The performance of any club depends heavily on the quality of work done behind the scenes throughout the year.
In the recent past, we witnessed that almost all Indian Super League (ISL) clubs have already started strengthening their squad for the next season, even before the campaign ended.
Kerala Blasters grabbed headlines by signing Nishu Kumar from Bengaluru, ATK got the signature of Subhasish Bose whereas FC Goa are set to snatch Redeem Tlang from NorthEast United.
Currently, most of the ISL clubs have a Head of Player Recruitment in place although the designation varies as some clubs have Chief Technical Officer (CTO) while some go for the Director of Football position, something which is quite common in Europe. In some clubs it is usually the Indian assistant coach or Technical Director who play a vital role in spotting a talent and then does the requisites to lure the player to the club. The Head of Player Recruitment brings to the notice of the head coach a particular player who fits the bill, and if the head coach is satisfied with the profile further steps are taken to reach out and sign the player.
"Most coaches prefer domestic players who have already played in the ISL. It is an advantage because they are already familiar with the competition of the league. But we also keep an eye on the I-League and if any player performs well throughout the season we try to sign him," said an official in the know-how.
As far as foreign players are concerned, usually the foreign head coaches recommend the club management about their preferred choice. Coaches like to bring in players with whom they have worked before and hence Spanish players are plying their trade in plenty as most teams have a head coach of the same nationality. Clubs also use various online video scouting platforms like InStat and WyScout to scout foreign players.
In some clubs, the coach is allowed to bring in three or four overseas players of his choice and the rest of the quota, the coach has to select from the profiles of players brought to him by a committee which could most likely consist of the Chief Executive Officer, CTO and Sporting Director / Technical Director.
In fact, officials as high ranking as the CEO get involved in the scouting process in India - something which is very rare in world football.
Teams also reach out to player agents for curriculum vitae and if any candidate is given the go-ahead by the technical staff, further steps are undertaken to sign the player.
In terms of youth teams, usually the U-13 and U-15 sides mostly have players who are from the same state as most clubs don’t have a residential academy and thus moving an outstation U13 or U15 kid is not feasible. However, for U18 and B teams, scouting is done all around the country to find the best possible young talent. However, this is only done by a handful of clubs. It is just two or three clubs who do this properly.
The scouting for such talent is usually done by clubs through training camps in different parts of the country where young players undergo trials. With the All India Football Federation (AIFF) restarting the Indian Arrows project, life has become easier for the clubs. The youngsters who perform well with the Arrows are signed by the ISL clubs and subsequently sent back on a loan deal so that they can get adequate match time under their belt.
The CTOs also keep a keen eye on other domestic tournaments and local leagues. In June 2017, East Bengal had sent scouts to the first edition of Kerala Premier League and one center-forward from Kerala State Electricity board caught their eye. And subsequently, in July a certain Jobby Justin was signed for the next I-League season.
Similarly, Rajesh S had a splendid outing in the Santosh Trophy for Karnataka and offers from various I-League clubs came swooping. Ultimately, he signed for Gokulam Kerala in 2018.
FC Goa's Manvir Singh came in to prominence when he scored the winning goal for West Bengal in the Santosh Trophy final against Goa. Subsequently, he was signed by the Gaurs. Even Jessel Carneiro was roped in by Kerala Blasters after the left-back shone for FC Bardez in the Goa Pro League.