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The Ben Smith column: What’s your team’s recruitment strategy?

I have just started reading a book by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski called ‘Why England Lose and Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained’. One of the chapters talks about the mistakes teams make in the transfer market. While reading this it made me think of the strategies teams employ when deciding which players to recruit.

Do they have a specific strategy? Is there a clear pattern regarding the signings your club make? Is the strategy short term or long term? Can you think too long term in football? After all, if you don’t get the short term right there is no long term.

Every time a team makes a new signing they are taking a risk. Just because a new signing is a talented player, it does not necessarily mean they are going to be a success at their new team. I have seen numerous players who are clearly gifted but for whatever reason do not make the grade. They may not be able to force their way into the team, and the style of play or formation may not suit the individual.

I often look back at times where I did well in my career and realise that the team was set up for me to do well. My deficiencies were covered by my teammates and my strengths often made up for my teammates’ deficiencies. That is what makes a good team and why the best players don’t always make the best team.

I also reflect on the time a manager offered me a three-and-a-half year deal and then went on to admit he hadn’t seen me play personally! Suffice to say I didn’t sign for him. I wonder what his strategy was.

Clear strategy

I look at some teams and see that they have a clear strategy when recruiting new players. When Peterborough started their climb from League Two to the Championship they made it clear that they were going to sign the best young players from non-league football and League Two. This has been a clear success. The likes of George Boyd, Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron Mclean and Ryan Bennett have proved that. Of course not every signing has come off but the successes far outweigh the failures and have enabled Peterborough to become a Championship side.

At Crawley Town, one of Steve Evans’ biggest skills is his ability to sign players who fit into the way he likes his team to play. The majority of times he signs a player I can see why he has signed him and where he will play in the team. Again not every signing comes off but this strategy has been a big reason why Crawley have had the success they have had over the last 18 months. To be fair, even before he had a healthy budget he still managed to put together a competitive team. People seem to forget that the season before we won the Blue Square Premier, Crawley finished seventh, their highest ever league finish.

However I think sometimes an approach which might be successful in the short term can be damaging in the longer term. During the 2007/08 season at Hereford United, Graham Turner came up with a brilliant strategy to get us promoted from League Two to League One. We had a squad of permanent players who were complimented throughout the season by some hugely talented loanees from the Championship and Premier League clubs.

I’d imagine this strategy came about through necessity rather than design. The city of Hereford is in quite a rural destination and therefore tricky to commute too. This and the fact that the club was being run prudently meant it was hard to get experienced players to relocate to the area, especially when they were only being offered one or two-year deals. I dread to think how many refusals the management got for every player who agreed to sign a permanent deal.

Being the highly respected man that Graham Turner was and is, it became clear that top clubs would entrust Hereford to develop players who they had high hopes for. Over the course of that season we had the likes of Gary Hooper, Theo Robinson, Stephen Gleeson, Toumani Diagouraga and Sherjill McDonald to name a few who have all gone on to have successful careers at a higher level.


At one stage we had seven loanees in our squad, slightly awkward as you can only have five in any match day squad of sixteen. Opposing managers would constantly moan about the way we were utilising the loan market, some seemed to think we were abusing it. However I thought it was the best way to utilise the resources you have at your disposal. Surely that is the art of management?

We eventually finished third and gained promotion. However this was when the problems started. While we had an inspired strategy to get to League One, it didn’t seem like we had one to take us to the next level. The only loan player who signed permanently was Toumani. All the momentum we built up over the previous season was lost as we were forced to build a new team from scratch. We ended up falling well short of what was required and were embarrassingly relegated by Easter.

While the short term plan was inspired, the lack of a long term plan eventually damaged both the club and the players. I went from enjoying the best season of my career to the most depressing. Some could argue that Hereford are still struggling from that lack of foresight now. I just hope that decline doesn’t take them back to the Blue Square Premier.

Has your team got a clear plan when building a team and adding to the squad, or do they seem to haphazardly add players with no real obvious thought?

Let me know on twitter @bsmudger7

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