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Talking Italian in the North East

Paul Grech Wednesday, October 2, 2013 ,
Whenever there’s a debate about who is doing it right in the transfer market, two clubs are routinely held up as prime examples.  There’s Porto, the perennial Portuguese champions who have made a fortune off their ability to develop South American talent before selling them off for ridiculous mark-ups.

Then there’s Udinese.  The Italian side’s story is perhaps more intriguing because, unlike Porto, they weren’t one of the country’s traditional big clubs making their rise all the more remarkable.   Up till the early nineties, most of their history had been spent playing in the Serie B or lower.  Then they began striking it lucky finding one talented player after another.

When the latest star was sold off – invariably at a huge profit – his place would be filled by some unknown who go on to prove to be just as good.  Eventually, people started realising that there was nothing lucky about Udinese’s finds but that these were the result of a highly effective scouting network.

Inevitably, such a realisation also led to clubs trying to replicate Udinese’s system.  Some did this by studying their methods but others were more direct, attracting people who held key roles in their network.

Valentino Angeloni is one such man.  For four years, he was one of the key advisors for South America and Eastern Europe, with only Andrea Carnevale, the club’s chief scout, being ahead of him in the system.  His work was impressive enough to attract the attention of Inter who tasked him with heading their scouting network.

It was a prestigious role and a huge step forward for Angeloni, but not enough to keep him in place when  Sunderland came offering the job of technical director.

The Italian revolution in the North East had started months earlier.  Ellis Short had been friends with Roberto de Fanti for some time, occasionally asking him for advice about transfers.   When the decision was made to part ways with Martin O’Neill and to start putting in place a more European set-up, it was to de Fanti that he turned, naming him Director of Football.

Up till that point, de Fanti had been working as an agent, largely representing players from Scandinavia as well as Eastern Europe; regions where you would expect clubs trying to be ahead of the curve to look.

Indeed, that’s how one would imagine Sunderland to position themselves.  Before leaving Udinese, Angeloni described their process by saying “we try to anticipate the market by having detailed information from all over the world.  The aim is to arrive a couple of years earlier than others to study in detail every single player.”  It is easy to see Sunderland going for a similar strategy; bridging the gap with the richer clubs in the league who can go for readymade stars by discovering stars of their own.

The players brought in this summer – of eight nationalities hailing from nine different leagues - offer a glimpse of the width their network will look to cover.  But these were most likely names that they had earlier jotted down in their notebooks rather than the result of a fully operational system.

That will take time.  Udinese’s system is elaborate; DVDs of around two hundred games are monitored every week and that is how players are first spotted.  Once a player impresses, scouts are sent to watch them more closely for six or seven games.  It isn’t simply the playing qualities that they try to evaluate but also their character, sourcing as much information on the player as possible.  Only once all that work is done is a decision made.

It is such a system that Sunderland will be looking to replicate and already the building blocks can be seen coming together, not just with Angeloni and de Fanti but also with the appointment of another four Italian scouts Antonio D’Ottavio, Massimiliano Mirabelli, Raffaello Papone and Franco Pulin.

Yet it will take time for this system to mature.  Time and patience.  Both should be granted because, if a provincial side can beat the giants of Italian football and get to the Champions League by working in this manner there’s no reason why a club with Sunderland’s infrastructure shouldn’t make a success of it.

This article originally appeared on Field magazine.


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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer