By Simon Evans
NORWICH, England (Reuters) – When Norwich City’s head of recruitment Kieran Scott travelled to Spain to watch a potential transfer target, he was expecting to be one of many scouts at the second division match.
There are, after all, no secrets in modern football and Argentine Emiliano Buendia’s numbers, for Spanish second division club Cultural Leonesa, were impressive and video footage showed him to be a player of talent.
But no-one else seemed to be paying attention.
“Emi came in statistically very high, he was scouted very well, he fitted the age band, we went to watch him live and he was a very quick ‘yes’,” Scott told Reuters.
“Why was no-one else watching? I don’t know. I was sat there thinking why I am the only person here in Leonesa? I just couldn’t work it out.”
Perhaps the answer is that Norwich, second in England’s second tier Championship, are exceptional at the scouting and recruitment business.
The Norfolk side could once again go top of the standings with a win over Hull City on Wednesday. The top two teams will gain promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season.
The 22-year-old Buendia has proved a wise investment, scoring five goals and providing nine assists in 31 appearances as Norwich outperform clubs who have spent significantly more in the bid to reach the top flight.
The approach taken by Norwich, under Sporting Director Stuart Webber, is evident from a glance at their first team squad – a mixture of European, particularly German, players signed for modest fees and talented homegrown academy products.
The top scorer is Finnish forward Teemu Pukki — signed for free after he was released by Danish club Brondby IF.
Every day Scott’s small team monitor the statistical reports from across Europe and beyond in search of a player who could fit the needs of their German manager Daniel Farke. Lead recruitment analyst Mariela Nisotaki makes sure that the stats are meaningful.
“If you get numbers without context it really doesn’t mean much,” she says. The Wyscout software system allows the staff to dig deeper, visually, on a player’s skill set.
For Webber, the recruitment system is part of an overall concept for progress for the club.
“It comes down to three things – firstly, developing a way of playing which your supporters can identify with and relate to,” he says.
“Secondly having an open mind in the transfer market as a club that is self-funded, acknowledging that there are lots of players that offer better value than in the UK. Third thing is a real emphasis and passion for young players.”
That clear sense of identity has been shaped by Farke, whose team play an attractive brand of passing and pressing football – not unlike his former club Borussia Dortmund where he was coach of the reserves until joining Norwich in 2017.
“We know what we are looking for, we know what a full back, for example, for Norwich City has to look like. We try to take away the personal opinion and look at it in terms of a fit for us. That helps you rule out a lot of players quickly.
“A number nine who is good in the air may tick lots of boxes but we don’t play in the air,” says Webber.
The full squad has seven German players and four others who have played in the Bundesliga, a result of a deliberate policy.
That was an approach that Webber took in his previous job at Huddersfield Town where German manager David Wagner managed to guide them to promotion and survival in their first season in the top flight.
“I think their education system for coaches has been the best. The German pro licence is the hardest one to get in Europe. The leagues are similar – the second division and the Championship are the closest in comparison. There is a good chance if a German player will settle,” Webber says.
“I thought if we could take the best of what the British do and the best of what the Germans do, that is very powerful. A British player is much more professional on the pitch, works harder in training and tougher.
“But a German player is much more professional off the pitch – will take his nutrition, rest and recovery, seriously. They are brought up more professionally. I thought if we can put the two together – we have a really strong mix.”
The club’s joined up approach is evident in their academy, which has produced the likes of current first-teamers Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis and Josh and Jacob Murphy, currently playing in the Premier League for Cardiff City and Newcastle United respectively.
The key test is if an approach that has worked so well in the Championship will be able to survive the pressures of the Premier League but Webber says the club won’t change their style if they do go up.
“The philosophy stays the same but it just means we have greater resources to go and get maybe a higher-end version of what we are doing,” he says.
“As a club we have to be thinking, we might get relegated, it’s not the aim but it might happen and if it does, we come back stronger, we go again, rather than we spend a load of money on a load of players with no connection to the club, who are only here because its money and the Premier League.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge)