Ex-Spurs scout on scouting six-goal Wilfried Zaha as a 10-year-old

From signing a 10-year-old Wilfried Zaha after watching him score SIX in a single game to working with Mauricio Pochettino, ex-Tottenham scout David Webb lifts the lid on transfers and how coronavirus has affected the game

  • The current transfer market is incredibly troublesome due to covid-19 pandemic 
  • David Webb had prominent recruitment roles at Southampton, Spurs and others 
  • He explains scouting Wilfried Zaha as a ten year old after he scored six goals 
  • Webb worked closely with Mauricio Pochettino 

David Webb is whizzing through the convoluted approach to signing players these days when it becomes patently obvious how troublesome the current transfer market is. Yes, the window is open until October 5 – three weeks after the Premier League season begins – but the process is not easy.

The truncated summer might have been palatable, yet partnered with the financial realities top-flight clubs are facing, makes it a very tricky time indeed. Undoubtedly, more recruitment mistakes will be made.

Given budgets are squeezed, the due diligence gone into ascertaining certain targets before Covid-19 is, in some case, meaningless. That is partly why the market has not really caught fire: many have had to start from scratch.

David Webb explains he convoluted approach to signing players these days in transfer market

Webb had prominent recruitment roles at big clubs and worked alongside Mauricio Pochettino

Webb, who held prominent recruitment roles at Southampton, during successful eras at Bournemouth and Tottenham under Eddie Howe and Mauricio Pochettino, before moving to board level at Ostersunds and Huddersfield Town, outlines the intricate process. Hours deciphering statistics, hours watching footage, hours on the road, hours with the financials.

‘It’s about a blend and everybody has to be on board,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to combine the stats with human character traits, backgrounds, cultural and social understanding. The scouts need to be kept fully involved in that process. Don’t become consumed by stats.

‘Tottenham liked the work I’d done on psychological profiling of players for Bayer Leverkusen, because when you’re looking to pay X amount for a player, you have to understand what you’re bringing them from, their background.

‘You can’t see body language and a player’s response to pressure on a laptop. You have to amalgamate everything: stats, scouting, character profile and the financial parameters. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Every department has to buy into that though. Then you’re negotiating the contracts and taking them to the owner.’

Webb worked with Paul Mitchell as they opened the door for Son Heung-min, a £22m signing

Plenty of those are thriftier in the current climate, more in line with the way in which Daniel Levy has run Spurs. Webb worked with Paul Mitchell, the commended sporting director now at Monaco, and on their watch, the club came very close to landing Moussa Dembele (Fulham), Ademola Lookman (Charlton) and Sadio Mane (Southampton). None came off, the money not right. But that opened the door for Son Heung-min, a £22million signing from Leverkusen five years ago.

‘It’s always stricter at Tottenham and that has good and bad merits,’ Webb adds. ‘To compete the way Tottenham did – finishing second twice while I was there – meant the foundations were good.

‘But Mauricio could only do so much. From a financial point of view, if you want to win those elite trophies, you have to go a little bit higher.

‘The flip side of that is that you’re getting players that are going to buy into the club values, and are not coming just for the money. Son started off slow but then flourished. Mauricio was happy to develop. But to really compete, you know, maybe one or two (more) could’ve helped.

‘The advantage we did have was that Mauricio was the best teacher at that time. Toby Alderweireld, Kieran Trippier, Son and Dele Alli, were all bought for lower fees but are now top-class players.’

Wilfried Zaha was another who almost moved to Spurs. Webb had been the man who spotted Zaha as a 10-year-old playing for Whitehorse Wanderers in west Croydon. ‘I was a coach in Palace’s academy and my little cousin, who was in the same team as Wilf, badgered me to go and watch them,’ he says.

Webb discovered Wilfried Zaha at ten when he worked at Spurs after he scored for fun

‘I think he scored four or five goals. We invited him in for a six-week trial and for the first five he didn’t play. The coach couldn’t get him to do the sessions properly because he wasn’t used to it.

‘He’s not going to come in and pick up structured training sessions at 10. He won’t understand. What he understands is being on a football pitch. He played against Tottenham’s academy and scored all six goals. ‘Right then, we’re signing him!’

Webb, who possesses an MSc in Sports Psychology, moved away from purely talent identification in 2017, accepting the all-encompassing technical director’s job at Ostersunds in Sweden shortly after Graham Potter left for Swansea City. Huddersfield bought him out of that contract early this time last year to head up a firefighting job following relegation from the Premier League.

Cutting millions off the playing budget was an immediate aim, as was sourcing a successor for the insipid Jan Siewert, who won one of his 19 matches in charge and with the Terriers having picked up a single point from their opening three Championship matches.

Webb took the technical director’s job at Ostersunds after Graham Potter left for Swansea City

Danny Cowley came in, kept them up – eventually getting the sack himself – and with the budget significantly reduced, Webb had already decided to move on as well. In many ways, that exercise of frugality to balance the books at Huddersfield is the task for all EFL clubs right now. More and more are searching for head of football operation bods to align all aspects of clubs and save money in collective thinking.

‘It’s going to be more prevalent now,’ he says. ‘This is a very European-based model and a lot more are looking at it. Finance is restricted so if you have someone to oversee the strategy financially, developing homegrown assets and managing recruitment, it becomes about cost-saving and club longevity.’

Brentford were one of the first to embrace that model and their foundations were partly laid by the very promising Robert Rowan, who passed away two years ago, aged 28. There is absolute faith in head coach Thomas Frank to elevate them further and Webb points to strong managerial characters to see processes through.

‘My strongest relationships have been with Eddie and Mauricio,’ he says. ‘They are very similar. Mauricio has that Latin fire, he’s passionate. Both are humble, both excellent with people. Mauricio said, ‘the way the game is now, my job is about relationships’. There’s only a certain amount of tactical understanding, at the very top level, that you can have.

‘Watch those two work. They’re in very early, leave very late. Your quality of work has to mirror them. The good coaches create an elite environment, they intoxicate and drag people along for the journey.’

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