Why Arsenal are right to fire Francis Cagigao and our other scouts

Francis Cagigao Had it Coming (Part 1)

The news was as terrible as it sounded. The Arsenal hierarchy have decided to relieve 55 staff members of their positions, citing financial reasons due to the pandemic. Of course, it stirred an uproar. On the ethical side of things it looks pretty bad. The club is owned by billionaires and can afford to pay a single inactive footballer more than enough money to dwarf the collective compensation of the disemployed staff.

And on the sporting side, sacking your renowned head of international recruitment and your leading scouts in European countries for what is not clearly related to performance is probably a bad decision. But is it?

Do Arsenal, for sporting reasons, really need Francis Cagigao? (This will be the first of a three-part series that explains why Arsenal have fired Francis Cagigao and downsizing the scouting department).

The legend is that Francis Cagigao has a preternatural eye for first-team talent. From Cesc Fabregas to Hector Bellerin to Gabriel Teodore Martinelli: he spotted them all.

It sounds utterly romantic to the public eye: a far-roving scout is on the search for good football players when he comes upon a once-in-generation talent in an Albanian village playing keep-it-up with his siblings in their parents backyard. The scout spills his beer when he sees the elegant touch of the kid, finds a napkin and hurries across the yard to sign him up for one of the biggest clubs in the world where the kid will become a legend, break all kinds of records and dominate football for two decades. Except that both Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin were found by Cagigao at… Barcelona.

Or perhaps more realistically: it’s the final of an obscure junior tournament and a few hundred people have turned out to watch the two finalists battle it out. One of the Blue Team’s strikers gets injured and they have to put on an unknown 12-year-old who manages to collect the ball in the last minute inside his own penalty box, drives forward with it, skips past two challenges, turns an opponent inside out, and casually lobs it over the onrushing goalkeeper for his fifteenth hattrick of the game. Oh.

Wake up. Football is a much more organized sport than we imagine it to be. Youth teams in organized football are everywhere. By the time they are 14 or 15 years old, most of the top young players in Europe are known by all of the biggest clubs already.

Take Kylian Mbappé for instance. Shopped around for trials at the precious young age of 14 at Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG and Monaco. Chelsea are said to have missed out on him because they couldn’t assure first team football before his eighteenth birthday.

Or take Paul Labile Pogba — already the highlight and poster boy for his generation at the Manchester academy, just like a certain Mason Greenwood. Jadon Sancho went to Manchester City from Watford at 15 after a little war between several EPL clubs and he got signed by Dortmund for 10 million euros without playing one bit of senior football yet. Is that enough or do you need to remember Martin Odeegard who Real Madrid royally signed up at 15?

Even outside of Europe, where youth football is dominant, the same pattern exists: everyone pretty much knows who the very best players will be even before they enter teenagehood.

Take Neymar Dos Santos for an instance: signed up to be a Nike athlete and ambassador at the infantile age of 13. And just before then, given an exclusive tour of Real Madrid facilities, met with Zinedine Zidane, and even featured in a friendly match for a Madrid youth side that included Dani Carvarjal.

In The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer’s Next Superstars, the author, Sebastian Abbot, details how one of the Brazilian youth sides were already known as the Phillipe Coutinho team.

Mohammed Salah was a household star teenager at the Egyptian side, Al Ahly. Sadio Mané was recognized as one of the outstanding young players at Generation Foot academy. Nigeria steamrolled the U-17 World Cup with Samuel Chukwueze (who is destined for a big move) and Victor Osimhen (now at Napoli) who broke the scoring record. And, of course, Gabriel Teodore Martinelli had undergone trials at Barcelona and Manchester United, had been called up to the Brazilian national setup in 2019 and has a personal trainer and chef in preparation for a successful professional career.

The list is endless and the point is clear: Arsenal didn’t need a scout to recognize that Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique were top-tier talent. You don’t need a scout to see how Erling Halaand could be a very good striker.

The problem is not talent identification. Any fool can see Vinicius Junior’s bags of talent at 15. The problem, then, must be talent acquisition and retainment. How do you get your hands on any of these kids with such a bright future? And how do you keep the next Lionel Messi with your club?

Or what good would it be if you scouted Bukayo Saka as a League One club but couldn’t sign him up? What good would it be if all your kids were snatched away by bigger clubs before they could even debut for your u-23?

Don’t get it wrong. Scouting is still an important role. For example, if you were Real Madrid and had your pick among a dozen talented youngsters, who should you sign up? Scouting doesn’t just discovers talent, it assesses talent as well.

Or if you were Bournemouth and can’t even dream of any of the kids Real Madrid can throw away, then you might be scouting for the closest thing to what might be a Harry Kane — a youngster who isn’t yet spectacular by any means, but could put it all together in the future in senior football.

Scouts make both positive and negative recommendations, so if scouting is still obviously needed, why have Arsenal fired Francis Cagigao? Simple answer: human (or otherwise, manual) scouting at the very highest levels of football is becoming more redundant every passing day.

