Francis Cagigao has established a remarkable track record over the past 24 years with a steady supply line of talent for Arsenal.
Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin, Emiliano Martinez and even the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta were signed on the back of recommendations from the renowned talent spotter.
But if there was ever any doubt about the value of a scout’s eye for a player even in the increasing reliance of data, stats and analysts then perhaps it is best highlighted by the signing of Gabriel Martinelli, plucked from obscurity in Brazil.
Barcelona and Manchester United both took the Brazilian teenager on trial but passed on signing only for Arsenal to snap him up and that deal already looks like it will prove to be a shrewd piece of business.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has already called Martinelli the “talent of the century” and it looks as if Arsenal have found another gem and superstar in the making.
“You do have to see something that others can’t see. If you’re signing a Martinelli from the Brazilian Fourth Division while other clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United they took him on trial earlier and they either didn’t think so or couldn’t see it,” said Cagigao.
“We saw something in him that others didn’t see or didn’t believe in him. Barcelona have done so much right in the last few years but at that time I don’t think their own player identification was working as it should and nor was it perhaps with Hector Bellerin.
“Part of the job is having a network, connections, being able to pick up the phone and you obviously put your trust in your scouts but you’re also the one who wants to go and see those players live, find out about their characters and meet the players.
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“If you take Martinelli then one of the major things is his mentality. His hunger, willingness to learn, his work ethic, those are things that are traits. If you have the right technical, tactical and physical attributes to go with it then those are the things to make you an elite player.
“That was fundamental towards bringing him in. You have to go in depth and that’s where a scout will have to do his work to go into those issues. You can’t get those things off a video, a report or any data.”
That is what has always driven Cagigao on for the past 24 years before his departure from Arsenal last month amid a “restructure” of the scouting network.
His name was wrongly put together with a raft of redundancies when actually Arsenal technical director Edu was overseeing a restructure of the set-up.
Cagigao, 50, was born in London, his parents were Spanish and was part of a football mad family so everything was about playing, watching and breathing the game.
He was in their 1988 FA Youth Cup winning team, took up coaching in Spain but was also watching games to the point where he had to make a choice and took up scouting.
Back in those days, Arsenal were revolutionary, they had legendary scout Steve Rowley, Arsene Wenger arrived in 1996 and was prepared to give youth its chance and they made a string of brilliant signings.
But perhaps the most famous one of all was when Cagigao persuaded Cesc Fabregas to leave Barcelona for Arsenal and that path put the Spain World Cup winner on the road to superstardom.
“The first people I started working with at Arsenal were Arsene, Steve Rowley and I picked up so much in those early stages,” said Cagigao.
“It’s probably been talked about a lot but it was the first case of this happening, the impact he had after coming on for next to nothing. That probably led a lot of other clubs to go down that route at a time when there were a lot of kids coming out of Spain.
“There’s a special connection with a young player like Cesc and you do stay in touch with players like that because you’ve struck up a relationship.”
There has been so much talk and discussion over scouting against the use of data and analytics which is something which frustrates Cagigao. He does not see it as one versus the other, both should be used, although in spotting young players the data is still not there.
“There are systems like Hudl in youth football now but it’s difficult to pick up everything to be used as a recruitment tool. It’s very useful as a tool but scouting takes you back to the essence of the game and if we lose that then we’re in trouble.
“It doesn’t matter how far we advance with data, how far we move on with technology, we must not ever lose the essence of the game.”
Arsenal had it right back in the day. Now Liverpool are seen as the best example. But they still rely on a scouting network as well as data and analytics.
“I think there’s a perception of a scout standing on the touchline with a Peaky Blinders cap when actually the modern scout spends so much time analysing games just like an analyst would. They’ll clip together actions, they will have discussions on positional play, all sorts of things,” said Cagigao.
“When you see the Martinelli deal, the Fabregas, Bellerin or the Martinez deals, those can only be achieved at the moment via scouting. Obviously with more established players, whose games are televised, they can be achieved by a combination of scouting and data.
“It would be very naive of any football club to put all their eggs in one basket and you need people with football knowledge, experience and, most important of all, track record.
“I think some are but it’s not just in the Premier League. It’s the same across the whole of Europe. Some are getting it right, some are getting it very wrong. But clubs like Liverpool have become hugely successful at it
“They’ve got that triangle of Michael Edwards, Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter. They combine their resources very well with scouting, a network but also have a top manager and the financial resources as well to invest in players.
“I think you could model yourself on that with their combination of scouting and data, analytics and across the board I think they’ve got their percentages right.
“Of course it’s success that will tell you whether you are right. But I think Liverpool are a club that have done things the right way in the past few years.”
One of Liverpool’s best recruits is Andy Robertson from a Hull team which was relegated and the left back went straight into a side which went to win the Champions League. But there was a reason Arsenal held back.
“We looked at the player for a long time, the whole of the previous season but we’d had our hearts set on Kieran Tierney for a long, long time. Obviously the longer you wait, the more the price goes up,” said Cagigao.
“But that is why it makes sense to invest in development players and that’s why it has proved so successful for some of the players we have signed over the years.”
Cagigao also played a role in bringing in Arteta back in 2011. Arteta was an inspired signing at the time and it also formed a connection which has seen him return as manager.
“I would say that 80 per cent of my work was global and international and there was 20 per cent involved in domestic deals and I was involved in that and in the decision process of that,” said Cagiago.
“He was a player who I had known all my life and though, just as Arsene did and Steve did, that he could bring a lot to the table at that particular time.”
Cagigao is also proud of his role in bringing in Emiliano Martinez – and believes he will go right to the very top.
He added: “In terms of Emi, it was one where you’ve seen the ability of the player, you’ve seen his mentality but he needs a chance and he got that chance when an injury happened. Other times it will come through the bravery of the manager and Arsene Wenger was such a brave manager.
“But with someone like Emi, the satisfaction was huge. He was so patient, he was dedicated, he never gave up and always believed in himself. For me, it was fantastic to come through.
“I personally believe he’s in the best 20 keepers in the world but for him to show that he’s got to play. It’s a great feeling. But in Emi’s case, it’s about how he’s had to wait then it came along and he took it with both hands.
“I saw him in the Argentinian under-17s at the under-17s South American Championships and he was Independiente’s youth goalkeeper. It wasn’t exactly park football even if it sounded fantastic and very romantic.
“He’s now at the best age for a keeper and he’s got six, seven or eight years ahead of him and I would be very surprised if he was not Argentina’s first choice goalkeeper at the next World Cup.”
Cagigao is now in Spain, waiting for the next opportunity. He said: “My next step is to listen because I’m in a different situation and think about my next step. It’s in the public domain that I’ve had some offers in the past because 24 years is a long time.
“I’ve always felt comfortable and valued where I was working so never felt the need to change. I’m a free agent, there’s been a lot of activity in the past couple of weeks and I’ve got to make sure the next step is the right step, the right project for me.
“It has to be in line with the way I see the game, somewhere where my views will be heard, I can get them across and the freedom to work. I won’t box myself in, I don’t know what the next role will be but I’m at an age where I’ve got experience, a track record and a lot to offer.”
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