Wyscout Forum 2013: Europe’s secret transfer network returns

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Six months ago, FFT mixed it up with agents, clubs and product developers at one of the closest guarded events in the murky transfer world. In July, the latest edition arrives in Barcelona. Words by Andrew Murray, pictures by Daniel Lynch...

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On a bitterly cold winter's day last December, I was packed off to Arsenal's shimmering Emirates stadium. Excellent, I thought. In my fortunate position as a football writer, whom might I be interviewing? Santi Cazorla? Lukas Podolski? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?

Wrong on all three counts. There won't be any players there. “You’re going to the Wyscout Forum,” I was informed, one hand immediately reaching for Google. “Speak to as many people as you can, find out what it's about and file 2,500 words by Sunday because the mag goes to print on Monday.” The two-day event began on a Thursday. No pressure, then.

That was my introduction to transfer speed-dating. Around 100 clubs – from Manchester City and Bayern Munich to Montpellier and Bournemouth – and three times as many agents gathered for a number of pre-arranged meetings to thrash out upcoming deals before the winter transfer windows slammed, er, open.

A matter of weeks after Barcelona finalised one of the most complex and protracted transfers in history in late May to prize Neymar from Santos – and with the summer window officially just two days old – where better to hold the fifth edition of this fascinating event than the Nou Camp on 3-4 July?

Our man Murray accidentally signs Joan Capdevila

The format may have changed slightly – one day of meetings as opposed to two, with a dedicated afternoon of presentations on scouting models, players’ contracts and transfer trends thrown in – but the Forum’s key intrigue remains. Wearing different coloured accreditation lanyards – red for clubs, yellow for agents, blue for product developers – it’s immediately obvious who is chatting to whom at the alphabetically arranged tables.

Seeing Boca Juniors officials milling around Ipswich Town’s table was a genuinely bizarre sight, but such is the unique feeling to the Wyscout Forum. It’s as close to egalitarianism as you’ll get in football. Equality reigns.

Spread over three rooms at the Emirates in December, the corridors and offshoot alleyways linking each hall were as buzzing with hushed conversations and huddles as any table. Initial contact between clubs or agents – around half of whom form part of ‘super agencies’, who occupy the rarefied atmosphere of the VIP lounge – may begin here, but any follow ups while both parties are still in town are reconvened elsewhere.

As FFT’s representative over the two days, I was also approached by a number of agents keen to give their client some pre-window media exposure. One of them, as it turned out, didn’t need our help to rustle up some column inches. Peter Odemwingie managed that all by himself, from his car.

“To negotiate you go to a Mayfair hotel,” one chief scout at an up-and-coming European side told me in London, “otherwise proper agents aren’t interested – it’s too open here. But with everyone already here, what better time to do it.”

Ipswich Town's table - Boca Juniors officials not pictured...

One thing I learned is how fast-moving the whole process is. At least three deals I was told – off the record - were nailed on never materialised. Instead of going to Manchester City, Rennes midfielder Yann M’Vila had rocked up at Rubin Kazan by the end of the winter window.

But the Forum is about more than Italian-suited, potential Apprentice entrants where excited hand gestures contrast with near-perfect representations of Rodin’s The Thinker. This motley collection of football folk are all linked by the Wyscout computer platform, a database of 60,000 games from 120 leagues and used by all of Serie A, 75 per cent of Champions League clubs and 70 per cent of the Premier League.

Not only can goals, assists and tackles be drawn up for any player of your choosing, more intangible attributes like aggressiveness are tagged. Comprehensive stuff.

“The idea is to add a transfer dimension to the scouting platform,” says founder Matteo Campodonico, himself a former semi-pro in Serie D who began videoing games with a friend in 2004. “It would be amazing to get federations here to ratify transfers, especially now we’ve launched the transfer zone facility, where you can search for transfer-listed players.”

So, will deals involving Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale or Edinson Cavani be finalised in Barcelona? Until the event gets FIFA ratification to rubber stamp deals, no, but where better to initiate the process a few weeks earlier than usual?

“There are definitely deals that get done here, at least conceptually,” one agent told me at the Emirates. “Otherwise, why bother coming? It's obvious, isn't it?”

The future of the transfer window could already be with us. Bigger than ever before, the Wyscout Forum is here to stay.

For more information on the Wyscout Forum visit