Meet The Manchester City Scout Charged With Finding The New Aguero

We spoke to Manchester City’s man in South America, Fernando Troiani, to find out what he does, how he does it and who’ll be the next big thing.
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For the uninitiated Manchester City’s player acquisitions are like Little Britain’s Lou and Andy going to the shops. A club exec with a mullet pushing Roberto Mancini around in a wheelchair as he points to players he likes the look of muttering ‘I want that one’. But spend some time with Manchester City scout Fernando Troiani and you’ll see it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Where have you scouted before? Do you prefer being in South America looking for talent?

Well I'm reasonably young (37) but I've already had the opportunity to work in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, Hannover), Switzerland (Grasshoppers Zurich), Russia (Spartak Moscow) and England which I find very, very interesting too. I have been sent practically everywhere from the Argentinean Patagonia to South Korea to the exotic Amazone to the nose-bleeding altitude of La Paz, Bolivia and every setting is unique and fascinating.

Does the club give you an idea of the position they'd like filled? Or do you purely recommend on talent?

Before anything else we must be aware of every talented player in the region, irrespective of age. Know our own ranks and be familiar with the reserves, the U18's, the U16's, the U15's -every group. This way we have a better understanding of what we've got, where we might be lacking, where we are more than well covered and we are part of a comprehensive succession plan strengthening the right positions/roles/age groups while supporting those already in the system who will eventually make our first team. We are looking at talent to make us stronger but also for them to benefit from our coaching, ourprogrammes, feeling valuable assets to the club -not making signings for the sake of signing.

Does the club ask a specific type of player from South America? i.e a Messi or Aguero style talent. Fast, excellent with the ball at their feet and with a low centre of gravity?

No, I've had talks with our Academy bosses and get constant feedback from my superiors Mike Rigg and Gary Worthington at the scouting department and I've got to say I find our approach very refreshing. Of course in English football you always look at physical attributes, athleticism, intensity, directness and being commanding –but not just that. We look at all kinds of details and gestures that we feel are important, and there is no obligation or any particular types that prevail. It is great news that we can acquire, support and play really good footballers such as David Silva, a true statement of the direction of this football club.

When you see a player what are you judging him on the most, the talent he's got now or the potential that he might have?

Both. Sometimes you need players who would "help you right away" but in my case potential plays a major part. Even if you sign a senior from South America with 50 top-flight appearances for his club generally he is not quite the finished article for a number of reasons. Plus it often happens that kids are really outstanding at the age 12, 14 or 16 and then when they reach 17-18 they tend to go level with the rest (especially in physical terms) so it's always a case of combining the actual performance with the closest possible calculation of their potential.

When they're young, are South American players generally more physically underdeveloped than European ones if they come from impoverished backgrounds in the favelas?

Well not always. Have a look at clubs like Internacional or Gremio (Brazil), Boca Juniors, Vélez or Banfield (Argentina). In some regions of Brazil kids are so big, strong and developed it's frightening. However this is not quite the norm and you can also notice clear underdevelopment in some rural areas of Argentina as well as the "villa miserias" (our answer to the favelas) you look at the Argentina under age national sides and there's almost no strikers above 5'9’’.

That is something you also have to deal with in, say, Chile or Perú where you have some impressive technicians however there is severe lacking in nutrition, a lot of family-related issues and addictions. These kids who don't have all the tools. It's frustrating to see a promising 16-year-old who does not know how to hydrate himself properly but already has a baby and is under pressure to support a whole family and an entourage. A huge challenge indeed.

Are clubs happy to accept smaller players for European and particularly British football?

I've noticed a very pleasant trend of late. As opposed to the era of static, contact-based football with the growth/expansion of the Premier League as perhaps the most important in the world the game has started to (many would argue) "evolve" into a more fluid, less schematic form with better building out the back I guess purists would say ‘more continental’ with less long balls and automatisms.

Clubs with vision are looking at football globally and with an open mind. And as a result smaller players are finding their niche, being able to integrate and making a contribution with their own set of qualities. English football has learned to appreciate different types of players (sizes and style wise) and success stories like Silva's, or Modric's to name a couple are a proof of that.

What are the age ranges do you generally look at? What's the earliest age you could get an idea of that players future potential?

