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Kaustubh Pandey interviews professional scout, Massimo Tanzillo on the art and science that is scouting.
Scouting, in modern-day football, has become an indispensable part of the game, one that thrives on producing youngsters. And having a setup that taps and extracts youth players with potential has not just now become a necessity in the game, but was one some years ago too. Take any club as an example, be it small or big, plying its trade in the first division or in the fourth, it has a youth setup that strives to propel the club from its foundations. And although, people who form the scouting system of a club don’t get as much credit as those who help the club win things on the pitch, they are just as important. The amount of work they do in the background forms the core of the club and of its existence. They bring the best youngsters that play in areas all across the globe, playing a substantial role in what they become in the future. While Cristiano Ronaldo has become a world heralded superstar, few have any speck of idea about Ed van Steijn, the man who scouted him and eventually played a role in bringing him to Old Trafford back in 2003.
Massimo Tanzillo is another one of those people in the game who have a certain amount of passion for plucking out youngsters from specific areas of the globe. Accredited by the Italian Football Federation, Massimo specializes and co-ordinates scouting activities in Italy, Czech Republic and Slovakia. “Earlier, I used to be a journalist and a director of a website called Generazione Di Talenti, which still is an important source for identifying young talents in football. I even formed an important partnership with Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport during that time. Due to the work I did there, many agents started contacting me to co-operate,” says Massimo.
“I began working as a scout for the local agency first and I earned success with the most important agency in Italy. I did an official course with the Italian Federation and it was a dream to work alongside the best scouts and be trained by the director of the Italian federation. Currently, I am a scout accredited by the FIGC and Alessandria Calcio was the first club to trust me.”
Someone who has an in-depth and reliable knowledge of the Italian game, Massimo currently lives in Naples and is an avid Partenopei fan. The 30-year-old has worked in two different styles of scouting- under an agency and for a club but, he prefers the former, he admits. “Working for a club and working under an agency are two different things. A club always looks for a calciotore obiettivo, the Italian word for the kind of player the club targets. When with an agent, the search is different. You have to search for good players, who are without an agent, to sign with your agency. In this case, the age, salary or position of a player is not important,” he says.
Massimo belongs to the modern batch of scouts in a world where statistics pertaining to the game have become a prominent way of judging a player and his abilities, but he feels that statistics aren’t the only way of judging a player. His opinion exists somewhere in the middle, “These days, statistics are considered more important when judging a player and I agree with that. But I am not an ‘extremist’ in that aspect. Statistics can’t suggest whether a player will be a superstar or not, but going to the stadium and scouting him will help a lot in determining this. The ability and sense of a scout to judge a player is a talent in its own too and using statistics can’t replace it. But, the best way to work is a combination of both.” Massimo also goes on to admit that it depends on circumstance as to which way to resort to when identifying the talent of a player and he accepts that there is a process involved. “Watching videos of a player is a good way to begin learning and knowing about a player, but when calciotore obiettivo is identified, the best way is to go watch him play.”
The process of scouting isn’t as easy or simple as it looks on paper, contrary to the general notion and much like how Massimo treats scouting as a ‘talent in its own’, not all are capable of detecting who is a good player and worth roping in. “Earlier, I used to presume that watching a player for a few minutes would be enough. but experience taught me that to identify a ‘trend of performance’ and know a player more extensively, it’s very important to watch him play in more than one match,” says the Italian, approving of watching a youngster take the pitch regularly to be sure of how he will perform under different situations and conditions.
Virtus Entella’s young midfielder Jan Havlena is one of the brightest players he has scouted and identified as someone with loads of potential. The 17-year-old recently made a first-team debut for the Serie B outfit against Vicenza. Massimo is full of praise for Havlena, who has played twice for the Czech Republic Under 19s side, despite being only 17. “He’s a player with loads of potential, ” he says. “I am really proud of him because his debut in the Serie B is a product of perfect scouting system. He was scouted by my partner from a small club in Czech Republic and thanks to intermediaries and me, he came to Italy where the Entella director wanted him.”
Massimo’s reference to a perfect scouting system roots from his understanding of the Italian youth system being slightly flawed. “The problem starts from youth sectors. No rules are followed and their task is viewed more as a business. There’s a domination of a circle of friends and group of unprofessional profiles. We can see that being prevalent in many clubs today.”
Massimo Tanzillo belongs to a certain section of football people, whose presence is overshadowed by those who are seen on television, always wanting their side to win. Managers and players are those characters in the game, who earn every bit of credit if a club progresses. Admittedly, they deserve a lot of credit for working with the players and facilities that they have at their disposal but wars cannot won without weapons, can they? Imagine fighting a war with frail weapons and against stiff opponents. In football, scouts are those people who supply managers with weapons to win battles on the pitch. Without them, a club is most likely destined to falter. Thanks to Massimo and many other scouts across the footballing universe, the game that we love is what it is.