Wyscout Talks: Fabio Papagni, Scouting Coordinator at UC Sampdoria
It’s not a mystery how in football attention is focused on what happens on the “main stage”: the football pitch. Results, performances, tactics, everything is analyzed with maniacal meticulousness, taking up the first pages of newspapers, sports channels and even the bar talks.
Only a very small part of what happens outside the pitch is considered and examined and it usually is something related to locker room gossip, footballers’ gossip or… transfer market gossip. However, and that’s not a secret, the football world is a complex machine, where every little gearwheel has its own defined and structured function, always decisive for the accomplishments of the club or national team.
And of course, all the professionals of The Beautiful Game need the best tools available to do their job at the highest level possible. Whether they are coaches, match analysts, talent scouts, agents, journalists or players, their daily job is based on the use of tools dedicated to professionals, that can help them maximize their contribution to their club’s ultimate success. And more than 35.000 of them use Wyscout to do so.
But as we were saying, most of the times their job remains behind the curtains, unknown and unrecognized by most people. So, we decided to start a tour that will allow us to meet football professionals from all over the world, with the purpose of showing you – or even better, let them tell you – how their job is and how Wyscout is part of that.
We started with a visit to Fabio Papagni, Scouting Area Coordinator at UC Sampdoria, one of Serie A’s most famous and important clubs, as well as one of Wyscout’s very first clients. Here’s what he told us.
Would you explain to us how Sampdoria’s Scouting Area works? How many people it counts and which are the main tools used?
Obviously, our guidelines and inputs come directly from the Sports Management, particularly from the Technical Area Director, Walter Sabatini, and the Sporting Director, Carlo Osti. They’re always very attentive with all the scouting dynamics and updated about everything: what we’re doing, where we’re going and what we’re watching. We have a daily discussion with them about all our activities.
Regarding my duties, I take care of coordinating all the scouting activities, for the first team and the youth teams, for both the operational/organizational part and the informative one, as much as reporting what we do. I have the task to bring the exits of our work to the two directors’ attention. As said, we have a daily confrontation. So, once I shared with them the results of our work and the profiles we are interested the most in, we share all the information, allowing them to continue with the next steps of their work. Every two months, we set up a meeting with all our scouts, also with Sporting Management, to share and evaluate our work.
Regarding our staff: we have five scouts in the European area, working for the first team and the ‘older’ part of the youth sector, U17 and U20. Three of them live in Italy, while two abroad: one in Serbia and the other one in Croatia. They travel a lot, because even if they have their assigned territory – the Serbian and Croatian ones – they also cover other areas in that region. Then, we have two international scouts that cover South America. One lives in Argentina, while the other in Brazil and their main task is to take care of the domestic leagues. They travel around all South America – in these days they’re both following the Sudamericano Sub 20 – but they also watch the Colombian, Venezuelan, Chilean, Uruguayan, and Paraguayan leagues… South America is their business.
We have a daily relationship with them as well, we talk a lot and we share all the information. I think they’re doing an excellent job. This year, we also started another project that our Sporting Director Carlo Osti strongly wanted, that is intensifying our presence on the Italian territory on the youth level. So, we hired ten scouts with an interregional competence from Veneto to Sicily, passing by Lazio, Tuscany and Campania. They take care of young players born in 2004 and 2005. They’re doing an excellent job and we’re having massive results at that level of knowledge.
Which are the main steps to become a talent scout in a professional club?
In this case, we’re talking about professional scouts, not occasional collaborators as sometimes happens. True professionals, available 24/7. This means lots of sacrifices: they travel a lot, and they’re rarely at home. It’s very challenging and demands a great passion to do it properly. Then, you need many other things. It’s not easy.
It takes competence, curiosity, knowledge, football sensitiveness, attention. It takes the ability to catch the positive and negative shades of a player, being able to judge him regardless of his single performance. It takes the ability to contextualize him, understanding his potential and the adaptability to our kind of football. Talking about a young player, understanding his potential is never an easy task.
Then, every scout has to develop his own methodology, nobody should discuss his judgement. I think that a good scout has to make an evaluation that is a mixture of objective and subjective data. He has to be good at describing the player, not only at watching him. To me, a good scout is able to explain and let you understand a player with just a few lines. This is a necessary skill for a scout.
As you’ve been in this club for many years, how has your work changed in the last years?