There are no restrictions. It could be a 28-year-old who is close to the end of their contract and would do a job for us, or a 12-year-old standing out whilst playing futsal in the outskirts of Rosario, Santa Fe. Last year I went to see a boy in Uruguay, 13 years of age, who was pretty much an infant, totally unathletic and did not look much bigger than a football! Whether or not it's too early to bring them in it is important that we do our homework and know everything about him and monitor his development. That "chubby little one" could be the next Edinson Cavani.

Is there a pressure to provide scouting reports on younger and younger players as the competition for South American talent increases?

On the one hand it is my job to report on everyone regardless of the age and have them in our database, on the other hand working with really, really young boys can be a "gamble" as you have to invest, support and develop them for a significant period of time without actually knowing for certain if they are going to be a hit. The key then is to have the biggest wealth flow of information, keep it flowing and manage it wisely.

People in South America might only just have heard of Manchester City in the last few years. Is it harder to sell the idea of City to them if scouts from Barcelona/Milan etc are there?

Not anymore really. Our recent success and having turned the club around have put us in contention. We talk to players, parents, clubs and agents and they are aware of our tradition, our ambitions and the way Manchester City Football Club are working today and I like to believe that we are starting to beat some of the biggest clubs in the world to get the big players. We have competitive directors, executives and scouts and we get out there.

How does it feel when you see a kid in South America wearing a Manchester City shirt?

It is great to see kids in the streets of Latin America donning City shirts. It was hardly the case before and I guess the arrival of Tévez was a big trigger. The only negative is, now clubs/agents seem to believe that we are a philanthropic organisation of some sort and expect us to pay insane figures!

Do players in South America aspire to play in English football or do they look to the Iberian clubs like Real Madrid and Porto?

Things are changing. From the days of Altafini, Sívori, Zico, Maradona, Falcao, Sosa, Francescoli, Redondo etc South American players have had great affinity with La Liga and Serie A. As well as being a fine place to move for them and their families they found it easier to adapt/integrate. However there's been a nice shift of late with footballers appreciating the Premiership as well as the experience of living in Britain. They appreciate the top-level facilities (unlike some in Italy or Spain that look pre-historic due to lack of investment) and real passion but without the player abuse or the risks. With international football being under pressure in various countries players highly value the order, organisation and respect they get in England and have made it their first-choice destination -and not just for the money. Portugal is different: in general terms South American footballers go there as a stepping stone to eventually move on to Spain, Italy and now England.

Are you seeing more of a global influence on young players in South America?

Football is indeed becoming more and more global. There's this player, Darío Ferreira who is an U20 international from Paraguay. He lives in good old sunción, tens of kilometres away but they call him "Cristiano" as he looks up to and tries to play like -and even look like- Ronaldo. Weird sense of fashion included!

Do scouts have to have a ‘global’ outlook?

I like to have a broad picture not just of my area but "global" so that I am able to see what works, what does not, who is ahead physically, who is better trained, who can give you great, consistency and who you'd never play at a title decider. It's always positive to have a good general knowledge and to be analytical. When I recommend, say, a left-back from Ecuador I try and make sure he's as good as our top left-back in that age group -or better. Or, knowing our own lads well I can always inform my Head of Recruitment "no mate, player X would not give us something different -maybe player Y currently of Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetz'k would be the best alternative".

Is there a friendly rivalry between scouts or is the pressure to find the players too much?

No, usually there is a certain comradery. You find each other attending the same matches, covering the same tournaments, you often use the same agencies and stay in the same hotels, we are quite friendly and help each other out with line-up sheets, transportation, practical matters tec. Generally speaking there is a good atmosphere however when it comes to work we are ultra-protective, we don't share any info and just want to do the best we can.

You can often witness this in the stands, on buses, in hotel lobbies. You happen to have coincided with an Arsenal scout, a Juventus informer, a Bayern Munich director, everyone's avoiding everybody else and nervously looking the other way, but you always try to overhear their conversations!

Finally can you give our reader a name which they can impress their friends at the pub with by saying 'just watch, this kid's going to be massive'?

Difficult question -South America is a bit weird at the moment. After some pretty remarkable generations i.e. 1987 (Messi, Suárez, Carlos Eduardo), 1988 Agüero, Anderson, Di María), 1989 (Alexandre Pato, Pastore, Sandro) we haven't had that many world-class talents emerging of late -maybe 15-20 players born between 1992 and 85. 1996 seems to be a tremendous "crop" indeed, with some exciting names for sure but there is no way I can tell you who those are though. We are not allowed to discuss that kind of info, but hopefully we can land 1 or 2 of them!

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