Why? Two reasons: technology and the agent-scout. In the next part of this article, I will explain why…

Agboola Israel

17 Comments

  1. Top Gunner says:

    Amongst all 55 scouts, how many talented youngsters did they spot in a period of 10yrs?

  2. Sean M says:

    Great concept for an article and good introduction. My appetite has been whetted and hoping the part 2 will be a well-researched piece on scouting in the 21st century. Keep it up Agboola!

  3. carl says:

    I totally agree scouting is a dying trade! Stats are what clubs buy on and data !! To have 55 scouts is just ridiculous and shows how far the club is behind the others !! Reducing the number was the right thing to do !! and many clubs are already doing the same but it hasnt been highlighted as its not Arsenal…..

  4. Highbury Hero says:

    I knew this was coming to be honest. It’s always like this first an uproar, then the justification and excuses and then everyone quickly forget.

    Personally can’t wait for the new season to start. I have come to the realization I have to care what happens on the pitch only like I did before. Matters outside the pitch not only are they depressing, they also take away enjoyment of the games.

    Caring for these things to me personally I don’t see what benefit I get or what changes my caring make. But I see what I am losing.

    1. Mobella says:

      Your comment is as fantastic as the article itself. What scouting did Dortmund did on Haaland and Sancho. Haaland went from Norway to Austria and to Germany. Non of our scouts spotted him. Sancho was under their noses making all noises about first team football they did not see him either just like they didn’t see Barca Dembele and Auba when in France. Dortmund could make nothing less than 300m if sell Haaland and Sancho with Dembele money. The next set of people to let go is the board members and those in charge of our recruitment. In just two days Liverpool was linked to Olympiakos LB and they got him. Manchester City likewise was linked with Torres and Ake, these young fine players had been unveiled already. Here we are with Party, how many months has it been now and we are still looking for a payment plan. Chelsea got Werner when German league was still on. It doesn’t look like we have a plan or know what we are doing. It is not a must we gat Party, there younger players who are better or equally as good as him we can get for cheaper price. When one deal is proving difficult move on to the next that is what Liverpool did. Acquisition is the most important.

      1. Kstix says:

        Some hard truths here Mobella. Good one.

      2. Highbury Hero says:

        Your last point is very strong IMHO

      3. GunnerJack says:

        Well said Mobella. Nice comment.

        1. ken1945 says:

          Mobella, good points that you make… remember how it was all going to change, when gazidis and his new regime took over from the “control freak” AW?

          “We got our Arsenal back ” it was trumpeted that day and here we are, worse than ever!! What irony Mobella, what irony.

          It turns out that AW was looking into a different way of accessing players and that the club continued to assess this.
          That’s why the scouting redundancies have taken place, according to reports anyway.

  5. Yemborg says:

    Fantastic analysis. I think 🤔 for real the scouting stuff is fading out.

  6. Christian Cletus says:

    obviously the club did take the right decision because this are few among many that we have in the club.waiting to hear our latest adition in the team and welcome to willians

  7. Deanolovesafc says:

    Just to put some facts out there, the 55 staff are match day, hospitality & Armoury staff, the scouts numbered just 13 so a total of 68, no fans in the ground also means no need for the 55 staff or 13 scouts for the foreseeable future, this doesn’t mean AFC are going full agent driven in recruiting its just a temporary measure while fans aren’t allowed in the ground, you don’t keep staff on as a business if there isn’t work for them to do for a while.

  8. Grandad says:

    I very much look forward to reading your article on the merits of having incestuous relationships with football agents,who are not universally held in high esteem by many highly successful Managers including a certain Sir Alex Ferguson and a Mr Arsene Wenger.While you could never be accused of being diplomatic, at least you have the decency to admit that scouting is “still obviously needed”.

    1. ken1945 says:

      Grandad, there was an article on Untold Arsenal that covers the reason for less scouting and it goes back to Arsene Wenger.
      It was in it’s infancy during AW’s first look at this, but it seems The Arsenal have carried on monitoring and evaluating this system.
      This is a method that uses a type of computer, slotted within a players boot, that registers things such as activity, speed, movement, fitness levels, heartbeat etc….more to it than that, but I’m sure it will be covered in part two of Agboola’s excellent article.

      As a footnote, the 55 that have been made redundant and not part of the scouting team…makes this 12.5% pay cut even more suspect in my opinion.

  9. Kstix says:

    A well researched and well written article Agboola. This gives a fresh perspective to things honestly and this is one of those cases where I appreciate well thought out and reasonable opposing views. As none of us are privy to what is actually going on within the four walls of Arsenal fc, except for what we see the players do on match days, all we can do is speculate (many thanks to the media that tries to blow many things out of proportion) and assume what is going on which might be totally contrary to what is actually going on. Thank you for shedding a little light on another angle to this debacle. Anxiously anticipating your other articles, maybe I’ll be able to counter some of your views there but for now, so far so good. Great job

  10. Stewart Macintosh says:

    Not sure I completely agree, but you are only at part one so I will see how the essay unfolds. It is a great way to dive into a complex story. Breaking it up into parts is good for those of us with limited attention spans 🙂

  11. Tinashe says:

    Well said Mobella. why can’t we do like other top clubs are doing.

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