Over the years we developed our own methodology and we are very happy with it because we think it brought good results. Of course, we always discuss how we can improve our work. We try to understand if and how we can do better. We consolidated our methodology on a general level, but our goal never changes: seek, find, evaluate and present to the Sports Management the most interesting profiles.
We also added new people to our team; it’s natural to have some changes from time to time. I think that technology also brought many changes, because it really helps you, allowing to have a live report on your smartphone about a player that, for example, has just played in South America. It allows you to know and evaluate data and stats. It allows you to know if a player had injuries in recent times and if so, which kind of injuries. Technology gave significant help to improve our job in the last years.
Is there any particular club you got inspired by in realizing your Scouting Area and in developing your methodology?
It’s natural to look around and see how other people work. We did that and we realized we did a good job. Actually, we didn’t get inspired by any specific club, even if we want to stay humble and see how others are working.
As I said, we developed our own methodology, particularly in regard to the kind of report we make about a player. It’s a report we produced a few years ago and we’re still using it because we think it works. This report analyzes different aspects of a player: the physical side, the tactical side, the technical side and the behavioural side of the player. These four boxes must always be filled. Then, we have a more descriptive section, where the scout tells his feeling about the player and adds personal considerations about him, overall and in perspective. Then, of course, we need to make a judgment. We ask our scouts to take the responsibility of a final judgment: “sign him” or “don’t sign him”.
Then, Sporting Management will use this information, archived on a dynamic file and constantly updated, including the ten best profiles with relative reports. This dynamic file, that we call “Top 11”, works on an internal software and allows us to manage all scouting activities, but also the medical area, training, games, trials and the players’ management. A software that allows 360-degree management of the club.
How essential the work of scouts is at Sampdoria and how they operate?
Scouts give a very important contribution to a football club: it’s an important role, essential for us. We strongly believe in scouting and we have to put our scouts in the conditions to work at their best, both on preliminary and logistic stages. And they have to be good in bringing lots of data back to us.
They all use video, particularly on Wyscout. They all have access to the platform, and they watch game after game. We gave them a league to follow. Every time they see a new player that they like – or they don’t like – I ask them to study him deeply, to have a clearer idea about the player and his characteristics.
We watch a lot of videos and we recently added a new procedure: a person dedicated to working on video and footage on Wyscout. This person produces video clips: a short resume – 15 to 20 minutes – analyzing the player under main components. Technique, tactic, off-the-ball movements, offensive phase, defensive phase, understanding of the game. Basically, everything the footballer does on the pitch. These clips are very helpful in evaluating the player, especially for the Sporting Director, who travels a lot with the team and has so many things to do. These clips help him get an idea about a player before deciding whether to keep working on him or not.
At Sampdoria, which are the main steps to scout a footballer?
Everything starts with a strong basis of information; we have names and profiles to follow. We also have specific needs and, therefore, some leagues that we must follow with particular attention. We have to be good at understanding where are the players that we need and which are the primary markets for us. This is phase one: understanding what to seek and where to find it.
Afterwards, there’s the scouts’ work, they travel a lot and watch many games every week. When travelling, they watch lots of games in a few days – both first and youth teams – always trying to optimize costs.
Watching youth teams’ games also help us build an archive of players, so when we are interested in a 21-22-year-old player we have known him for 3 or 4 years since we watched his games with the national team, the U17, U19 or U21. An archive is very important also to better know a player, with a clear vision of his tactical evolution – maybe he used to be a midfielder and now he is an advanced forward – and his physical and behavioural development. It’s very useful for us.
After we scouted a player, we have to evaluate him. When a footballer is considered an interesting profile, we start to cross-check different reports. Other people from our department travel to assess him, he will be assessed again and watched on video. We really try to bring to the Sports Management a product that for us, as scouts, has been fully analyzed and considered as an interesting profile for Sampdoria. Again, we have to know what we are looking for and what we need, also relating to the tactic used by the coach, the characteristics and adaptability to our league and, most of all, to our team. In the end, we bring these profiles to the attention of the Sports Management, who follows up with further evaluations and, ultimately, the final decision.
How old your youngest prospects are?
Of course, when possible, it is better to know a player as soon as possible. At the same time, though, timing is set by laws and regulations. Some of them can only move within their own region, others can move only in Italy, EU players can be signed at 16 and then non-EU players… So timing is set by regulations, you cannot operate otherwise.
Of course, it’s good to anticipate our knowledge about a player, but not too much. For example, scouting a 14 years-old player from Serbia would be pointless, because we wouldn’t be able to sign him. Within a few years, he could change a lot, maybe also changing the sport. So, we have to know when we can and when it makes sense to scout players.
