The story of ‘master scout’ Piet de Visser who found his passion through travel

“I can’t scout the way he does,” said Jose Mourinho.

That’s some compliment coming from a manager who has managed at the top level for well over a decade and won Primeira Liga, La Liga, Serie A, Premier League and Champions League titles and been the first manager to spend an accumulative figure of £1bn on transfers.

Meet ‘master scout’ Piet de Visser, now 83, who discovered the likes of Neymar, Kevin De Bruyne, Ronaldo and David Luiz.

Forced to retire from playing earlier with a heart problem, de Visser became a successful manager before turning his hand to scouting in where he has made a real name for himself.

De Vissier developed a tactical code to analyse players from all over the world, scoring players’ ability in five stages: their skill, their vision, their physique, their mentality and their character.
De Vissier maintains that the good players ‘discover themselves’ and that he scouts them, but acknowledges that his job is not as easy as some may think.

De Visser said: “All my life was football. The good players discover themselves. But I scout them.

“Scouting is a very difficult job. It was in me when I was a young boy.

But the player makes his career, not the scout.”

“I see the game. You have to concentrate on every action of the players.

“I see the mentality. That’s why I not only go to games, I go to training as well.

“I want to smell the grass. I see all the things that a player does well and does wrong.

“I love football and I will tell the world I love football.”

De Visser was instrumental in signing Brazilian defender Alex, forward Jefferson Farfán and goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes at PSV in what was his firs professional scouting role.

However, it was his love of travel which helped him discover a real passion for his work and a certain Ronaldo, the Brazilian version.

After retiring as a manager in 1992 De Visser headed to Saskatchewan in Canada to watch a youth tournament and there he laid eyes on a 15-year-old Brazilian – Ronaldo.
De Visser was so impressed with the striker, who eventually played for Brazil and became one of the world’s greatest, that his passion for nurturing young talent became evident.

 

“Then I saw Ronaldo in St Brieux, in a small tournament. And by the movements of him – I got a new life. I said ‘hey’ I wanted to be a scout to find players like Ronaldo.

“He (Ronaldo) was phenomenal. He had the ball in the move and dribble in the move and he passed the player in full speed and full skill.”

Dutch talent-spotter De Visser also lays claims to sending former Man Utd striker Ruud van Nistelrooy to PSV.

Holland international Van Nistelrooy went on to score 35 goals in 70 caps for the Oranje and scored 249 goals in a 19-year career, but it was as a 17-year-old playing for Den Bosch that he caught De Visser’s eye.

PSV, who had Ronaldo in attack, were not keen at first but when the Brazil star left for Barcelona, Van Nistelrooy was then able to step into the fold and he went on to score 62 goals in 67 games.

De Visser said: “I scouted him and I brought him to PSV. But at first, they did not want him.

He (Nistelrooy) did not know, but I thought he could be a very great player.

“We eventually took him to PSV and they sold him for a big amount of money to Manchester United.

“He played fantastically with David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Roy Keane.

“He was always scoring goals, he was one of the greatest strikers.”

De Visser, who is a personal adviser to Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, also scouted Man City midfield schemer Kevin de Bruyne and rates him as almost a 10/10.

“The best players I ever scouted – Ronaldo, Neymar, great player, David Luiz and Kevin De Bruyne,” added De Visser.

“One of my best scoutings ever, Kevin De Bruyne, came from the youth to the first team. And from the first touch of the ball, I was in love with him.

“He only wants to win. His passing, his vision, left foot or right foot it doesn’t matter.

“He is almost a 10. And I never give a 10.”

Current Manchester United manager, Mourinho, has also acknowledged De Visser’s successful method of scouting.

Mourinho said: “I can’t scout the way he does.

“His desire to know everything about players in the four corners of the world is invaluable.”

Piet’s story will feature in The History of Football global TV event, airing on History (excluding USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand), from May 28th-10th June 2018. 

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Why winning is not England’s only barometer of youth success

England will host the U17 European Championships this month and they will be looking to add the European crown to their World Cup win last year, but winning the tournament will not be the only measure of success for the young Three Lions.

In a brilliant interview on the Football Association’s website, the head of development team coaching Matt Crocker explains that the definition of ‘success’ has changed for England’s youth sides.

That may seem strange on the back of the recent success of England’s youth teams. The U17s were brilliant en route to glory in the World Cup in India last year, the U19s also tasted glory in winning the European Championship, while the U20s were crowned World Cup winners in South Korea and the U21s reached the last four of the European Championships, but more glory on home soil this month is not the be all and end all for England under their progressive guidelines.

England U17 coach Steve Cooper will of course be aiming to win the 16-team tournament.

“We obviously want to be as successful as we can but we are building for the future and whatever returns we get from the games will be learning experiences that will take us and the players forward,” says Cooper.

 

‘A sole focus on winning can be detrimental’

Crocker though explains that winning is not their only barometer of success and the FA’s website notes that ‘a sole focus on winning can be detrimental for the long-term progression of players’ who are still involved in England’s ‘development’ pathway.

“The objective we set for the U17s isn’t to win a major tournament, because history shows that if the only objective is winning then teams tend to only pick the bigger, stronger, quicker players,” Croker told the FA’s website.

The framework for England teams from U15-U20 is the necessity to qualify for major tournaments and with that comes ‘exposure and opportunity’ against some of the best teams in the world.

“The reason we don’t say our younger age-groups should win the World Cup or win the European Championships, is because it’s the experience of being in the tournament which is the key for development. Qualification is always the major objective,” says Crocker.

“A tournament gives the players exposure to a variety of challenges and different experiences. For example, last season our U17s were away in India for 35 days playing in intense humidity.

“They played in front of 75,000 people in huge stadiums against some of the best teams in the world. They also had a taste of taking penalties in a big competition. All those experiences will prepare them for the future.

“We need to get to the tournaments for them to have the exposure and opportunity for different experiences.”

Crocker also explained the ‘development pathway’ which is broken down into youth development (15-17s), professional development (18s-20s) and the senior professional stage (21s and senior side).

“The reason we call it a development pathway [before 21], is that it’s about ‘development’ – it’s not a ‘winning’ pathway.

“Our hope is that the pathway provides the players with a number of building blocks so when they do get to the senior team they feel as prepared as they possibly can be to produce a successful performance,” adds Crocker.

Crocker also explained how it’s now normal for England to take players to tournaments who have not featured heavily in qualifying, simply because they possess the greater potential.

It’s an interesting concept and one which may well be argued it shows little loyalty to players, especially those who may find themselves missing out on a place in the finals of a tournament, despite playing in the majority of the qualifying games.

 

‘Highest long-term potential’

But with the emphasis on development, Crocker says it’s crucial to give players who show the “highest long-term potential” the chance to shine on the big stage.

“Sometimes your qualification squad might look different to your finals squad, because there are some players – those with the highest long-term potential – who you feel might benefit from going to those tournaments. However, they might not have been involved in all parts of qualification.”

Head coach Cooper also highlights the opportunity his youngsters are getting on home soil and says it will only stand them in good stead for the pressures that come with senior football, when the emphasis switches to winning.

“We’re doing a lot of work with the players to make sure they know who they’re representing.

“They’re representing their country as a home nation. They’re standing up for youth development in England, from the grassroots game right up to the professional academies,” says Cooper.