Yes, I know that’s a really basic question. If you don’t know how to do it, you shouldn’t be playing. But over the years I’ve tried to refine my approach, just to make sure no prospect slips through the net.
So here’s how it goes. First, search for players who are naturally left backs. Then select the attributes. The attributes part of the database can be used to generate a list of key attributes for a specific role, but it can’t be applied uncritically. For example, for a full-back role, it lists 8 attributes. That’s too many. A player who scores highly on 7 of them but just misses out on the 8th will miss the cut – but might be just the asset you want.
You can, of course, stipulate that you need the search to identify players that only meet the requirement for a number of the key attributes – say, 7 out of the 8. But then you can’t control which the missing attribute will be. If a full-back scores highly on 7 attributes but is hopeless at tackling, for example, I don’t want to waste time scouting him.
So my preferred solution has three tiers. First, I search for a small number of key attributes. For a full-back I’ve always used (a) tackling – if I full-back can’t tackle, I question why he’s on the pitch, (b) determination – it’s not good for my blood pressure when players typically lose 50:50 challenges or fail to adhere to training routines, and (c) acceleration – no point being able to tackle if you can’t get there in the first place.
Actually, I feel less strongly about acceleration than the other two, since if a player is good at positioning (and, preferably, anticipation) they might get themselves in the right place anyway. So I might set the requirement for acceleration at one point below that for determination and the requirement for tackling one point higher.
Over the years I’ve added a fourth key attribute, namely heading. Simon (the younger of my two sons) has challenged this, more than once – ‘It’s only a full-back, dad, not a centre-back’. And, indeed, the database does not identify heading as one of the 8 key attributes for the role. But here’s something I’m sick of seeing: a cross comes over; it misses all the players except the full-back defending the back post; he heads it (often for no reason; they don’t seem to be able to let the ball go out for a goal kick) and the header turns out to be a lame effort that goes straight to one of the opposition.
And I’m also tired of reading after the game that my full-backs achieved low ratings because they lost the aerial battle. I don’t need my full-backs to be giants – though I can quite see why Mr Pulis does – but I do need them to be able to deal with the thing when it comes to them in the air.
The second tier of attributes consists of those that perhaps aren’t essential but which I really hope the player will have. For a left-back, that means marking and positioning. I don’t make these part of the search criteria, but I do create columns for them, so I can see whether a prospect scores well on them without having to click on their profiles.
The third tier consists of attributes that are certainly good to have but perhaps more dispensable – for example, composure. These won’t form any formal part of the search process, but I’ll check them if I get as far as clicking on a player’s profile.
Once I’ve identified candidates via the above process I repeat the process for players who, though not naturals in the position, are at least accomplished. If I still don’t have enough promising prospects I’ll lower the threshold further to bring in players who are merely competent in the position.
It’s tempting to stop there, but doing so will leave some stones unturned. So next I search for players who can’t yet play in the position but perhaps could. First, I use the same attributes but search for right-backs who aren’t right-footed. I find this a surprisingly fruitful kind of search. Then I’ll search for left-wing-backs, left-midfielders and centre-backs who aren’t right-footed. Then I’ll cease to specify the position at all, but perhaps raise the level of requirement for each attribute.
Through all these stages I ensure that I don’t exclude players in my own squad. Including them helps to provide benchmarks and might just to alert you to a player in some other position who might have the potential to convert.
My weakness here is that I’m too easily seduced into attempting conversions. Frankly, I like the feeling of cleverness that comes from converting, say, an attacking midfielder to a left back. But conversions take a long time and might not work out at all. Simon did tell me, over and over again, when I was managing Carlisle that Ryan Shotton was never going to make a wide target man. Ryan tried telling me too, but would I listen?
Perhaps it’s not just vanity: perhaps it’s also an enduring memory of successes in the real world. In 1969 Peter Noble, a striker, scored the winner against Burnley in a League Cup semi-final. In 1973 Burnley signed him and turned him into a full-back. That fascinated me. So I’m always on the lookout for strikers who are nippy, have some anticipation and aggression, and can head: if they can’t finish for toffee (which Noble could), they might be full-backs in the making.
Finally, I ask my senior pros – the ones who aren’t defenders themselves, so they don’t feel threatened – can they recommend a defender please. That, though, is a pretty random business.
When the results come in, there are a number of out-of-bounds criteria that I apply instantly. I’m not going to sign a left-back (or anyone else, for that matter) who’s injury-prone (do I look like Arsene Wenger?). I don’t sign players who have low determination, play lethargically, or steer clear of rough challenges (the sheer disgrace!).
Neither will I bring in someone who’s unprofessional: it takes only one bad apple. Lack of consistency doesn’t endear me either.
I really like how FM17 gives you potted summaries of scout so you don’t need to be forever clicking to read reports.