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At Euro 2022, Full Stadiums and a Big Hole: Scouting

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SHEFFIELD, England — Vicky Jepson has not found the driving all that bad. She has spent much of July on the road, racking up somewhere north of a thousand miles in just a pair weeks.

Her trajectory, at first glance, seems so haphazard that it is sort of as if she has been attempting to shake off a tail: London to Manchester, all the way down to the seaside at Brighton, up north over again — to the unremarkable market town of Leigh — then back to the south coast, before retracing her steps back to Leigh.

A substantial amount of thought, though, has gone into every mile. Each stop has allowed Jepson, the assistant head coach of Tottenham Hotspur Women, to absorb one other game at Euro 2022: At one point, she had been to nine matches in only 15 days.

That they had not been chosen at random. Jepson went to some games to solid a watch over how Europe’s best teams were playing, paying especially close attention to how they built play out of defense. She went to others to observe specific players.

Often, though, her eye has been drawn not a lot to how they play but to who they’re. “It’s only while you see players in person that you just get a way of what they’re like as people,” she said. “You see how they react in certain situations. How do they get well from conceding a goal? Do they keep focused after going ahead?”

Spurs, like almost every club in England’s Women’s Super League, couldn’t afford to pass up the prospect see all of Europe’s best players gathered in a single place. And it shouldn’t be just Jepson who has been out on the road: Tottenham’s head coach, goalkeeping coach and analyst have all spent just as much time on England’s highways as she has. Nearly every one in all its rivals has been doing the identical.

For all of them, the knowledge they’ve gleaned will prove invaluable. Euro 2022 has enabled them to flesh out scouting reports on players they’ve been monitoring for a while, in addition to keep a watch out for anyone who may need previously escaped their notice.

“Having it in our backyard has been a golden opportunity,” Jepson said. “There are some things that you just just don’t see on a screen.”

In the primary couple of weeks of the tournament, as Jepson and her colleagues were crisscrossing the country, Euro 2022 appeared to be breaking a distinct record each day.

England’s opening night victory at Old Trafford attracted the biggest crowd within the tournament’s history. The Netherlands’ win against Switzerland last weekend recorded the very best ever attendance for a game not involving a bunch nation. Midway through the group phase, Euro 2022 already had drawn more fans to games than any previous edition of the competition had in total. Day by day, it seemed, served as further proof of the breakneck speed and scale of girls’s soccer’s rise in Europe typically, and in England specifically.

That blossoming popularity is mirrored in the expansion of the continent’s various domestic leagues, and the investment that has poured into the W.S.L., specifically. Sam Kerr, the world’s best-paid player, plays in England. So does Pernille Harder, the costliest signing in women’s history. A 3rd of the Swedish squad hoping to disclaim the host nation a spot in the ultimate on Tuesday night already plays in England, as does the highest striker from the Netherlands and one in all Norway’s best playmakers.

The investment in players, though, has not all the time been matched behind the scenes. The rationale Jepson has piled up so many miles this month is straightforward. Like most teams within the W.S.L., Tottenham has access to the digital recruitment platform Wyscout, in addition to the pipelines of knowledge on potential targets supplied by the likes of InStat and Statsbomb. What it doesn’t have is a single, dedicated women’s scout.

That’s true of the overwhelming majority of teams within the W.S.L., and across Europe. In interviews with almost a dozen executives, agents, managers and coaches in women’s soccer — most of whom didn’t wish to be identified for fear of being seen as criticizing their employers — only a handful of teams were credited with employing specialist recruitment staff, amongst them Chelsea and Manchester City in England, and the German champion Wolfsburg.

For everybody else, the system is “antiquated,” as one executive at a number one W.S.L. club put it.

Coaches will watch the games they’ll, often using international breaks to ascertain on players deemed to be of interest. Others lean heavily on performance data and video footage, though trawling through it is commonly the domain of a single, overworked staff member. Many, though, still turn to the quickest shortcut available: agents.

“We get cold emails from clubs quite often,” said one agent whose firm represents quite a few players at Euro 2022. “It’s never a scout. It’s all the time direct from a manager or a technical director. They ask if now we have any players available who might work for them. Whilst an agent, you realize that may’t really be the very best technique to construct a team.”

Chelsea had been learning about Kerr, the Australian striker, for 18 months before she finally agreed to maneuver to London. There had been little reason to research her performances on the sector: Kerr’s prowess, each for her national team and in domestic soccer in Australia and the US, spoke for itself.

What Chelsea didn’t know was whether she could be a simple fit with the remaining of its squad. It remedied that not only by inviting Kerr to go to its base at Cobham, within the tranquil, moneyed banker belt that rings London, 3 times, but by chatting with a succession of her former coaches, former teammates, former opponents.

Once it was satisfied, Chelsea offered Kerr a contract that was exceptional in two ways. It made her, reportedly, the best-paid women’s player on the planet. More significant, perhaps, it also tied her to Chelsea for the higher a part of three seasons.

Chelsea, generally, tries to think long-term: The club is not going to offer potential recruits short-term, single-season contracts, and its executives are wary even of signing players to two-year deals. Kerr has been such a superb fit that she has already prolonged her deal through 2024.

A lot of its rivals do not need that privilege. The overwhelming majority of contracts, even in elite women’s soccer, run for not more than a few seasons. That’s partly driven by the players themselves. “You desire to have a level of freedom to maneuver quickly,” one former player said. “If you could have a superb season at a smaller team, you want to give you the chance to go away when one in all the larger clubs comes for you, because that is perhaps your only likelihood of a payday.”

But shorter deals also act as a hedge for the clubs who far too often don’t know what they’re buying. The form of due diligence Chelsea performed on Kerr is standard in the lads’s game, however it stays exceedingly rare in women’s soccer, and beyond the reach of most teams. Most, as a substitute, should take their probabilities on players they’ve not had likelihood to scout thoroughly. As one agent said, “They provide shorter deals to numerous signings after which see what sticks.”

Invariably, many players don’t, meaning most teams in Europe’s major leagues lose and acquire fistfuls of players every yr. Last yr, for instance, eight of the W.S.L.’s 12 clubs signed and sold six or more players, effectively changing half their teams over the course a single summer.

“There’s loads of churn, which is why you see teams rise and fall so quickly,” the agent said. “You may roll the dice and get lucky one yr. But more often than not, you don’t, so you could have to start out again.”

Meaning the vast majority of W.S.L. teams are ranging from scratch every yr; it also means only the privileged few can construct anything lasting. Chelsea, for instance, added only two players to its squad last summer, then went on to win each the W.S.L. title and the Women’s F.A. Cup.

Additionally it is why, as Jepson has plowed up and down the country this month, she has run into countless friends, peers and rivals from other W.S.L. teams. It’s why the “observer” seats reserved by UEFA at every game have been thronged with representatives of clubs from England, Germany and even the N.W.S.L., all of them earnestly scribbling remarks into notebooks.

For all of them, the long hours on the road have been value it. The tournament has allowed them to pick out and discard potential targets, to know what they is perhaps getting, to be sure that their budgets go so far as they’ll. “Every trip has had a purpose,” Jepson said. “You learn far more a few player while you see them within the flesh.”

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