Glyn Chamberlain was Cardiff’s Head of Scouting during Neil Warnock’s reign and certainly has a tale to tell. In the first of three parts, he talks about taking charge, overhauling the scouting network and his first transfer window.
How did you end up at Cardiff? Was it due to an existing relationship with Neil (Warnock)?
I’ve known Neil for the best part of 30 years. I played against him when I was younger and I managed against him in semi-pro football. I’ve seen him at a few Chesterfield reunions because he’s an ex-player, like myself, but I didn’t get the job as a friend of Neil. That looks a bit too cosy.
I was at Burnley. I had been there a few years, working under Sean (Dyche) and the opportunity came to meet Neil and see if I would be interested in that position. I’ve known Neil a long time and once you’ve had 20 minutes in his company, you want to go out and work with him.
I accepted the post, we agreed a contract and I started. I think I came in about eight weeks after the gaffer took over. Their first game was against Bristol City and I met Neil, Kevin (Blackwell) and Ronnie (Jepson) in a hotel in Birmingham on the Friday night before they played Aston Villa. We had a chat and it went from there.
It seemed to be that at the time, Cardiff were looking to emulate Burnley, then suddenly you turned up and it was either a strange coincidence or a deliberate move
Probably a bit of both really. I think Cardiff looked at Burnley, who won promotion twice in three seasons, and could see it’s a well-run club. They were probably a template for a successful club that are run within their means and have found a way of playing that has enabled them to stay in the division. I think Cardiff were trying to do something similar.
I have no idea how the scouting set-up works at Cardiff. Did you have to create something there from scratch?
The club already had five or six scouts, who have given the club good service over the years. I knew some of them, not all of them, as you see the same people on the circuit, week in, week out. I expanded it with two or three people I knew and with a few people that were available. We had about 10 scouts based in the UK.
We also took on a guy who had done some freelance work for me in Spain, looking at players in the Segunda and towards the bottom of La Liga, but that was when we were in the Premier League and we had a bit more leeway in terms of finance. Until then, they were all UK based. Glasgow, Belfast and throughout the country, working in their respective areas.
When you take on a role like that, you’ve already been scouting for another club, so do you already have certain targets in mind, or are you starting from scratch?
You may have certain targets in mind, but all clubs are different. In terms of what they’re looking for, how their finances are, what their budget is and what type of players they’re looking at. Cardiff is different to Blackburn and Blackburn are different to Burnley.
We’ve all got our eyes on players and I probably see in the region of 150-200 games per season, in the flesh at all levels. Champions League, Europa League, Conference, you’re forever assessing players. Our scouts would be looking at two or three games per week each, covering roughly 140 games per month between them and you keep pooling that knowledge.
Do you tend to watch the same teams and players over and over again?
Pretty much, until you narrow it down to about four or five in the positions the manger is looking for. If the manager comes up to you and says he needs a left back, you need five or six in your list and to able to say ‘this guy is first choice, might get this one, can’t get that one, this one is too expensive’ and then you whittle it down.
Warnock seemed to have a certain type, so then you wonder is that is that his type, your type or a bit of both?
You always work for the manager at the club you’re at. Neil has a certain type and Tony (Mowbray) has a different type. Sean had a similar type to Neil.
Is Neil suggesting names to you, or does it work both ways?
Both ways. I would mention people to him or he would ask me to get my eyes on two or three different players. I would say ‘I like him’ or ‘I don’t like that one’ and then we would chew the fat amongst the staff before any decisions are made higher up.
What did your role consist of on a day to day basis?
I live up in Manchester, so I would come down as and when. Basically, I would manage that group of scouts and organise all the fixtures for the games they would look at. Within that group, we would also have people that would do analysis of our opposition.
At any time, the gaffer might ring up asking about this or that and you need to have the answer. I would come down every fortnight or every week, whenever Neil wanted me to come down. If he wanted me to stay a couple of days to talk about targets, I would do it.
Neil came in midway through a season, brought in a few players that he knew, but his first proper window was the following summer and in general, it proved a really good one. Cardiff really went for it. Was that your remit?
Neil was trying to win his eighth promotion, so he wanted to put a competitive team out that would have a go. We got off to a flying start that season and some people were given an opportunity, the likes of Etheridge and Mendez-Laing, that took it with both hands.
Those two guys were free agents from League One and they’ve both been excellent. Were they seen as calculated risks or expected to make an impact and what appealed about them in particular?
I had seen them quite a bit the previous season and the staff before me had probably also seen them quite a bit. We felt they would fit in to the squad and that they would compete for a place. I don’t think they were expected to go straight in to the team, but they took their chance and both never looked back.
When you know players like that are heading out of contract, at what point do you reach out to them or make your interest known?
These days, people start looking as soon as the previous window shuts. What can we get for the summer? Things also change. You might lose a right back and a centre back to cruciate injuries and before that, you were not looking at those positions, so it changes every day.
Presumably there is far more interest in players like that, who are likely to be free agents, then players tied to long-term deals. So is it a case that if you haven’t made your move by March, for example, you’ve missed the boat?
It can be, but it also works the other way. Sometimes you can go in late and because you’re Cardiff City or Neil Warnock, you have greater appeal than the others and then you win the race.
Another inspired move was for Callum Paterson, who was sidelined with a serious knee injury at the time, so you wouldn’t have scouted him. Also, he was signed as a right back and Neil immediately wrote him off as a defender.
I had seen Callum play up in Scotland for Hearts and Scotland Under-21’s maybe two years before he signed for Cardiff, so I kept my eye on him. People within football had been watching Callum since he was 17 or 18 because he broke in to the first team so early. He was playing right back up there, but I had also seen him play in many different positions; right side of midfield, centre midfield and I had read that he started out as a centre forward.
When you tell the manager what he is and what he does, then Neil will speak to different people in the game and we decided it was a chance worth taking. Although he was injured, he would be fit ahead of the following window. He probably was signed as a right back, but wherever you play Callum on the pitch, you get 110% out of him and he adapts to the position. If you stuck him in goals, he would probably keep a clean sheet! He gives you everything he’s got.