Phil Hay: Leeds United’s scouting network is paying dividends

Thomas Christiansen.
Thomas Christiansen.
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Thomas Christiansen was talking about “a luxury problem” before Tuesday’s game against Birmingham City, which in football parlance sounds like mechanical issues on a private jet.

Christiansen, from what we know of him, is not one of life’s extravagant high-rollers and in this instance he was talking about footballers: so many form players, so few places in his team. A manager’s dream, a month into the season.

Hearing him say so brought to mind the Leeds United coaches over the years who found the question of who to leave out very simple.

In the words of one, the easy part of the job was establishing who among his squad wasn’t good enough.

There were always alternatives and decisions to make, players tentatively knocking on the door, but a ceiling of performance whichever 11 they chose.

Nothing like Christiansen, who at the start of this week had the highest-scoring and most defensively-sound team in the Championship.

Leeds United's director of football Victor Orta.

Leeds United's director of football Victor Orta.

The biggest feather for Leeds’ early results rests in Christiansen’s cap, because football clubs can’t have it both ways.

If the mess at Crystal Palace is Frank De Boer’s doing then the buck for United’s best start to a second-division season in more than a generation stops with Christiansen but behind him is a scouting team whose hit-rate is going through the roof, vindicating a distinct approach to the summer transfer market.

It became clear with hindsight why, on the basis of recruitment alone, Garry Monk did not like the sound of Andrea Radrizzani’s intentions.

Middlesbrough, to a point, went at the Championship with the division’s own players: Assombalonga, Howson, Christie, Shotton, Randolph. Leeds’ solitary Championship signing was a second-choice goalkeeper and only three others were based in England.

Leeds’ scouting has moved into the 21st century, albeit a little behind the curve.

Phil Hay

United’s recruitment department like the breadth of talent abroad and the club like the value for money. Samuel Saiz cost somewhere upwards of £3m. Pierre-Michel Lasogga is playing on loan for £15,000 a week.

These were Championship prices, before the Championship got out of hand.

There was little or no point in Monk demanding a different way at Leeds. The club had appointed Victor Orta as their sporting director before Monk resigned and continental scouting is what Orta does.

Leeds have since named a head of European recruitment in Gaby Ruiz – seen in pre-season in Austria but largely out in the field – and an equivalent in Asia, Toshiya Fujita.

Frank De Boer.

Frank De Boer.

The club’s on-going work to sign Gamba Osaka’s Yosuke Ideguchi, a move which could go through in January, was instigated by Orta but Leeds want Fujita, himself a former player with the Japan’s national team, to properly open the gate to the Far East.

Orta brought Dani Salas, a retired defender and previously on the staff at Sevilla, on board as a scout in the summer alongside another Spaniard in Paco Peral.

Peral was once a senior figure at Elche, where Orta worked before heading for Middlesbrough in 2015.

After coming to England, Orta enlisted Peral to work on Boro’s recruitment. Below them is a network which reaches into different regions of Europe; the “priority” markets, as Orta calls them, and the minor leagues.

Closer to home, Alex Davies – Leeds’ diligent and long-standing performance analyst – has been repositioned as a recruitment analyst, part of an Elland Road-based team which also includes Andrea Lore.

Lore’s name will ring a bell as the Miami-based furniture salesman who, through a slice of luck or natural charm, found his way to Leeds on the coattails of Massimo Cellino.

A young Frenchman, for a while he was held up as an example of Cellino’s excesses – an inexperienced, untrained mind with unreasonably close proximity to United’s players and transfers – but this summer, as the decks were cleared of Cellino’s scent, Orta saw enough knowledge in him to justify keeping him on.

Lore is said to have recommended the introduction of Wyscout last year, the Italian software package which allows for detailed analysis of individual players.

More than 600 professional clubs make use of it.

Leeds’ scouting has moved into the 21st century, albeit a little behind the curve.

But then Leeds are the club who left Brian McDermott mystified when they told him in 2013 that they were not using Prozone.

Leeds are the club who bashfully informed him they had no scouting network to speak of.

This, now, is the established modern blend of qualitative, statistical analysis, performance reviews and character assessments.

There were doubts at Leeds about Lasogga’s attitude until they sat the German down at Elland Road and let him speak for himself and that sort of consideration is why clubs pay good money for an overview of a potential signing’s personality.

It narrows the risk of Adryan arriving in England to find the cold weather a bind and the Championship none too tolerant of his feather-light flair.

It allowed United to conclude that Lasogga was genuinely interested.

In the end some signings go horribly wrong anyway and Orta’s team would be peaking too soon by popping corks seven games into the season, but they are in credit with Christiansen and there is something satisfying about a transfer blueprint which amounts to more than the infinite monkey theorem.

Like a chimp writing Shakespeare, it stands to reason that Leeds will get where they’re going eventually.

What can’t be said if they get there this season is that it happened by chance.