Soccer: Up close and very personal

By Michael Burgess

The scouts from Liverpool and Juventus at last night's Melbourne Victory versus Sydney clash were assessing New Zealand's Marco Rojas on a number of critical success factors, including game intelligence, composure, work rate and technical ability.

While the mere presence of the scouts in Melbourne made headlines on both sides of the Tasman, it is an everyday occurrence across most parts of the world, as the network of a big club can span the globe.

All major European clubs have personnel based on every continent, as well as massive teams of scouts and assistants in Europe.

Rojas passed the first test - attracting the interest of Liverpool's Australian-based network, leading to manager Brendan Rogers sending some of his England-based representatives Down Under for last night's match. If Liverpool are suitably impressed, a contract offer could come as early as next week.

Despite the prevalence of television and internet coverage, and DVDs from agents, it is still deemed necessary to see players in the flesh.

"You can see a lot on TV and through videos but it doesn't reveal everything," says All Whites assistant coach and former Premier League player Neil Emblen.

"They will be looking at a huge range of things and it is especially important with attacking players; they can look great going forward and on attack but what are they doing when their side lose possession and the cameras pan away? Are they making the right recovery runs to help their team or are they cheating off the ball? That kind of thing reveals a lot about attitude."

"They know he has ability," says former All Whites coach Kevin Fallon, "but they will be assessing many other factors. Some are obvious - game intelligence, decision-making, courage but there are also intangible aspects. They will have been looking at his fighting qualities, attitude on the park and his ability to make unselfish runs for his team."

While scouting has always been a crucial weapon for any club, the boundaries have shifted, both geographically and demographically, as the money in the game swells every year. Clubs are now scouting players from the age of seven or eight to get them into their academies. They are not legally allowed to offer cash to pre-teens but often use overseas holidays and new cars to persuade parents of promising youngsters.

There have been questions raised over Rojas' ability to handle himself in a European league, especially England, where the physical intensity is considerably higher than the A-League, where the Victory winger (1.68m, 65kg) gets plenty of space to weave his spell. However, Emblen, who spent more than 10 seasons as a professional in England, has no doubts about Rojas' ability to cope.

"Marco is quite wiry and he bounces off people," says Emblen. "He has the ability to ride tackles and makes good use of his hips to protect the ball. He is a comparable build to Shaun Wright-Phillips [Queens Park Rangers] or Raheem Sterling [Liverpool] who have both coped well."

Emblen also points out that the game has changed in the UK, with the days of dogged battles on muddy pitches a thing of the past.

"Surfaces are a lot better and well looked after," says Emblen, "which encourages good pitches and allows ball players such as Marco to thrive."

- Herald on Sunday

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