Which are the future steps in the development of your Scouting Department?
As said before, we think we can and we have to improve year after year. We are happy with the work done and it would be good to consolidate it, maybe making it even more effective.
Maybe we can think about adding one of two people in the staff, maybe as scouts. But I think we already reached a good level and in the next future, we only have to confirm all the good things we already did, which is never easy or sure. Because when you do something and you do it properly, repeating is never easy. We have to be good to keep this level above all.
Will you increase the usage and analysis of big data?
I think that the work we’re doing is already quite comprehensive. We pay attention to statistics as well, examined as soon as a player becomes an interesting profile, so we immediately analyse his stats and data.
These data are available on Wyscout as well; we read them, we study them, we make them our own, adding them to the scouts’ reports, to what we already watched on video and live at games.
In recent years, you signed a lot of players from the Balkans and the Northern-European leagues, is there a reason behind this trend?
Let’s say that everything happens for a reason. We have a club policy and we have goals. The fact, for example, that we have two scouts living in the Balkans is meaningful. We think those areas are very interesting. We follow the Serbian leagues, Croatian, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland… I also like the Belgian and Netherlands leagues. We think we can find interesting profiles in those countries, as they historically produce lots of talents. This is not a secret, everybody knows it.
In these recent years we signed many players from those areas, we noticed strong adaptability to our league and our football. Most of them have been shown to be reliable in every aspect of their life. Disciplined, on and off the pitch, and they are physical, they have football in their DNA. So, we follow very closely these leagues. Then, of course, nobody can ignore South-American champions and, in fact, we have two scouts there. We are very focused on those countries too; Brazil and Argentina, and the whole of South America.
Also, there are Scandinavian countries, where players are very interesting as well: they are solid, reliable, they have the physicality and good adaptability. We signed the Danish Andersen, the polish Linetty… We had Skriniar for a couple of seasons. Now we have Jankto, Dennis Praet from Belgium. So, covering these leagues makes sense to us.
Of course, we also follow top European leagues: Liga, Bundesliga, Premier League… We also cover second teams and second tiers, since we believe that there are good market opportunities there.
How Sampdoria uses Wyscout to scout and monitor an interesting player?
The Wyscout platform is very helpful, we use it on a daily basis because in our job we have lots of needs and curiosity. For example, if I receive a message from a scout, watching a player he considers interesting, I can stop and immediately watch some videos on Wyscout, because I’m curious and I want to know what we are talking about. Then, we also use it in a more extensive way, as we give to every scout some leagues to cover during the season.
We have a very good basis of knowledge, but we can’t know every single player. Sometimes it happens that an agent shows you an interesting profile, that we don’t know, maybe because he’s very young or because he’s from a particular championship. Wyscout allows us to immediately check and know something about this player. We can watch a whole game or just some highlights, every event of his game, according to his position and his origin. Then we have short clips that are very good to resume the whole player in 15-20 minutes. Of course, we can also analyse him thoroughly, after seeing the clips.
Wyscout is a very helpful tool for us, with a huge coverage of leagues and games. Inside the platform, we also use the statistical part. Sports Management and I, and most of all the scouts use it daily. It’s very useful.
Which are the main criteria that you take into consideration when recruiting a new scout for your club?
As I said, it’s not easy to become a scout, you must have credentials. Of course, is helpful to have been in professional football, it’s important. It’s not necessary, but it helps you have some sort of football sensitivity, for some details that you could miss otherwise. But again, it’s not a “conditio sine qua non”. There can be good scouts, who never played at a high level. A scout should develop his own method, make experiences and watch many, many, many games.
I think that a club won’t likely recruit a scout that they don’t know, because trust and knowledge are very important in this job. We’re talking about a very critical position, where you have to talk the less and listen the most. So, there’s also an important element of confidentiality and knowing a person, trusting him, it is very helpful. In football, it’s very easy to have connections, everybody knows each other. Scouts move within this ecosystem and it’s common for a scout to change club. So, we can say there is some sort of scouts transfer market as well.
To become a professional scout, you have to pay your dues, be passionate, follow the youth sector and lower-leagues football, watch many games, live and on tv. You can’t be afraid of judging a player but at the same time, you don’t’ have to be too hasty in doing that. We have our team of scouts, that is growing strong and we really hope we won’t have to change it.