about Russian football. There are several sites and writers who aim to analyze world football, but no Russians, with few exceptions, seem to care much about tactics, and what is really happening on the soccer field.
I later received a second test, and some of the questions looked simple enough, yet they turned out to be quite tricky. Every football fan could answer them, but the correctness depends on the level of football understanding as well as knowledge. I was, for example, asked to create a team of Russian Premier League players where I had to choose between four players in each position and four coaches. A team consisting just of the best player in each position would often struggle in real life, so to answer this question correctly you should consider how their individual qualities complemented each other, as well as how they fit the selected coach’s tactical preferences. I was also asked: “You are a new owner of Liverpool and can buy any player you want. Who would you buy: Sergio Ramos or Kompany? Müller or Götze? Messi or Ronaldo?” The question couldn’t be any simpler, but the answer says a lot about your football understanding.
I was eventually invited to participate in the workshop. To be honest I feared it was a scam at the beginning. Imagine, you and 29 other guys are somehow chosen from 500 applicants, with no criteria for the selection published, and oblidged to pay $150 for a week of lectures about… football. The participants from outside of Moscow even had to pay an extra $500 to stay at a hotel in the city. Why did they choose me? Maybe they invited just anyone who wanted to participate? Maybe the famous Mr. Zinin tried to scam money from goofs who dreamed so desperately about football jobs that they were ready to do anything to make the dream come true?
Luckily, Alexey Zinin dispelled any doubts at the first lecture. He invited the smartest people from the Russian football world to hold lectures, and answer our questions. Andrey Usachev, the head of the scouting department at Terek and former Lokomotiv defendender, told us about the special aspects in the process of detecting the level of a central defender. German Chistyakov, former FC Anzhi and FC PAOK general director, talked about creating the right atmosphere in the club, especially for stars like Eto’o and Boussoufa. Evgeniy Krechetov, one of the leading lawyers in Russian football, became very popular among the listeners, as he tried to tell us about every juridical aspect of transfer deals, including the particularities of the Russian law as well as the Russian attitude to the law.
As a fan of Lokomotiv, I was pleased with the invitation of the former Lokomotiv youth coach Vladimir Volchek. Volchek influenced the development of great talents like Miroslav Lobantsev, Pavel Mamaev, Igor Smolnikov, Vitaly Djakov and others. We privately talked a little about Pavel Deobald, who was impressive while playing for our youth squad, but later became an average player at Shinnik.
It was obviously important for Zinin to show football from different angles, which explains his invitation of the famous agent Alexey Safonov, one of Russia’s most influental agents. Just like Chistyakov, his lecture was centred on stories about Russian football rather than actually studying scouting. I can’t say it was less useful, however, since it helped to better understand what goes on in the head of a player, and what problems every football manager faces.
We were later invited to Spartak Football Academy, where we got the chance to talk with the current general director of Spartak, Sergey Rodionov, who was the president of the academy at the time. We also talked with the academy’s representatives, who explained how they scouted in youth football.
We also visited InStat Football, which was created by Alexander Ivanskiy as a system that may be called revolutionary for modern football. I can’t really describe my feelings when I first saw InStat Scout – a program, where you can find statistics of any player, and video of any action of almost any professional player. If you dream about watching all key passes Aleksey Tyurgashkin from Tekstilshchik Ivanovo made last season, this program is for you. The program has the same functionality as Football Manager, except everything is counted instead of generated. No wonder clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund use it.
Last but not least, we did some exercises, and the final one was actual scouting. Thanks to Lokomotiv Moscow sports director Kirill Kotov all students were able to watch a game between Lokomotiv and Arsenal Tula. Our task was to write scout reports on a Arsenal player. It was a fun experience: imagine 30 guys with exercise books sitting in the empty stands (nobody else wanted to pay 1000 rubles for watching Bozovic’s Lokomotiv in March), and writing down every action of every player from Tula.
The workshop only lasted a week, and just like the rest of the participants I felt it was too short. We were happy just to be there, though, as it was the first workshop in Eastern Europe dedicated to football scouting (but not the first thing in Eastern Europe I have participated in). I don’t know any other way to get this much inside information about the football system. But most of all I appreciate the fact that I was able to meet so many people who understand and love football. People with whom you can discuss which players from the Swedish Allsvenskan who would fit the Russian League, and what qualities you need to pay attention when you buy defenders from the Chilean Primera.
Even though we all had very different backgrounds, football united us. Some were just football fans like me, another a former U21 national team player from Latvia, an ex-Anzhi scout and even a football coach from Sao Paolo. All of them seemed to be smart enough to start working in Russian football right now. Unfortunately, most Russian scouting departments don’t do any scouting, and the majority of Russian clubs usually buy the players they are offered by agents, while others clubs buy just to steal budget money. Very few have sporting department work with scouts who actually search for players.
This seemed to be the main reason for why Alexey Zinin created the workshop – he was tired of working with people who are not interested in developing their teams. Well, the clubs don’t need scouts right now. But the economic situation in Russia is worsening, and the clubs will have less money to spend, so they’ll have to spend their limited funds more wisely to stay competitive. Some clubs already suffer from spending too much as they are not in line with the financial fair play rules.
Some of my fellow students have already found jobs in Russian football thanks to the workshop. I keep looking. Dreams come true.
Follow Ilya on Twitter: @Lokosokol
Author: Ilya Sokolov
I became interested in football after the 1998 World Cup. Despite my dad wanting me to support Dynamo, I chose Lokomotiv (the name sounded great) and soon saw the team win the league for the first time in its history. Besides Loko, I also like watching Amateur League games in Moscow and its suburbs.